JUSTICE

Senate’s vote in Oprea case, harshly criticised by prosecutors and judges. Issue of renouncing immunity, ever more insistently brought up in the public space

The Senate’s decision to reject, on Monday, the National Anticorruption Directorate’s (DNA) request to start prosecuting former Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea (photo) for involuntary manslaughter in the case concerning the death of police officer Bogdan Gigina continues to spark reactions in the public space.

While DNA prosecutors have pointed out that the rejection of the request will result in the gridlocking of the criminal investigation, judges have expressed their displeasure with the fact that Senators have failed to understand the limits and role of parliamentary immunity.

 

Prosecutor Kovesi on Senate’s denying Senator’s prosecution: Political vote stymieing justice, keeping a mother waiting

 

Chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi says that the Senate’s having denied by vote the start of a criminal investigation of Senator Gabriel Oprea, a former interior minister, have rendered prosecutors unable to establish Oprea’s criminal liability in the death of a police officer, thus keeping the officer’s mother waiting for justice to be served.

“This is a political vote stymieing justice. The vote has rendered DNA unable to establish Oprea’s criminal liability for a suspicion of culpable homicide. That means a mother is kept waiting,” Kovesi said Wednesday upon arriving at the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM).

She added that similar precedents had occurred, mentioning to the point the case of former Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean.

“There have been precedents. I want you to recall the case in which former Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean was involved: thousands of voters could not cast ballots [in the 2014 presidential election]. We opened an investigation, but a political vote again stymied it, this being a reason why we cannot gather evidence to find out what happened,” added Kovesi.

She said she came to CSM in support of a DNA prosecutor in a disciplinary meeting.

“I’ve come today just to support our colleague in a disciplinary meeting related to a case in which former Interior Minister Oprea, former Interior Minister Petre Toba and a former head of the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence and Internal Protection Department were investigated. I’ve come for her defence,” said Kovesi.

 

UNJR condemns way Senate and DNA communicated in this case: “It’s inadmissible that after so many years Senators are yet to understand the limits and role of parliamentary immunity”

 

The National Union of Romanian Judges (UNJR) condemns the way in which the Senate and the DNA have communicated in the case of the request to start prosecuting Gabriel Oprea for the involuntary manslaughter of police officer Gigina, “giving the impression that justice is being done either by MPs or by prosecutors, not by judges.”

“The National Union of Romanian Judges condemns the way in which the Senate and the DNA have chosen to act and communicate in the case of the request to start criminally prosecuting Senator Gabriel Oprea for the involuntary manslaughter of police officer Bogdan Gigina, giving the impression that justice is served either by MPs or by prosecutors, not by judges. Thus, the Romanian Senate has chosen to justify its rejection of the request to start prosecuting Senator Gabriel Oprea by arguing that ‘the case file is not solid,’” reads a UNJR press release remitted on Wednesday to Mediafax.

The judges remind Senators, in the aforementioned document, that “the vote on a criminal prosecution request is not equivalent to a sentence, MPs not being able to take the judges’ place. The Romanian Parliament, as legislative power, cannot act as a judiciary body which, by conducting a prior analysis of the evidence collected in the case, would basically block the continuation of the investigation on the grounds that the evidence is insufficient.”

The Union states that parliamentary immunity should not be interpreted, under any circumstances and under any pretext, as a cancellation of the MP’s legal responsibility for breaking the laws, but should instead be interpreted as protection against possible abuses or pressures.

“This case concerned the investigation of a death, a guilty act that has nothing to do with protecting the way in which a Senator and/or Minister exercises his prerogatives. It’s inadmissible that, after so many years, Senators are yet to understand the limits and role of parliamentary immunity,” the UNJR adds.

The Union also criticises the manner in which the National Anticorruption Directorate communicated in this case.

“UNJR disavows the way in which the DNA publicly communicated in this case, rendering vulnerable the criminal investigation, which should be carried out with a very high level of professionalism in strict observance of the Code’s provisions, the more so since this concerns accusations of involuntary manslaughter. Through the communique issued on 20 September 2016, the DNA amplified the general emotion following the Senate’s vote, by stating that the vote “makes it impossible for National Anticorruption Directorate prosecutors to establish the former Interior Minister’s criminal liability for the death of police officer Bogdan Gigina.” This statement is a prejudgment on a criminal investigation that is yet to start, rendering vulnerable the DNA’s whole action, transforming the prosecutors into judges and creating the premises of challenging the anticorruption prosecutors’ action,” according to UNJR.

The Union also points out that it is inadmissible for a criminal investigation into the death of one person “to be treated superficially and unprofessionally by fundamental state institutions, while late police officer Bogdan Gigina’s family and citizens are desperately and publicly asking for justice to be served,” and that this increasingly frequent institutional backsliding renders Romania seriously vulnerable as a sate.

 

Justice Minister: Romania’s problem is that the law is enforced in discriminatory fashion

 

Referring to the Senate’s rejection of the DNA’s request to start prosecuting Gabriel Oprea, Justice Minister Raluca Pruna stated on Tuesday that Romania’s problem is that the law is being enforced in a discriminatory fashion.

When asked at the end of a debate on anticorruption for her opinion on the Senate’s rejection of the DNA’s request to start prosecuting Gabriel Oprea, Raluca Pruna said: “I don’t want to talk about a case in particular, but I’ve said that Romania’s problem is not that we lack the legislation, Romania’s problem is that we are enforcing the legislation in a discriminatory fashion. Meaning we engage in a kind of positive discrimination.”

The Justice Minister added that she can unreservedly state that in Romania we are not blind when it comes to persons on whom an ethical code or a legal provisions have to be enforced.

 

UK’s Ambassador Brummell: Democracy has to be equal for all

 

Referring to the Senate’s rejection of the DNA’s request to start prosecuting Gabriel Oprea, United Kingdom’s ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell stated on Tuesday that democracy should be equal for all.

“I can’t comment on individual cases. (…) I know it is a generally observed principle in the United Kingdom, Romania and in all democracies that democracy should be equal for all. I recall that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism included a recommendation that clear principles have to be established in what concerns decisions in Parliament on the lifting of immunity for MPs, and I hope this recommendation will be discussed and elaborated in Parliament,” the British diplomat said.

 

Gabriel Oprea: Unfortunately, tragedies sometimes occur while on duty

 

Present at the High Court on Tuesday, where he was subpoenaed for a new court hearing in a case in which he is accused of malfeasance in office in relation to the way Intelligence and Internal Protection Department (DIPI) funds were used, former Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea pointed out he is innocent and that “tragedies sometimes happen while on duty.”

“These are parliamentary procedures; I didn’t make them. I asked my colleagues to defend me because I am really innocent. Unfortunately, tragedies sometimes occur while on duty,” Gabriel Oprea stated at the headquarters of the Supreme Court.

The former Interior Minister went to the headquarters of the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon in order to take part in a new court hearing in a case in which he is accused of malfeasance in office in relation to the way Intelligence and Internal Protection Department (DIPI) funds were used. The statements came against the backdrop in which the Romanian Senate rejected on Monday the DNA’s request to start prosecuting Oprea for involuntary manslaughter in the case concerning the death of police officer Bogdan Gigina.

 

Former PNL MP Ludovic Orban: It’s not for Parliament to decide whether someone is guilty or not

 

“You know my point of view very well, I always considered that it’s not for Parliament to decide whether someone is innocent or guilty. This is the exclusive prerogative of the courts and, consequently, I always voted in favour of the judiciary’s requests, even before PNL officially took the decision,” former PNL MP Ludovic Orban stated on Tuesday at the High Court, referring to the decision the Senate took on Monday.

 

Late officer Gigina’s family wants road authority and gas utilities company held accountable: “Mr. Oprea is not the only one guilty”

 

Daniel Ionascu, the lawyer of the Gigina family, stated that the late police officer’s relatives also want the road authority and the natural gas utilities company held accountable. The statement came in reaction to the Senators’ decision to reject the DNA’s request to prosecute Gabriel Oprea.

“The DNA requests are based on Constitutional principles. Meaning free access to the judiciary is completely unimpeded. If I have a text that says that access to the judiciary is unimpeded, and an MP can be investigated for a flagrant crime even regardless of the vote [on the lifting of his immunity], what is the difference for a court not to be able to investigate an MP. I’m not talking about Mr. Oprea, I’m talking in general. Why can’t this MP be investigated in order to establish his innocence, in contrast to any other Romanian citizen. (…) After this vote, the family will carry on with this case based on the idea that the DNA will eventually shed light on Mr. Oprea’s actions. It’s not a statement incriminating Mr. Oprea and we don’t want to point fingers in any shape and form. But, obviously, we will fight tooth and nail for the road authority and the manager of the natural gas utilities company to be held accountable. The opinion of Bogdan Gigina’s parents is that Mr. Oprea is not the only guilty party, the owners of the natural gas company and those responsible for the official motorcade are guilty too,” lawyer Daniel Ionascu stated.

 

More and more intense discussions in the public space for waiver of immunity

 

After they saved Gabriel Oprea from prosecution for manslaughter, the parliamentarians are now pleading for removing immunities of the Constitution. National Liberal Party (PNL) deputy Ovidiu Raetchi’s initiative was quickly embraced by the leaders of the parties. Liviu Dragnea even raises: everybody’s immunity should be removed, from MPs to the President.

Liberal Ovidiu Raetchi asks politicians to waive of immunity.

“It is absurd, unfair and discriminatory to treat parliamentarians as super-citizens who are above the law. We are preparing parliamentary elections, and a key point in the program of any political party with common sense must necessarily include the removal of the parliamentary immunity”, said Ovidiu Raetchi, PNL deputy, in a press release.

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea and PNL Co-President Alina Gorghiu also agree this idea.

“If we’ll ever manage to amend the Constitution in this country – I’ve said it before -, I will propose immunities’ removal for everybody, including for the President of Romania. Either everybody is under the law, I mean nobody is above the law, or we adapt also other models that exist in other countries”, stated Liviu Dragnea.

“When we will have a parliamentary majority so that we will be able to promote an amendment of the Constitution, we will be able to discuss about this issue, too”, said Alina Gorghiu.

The leader of the Save Romania Union (Uniunea Salvati Romania), a political formation that hopes to enter the future Parliament, also supports the immunities’ removal.

“We consider inadmissible yesterday’s vote in Parliament on the case of Gabriel Oprea. It’s inadmissible for the Parliament to interfere again with a matter which strictly depends on Justice”, stated Nicusor Dan.

President Klaus Iohannis also criticized the vote in Senate.

“Some senators have proved, again, that they didn’t understand until now that the guilt or the innocence of a person is not decided by a vote in the plenum, but by a Court”, stated the President, according to a press release issued by the Presidency.

The US Embassy also criticized the vote.

“Although we do not comment on individual cases, an essential principle of the democracy is that all the people are equal before the law”, reads the Embassy’s press release.

 

 

 

 

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