On Thursday, National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi stated at the review of the institution’s 2016 activity, review attended by the head of state and numerous ambassadors, that more than 1,200 defendants were indicted in 2016, more than a quarter of them being charged with abuse of office, the damage caused totalling EUR 260 million.
Kovesi said that the more than 1,270 defendants were indicted for high-level and medium-level corruption, including three ministers, six senators, 11 Lower Chamber lawmakers, more than 40 mayors, 16 magistrates and over 20 national corporation managers.
She added that identifying public procurement fraud and corruption was a priority action area in 2016, with DNA prosecutorial investigations aimed mainly at procurements in infrastructure, IT, and healthcare, as well as at restitution of property and public services. These cases concerned the procurement of goods and services at prices hiked by 50 to 800 percent and about kickbacks ranging from 10 to 20 percent.
Kovesi said there are thousands and thousands of people who want a society based on fairness and respect, and the judiciary’s efforts must be supported by the stability of the legislative and institutional framework.
“In Romania, many people state they support the anticorruption fight, but we have all seen how quickly the anticorruption fight can be nullified. 2016 was a difficult year, characterised by unprecedented attacks against the DNA,” the DNA Chief Prosecutor said.
Kovesi said courts handed final sentences to more than 879 defendants in cases built by the DNA, including among them one MEP, seven Lower Chamber lawmakers, one senator, one minister, five county council chairmen and 28 mayors.
“The sentences issued by the courts confirmed the efficiency efforts made by the DNA prosecutors. The acquittal rate was 10 percent, the same as in the previous years, and the rate is below the European Union average, which proves that the judiciary is functioning in Romania and the purpose of criminal trials is to always find the truth,” added Kovesi.
“The time it takes to solve a criminal case has considerably increased, given the caseload of more than 100 cases per DNA prosecutor, on average. That is the reason why sometimes we try to solve older cases,” said Kovesi.
The DNA chief prosecutor also said that 2016 was the time of unprecedented attacks against the judiciary and even against the DNA, insisting that she respects freedom of expression but people should not forget that fake news change perception of reality and seriously damage credibility and confidence including in the justice system.
Kovesi mentioned that she must react when the amending of important pieces of legislation, such as the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, is being considered, “particularly when such modifications are made overnight with no prior talks or impact study.”
More than a quarter of those indicted committed abuse of office, causing over EUR 260 million in damage.
Kovesi pointed out that there is now “an ample debate on abuse of office,” emphasising that the Constitutional Court did not decriminalise abuse of office.
She said that the courts applied the interpretative decision and that 71 persons were convicted for abuse of office, 15 acquitted, solely for breaking government decisions, internal regulations or orders. They had been indicted prior to the Constitutional Court’s decision.
In her opinion, corruption manifested itself through the same repetitive actions, meaning that criminal investigations must be doubled by preventive measures.
To be efficient against corruption, efforts should be backed by stable regulatory, organisational frameworks
The efforts of the justice system should be supported by stable regulatory and organisational frameworks for them to be efficient in the fight against corruption, Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi told a 2016 DNA activity report meeting on Thursday.
“We wanted and continue to want to fight against corruption. But that is not enough. The efforts of the justice system must be backed by stability of the legislative and organisational frameworks for them to be efficient in the fight against corruption. Many people in Romania say they support the fight against corruption, but we have all seen how much legislative stability matters and how quickly the efforts and work of the entire justice system, not just of the DNA prosecutors, can be nullified,” said Kovesi.
She added that this is an activity report she was unveiling to the invitees and citizens alike.
The DNA chief prosecutor added that things said at the last year’s activity report meeting, namely that “it is important for the dangers of corruption to be realised” and that prosecutors had besides them the most important ally, the Romanian citizen, still hold true.
“I want to remind you what I said precisely one year ago at the activity report meeting about our work: ‘We have had besides us in this fight of ours the most important ally, the Romanian citizens. Without them, our work would not have been possible. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want a society built on fairness and respect.’ I was also telling you that the danger of corruption needs to be realised and for Romania to be less corrupt all of you in this room now should continue to wish for the same. The same still holds true today,” said Kovesi.
Courts handed out final sentences to more than 870 defendants indicted by DNA. Acquittal rate remained stable at 10 pc
DNA Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi also stated that courts handed final sentences to over 879 of the defendants in cases built by the DNA, including among them one MEP, seven Lower Chamber lawmakers, one senator, one minister, five county council chairmen and 28 mayors. Kovesi pointed out that the acquittal rate remained stable, at 10 percent, adding that the DNA continues to be preoccupied with raising quality standards.
Kovesi stated that DNA prosecutors took part in almost 15,000 court hearings.
“We were preoccupied by court decisions in order to avoid different solutions being offered on the same legal problems. The High Court of Justice has remained the benchmark of jurisprudence in our activity,” the DNA’s chief prosecutor said.
“The courts’ rulings confirmed the DNA prosecutors’ efficiency efforts,” Kovesi pointed out.
She added that the “acquittal rate remained at 10 percent, as in previous years,” and emphasised that the DNA “continues to be preoccupied with raising quality standards.”
“In fact, most reasons for acquittal in cases handled by the DNA were determined by the application of the most favourable criminal law, the application of Constitutional Court decisions or the weighing of evidence administered during the trial. This 10 percent rate is below the European average and shows that the judiciary is functioning in Romania, and the purpose of the criminal trial is to always find out the truth,” Kovesi added.
DNA seized two properties worth EUR 3.5 million, located in France
The DNA has placed a lien on two properties worth over EUR 3.5 million, located in France, two buildings in Spain and has frozen bank accounts in Cyprus, Germany and Switzerland, DNA Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi added, pointing out that the recovery of the proceeds of crime was an important component of the activity in 2016, when EUR 667 million was seized.
Laura Codruta Kovesi said DNA set liens worth 667 million euros in 2016, up by 72 percent year-on-year.
“Recovering the proceeds of crime was an important component of our activity on 2016. Liens were set worth 667 million euros, which is a notable surge by 72 percent year-on-year. Oftentimes, DNA cases regard people deriving huge profits, acquiring goods in other countries or opening bank accounts in other jurisdictions. No criminal offender should feel safe, no matter where he or she may hide their proceeds of crime,” Kovesi told a DNA 2016 activity report meeting on Thursday.
She added that DNA sent 80 international letters rogatory for evidence administration and identification of assets.
“This way, we managed to seize two properties in France worth more than 3.5 million euros, while in Spain we set a lien on two buildings worth more than 500,000 euros. We asked for the freezing of bank accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland and Germany,” said Kovesi.
She added that in 2016, judges ordered under final and binding rulings in DNA cases the confiscation and recovery of proceeds of crime worth more than 226 million euro, which must be paid into the national budget.
Kovesi on public procurement fraud: Can a procurement price be 800 pc higher by mistake?
DNA Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi stated on Thursday that identifying public procurement fraud and corruption represented a top priority domain in 2016, pointing out that DNA prosecutors identified cases in which procured products were overvalued by 50 to 800 percent. For infrastructure or constructions, the state often pays double the value of services rendered, Kovesi added.
“The typologies we identified in our investigations prove that the public procurement system has major vulnerabilities. The awarding of contracts or the payments related to the contracts are frequently conditioned by kickbacks. Sometimes, tender books are rigged to favour certain companies. Sometimes, payments are made for services not rendered, or the state is paying a higher price for products or services. Useless products or equipment that cannot be installed and used are frequently procured. Works whose execution cannot be verified and quantified are procured,” Kovesi said at the DNA’s review meeting.
She added that, albeit the damage caused is clear, prosecutors prove each time that these are not simple errors but abuses that most often hide a bribe or a benefit.
The DNA’s chief prosecutor pointed out that DNA prosecutors identified cases in which the products procured were overvalued by 50 to 800 percent.
“Can a procurement price be 800 percent higher by mistake?” Kovesi asked.
Supreme Court President: Talking about eradicating corruption is veritable utopia
Supreme Court President Cristina Tarcea stated on Thursday, at the DNA’s 2016 review meeting, that talking about the eradication of corruption is utopia, preventing this phenomenon being more important than combating it.
“In my view, a presence at such a high level, I’m talking about the presence of the Romanian President, the presence of the President of CSM [Supreme Magistracy Council], only serves to emphasise the importance of the joint effort in which Romanian society is engaged, in combating corruption, a phenomenon that is unfortunately quasi-inherent in a society in transition, a transition that, at least in my view, seems to no longer end,” Cristina Tarcea stated at the meeting.
The Supreme Court President added that the DNA must remain the central pillar of the fight against corruption.
“I can’t help but note that the DNA is a structure criticised by some and appreciated by others, detested by some, eulogised by others… We have to be aware of the fact that, at this moment, the DNA represents the central pillar in the fight against corruption and must remain so as long as the corruption phenomenon is not diminished,” Tarcea added.
The High Court of Justice President emphasised that preventing corruption is more important than combating it.
“Talking about eradicating corruption, I find that to be veritable utopia. The DNA’s data and results speak for themselves. I’m glad I saw the same idea emphasised by the Romanian President’s speech… The fight against corruption is extremely important, but I think preventing corruption is much more important. I too believe the moment has come, that we should give more importance to prevention measures,” Cristina Tarcea stated.
Birchall: The number of the acquitted persons has significantly increased in 2016, compared to 2015, from 35 to 74
The number of persons sent to judgment by DNA, who were acquitted by the courts has significantly increased in 2016, compared to 2015, from 35 to 74, stated the Interim JusMin Ana Birchall, at the DNA review, adding that she believes that the reasons of this increment and the measures to correct the situation will be identified.
“As a member of the Romanian Government, I wish to reiterate the determination of the current Executive to continue the fight against corruption, since it is an essential prerequisite for strengthening the rule of law. It is important to provide the institutions in the judiciary the necessary levers and resources to achieve their objectives, but at the same time, our efforts must be equally oriented to protecting the fundamental human rights and freedoms”, Ana Birchall stated.
The Interim JusMin noticed that 114 legal entities have also been sent to judgment in 2016, but the number of the acquittals has also increased, compared to 2015.
“We notice that from the defendants sent to judgment in 2016, 114 are legal entities, which indicates a concern of the anticorruption prosecutors for using new instruments of criminal law, such as criminal liability for legal entities. According to the same report, we find that the number of acquitted persons has significantly increased in 2016, compared to 2015. From 35 people in 2015, to 74 people in 2016. We believe that the reasons of this increment, as well as the measures to correct the situation, will be identified”, Birchall added.
She underlined that the integral recovery of the prejudice in the corruption cases must remain a priority.
“The presented report doesn’t show if all the assets that were subject to the seizure measures have been identified and located, so that in the future we’ll be able to recover these amounts, after the criminal trial will be finished. Integral recovery of the prejudice must remain a priority” stated the Interim JusMin.
Birchall stated that the Justice Ministry supported and continues to support DNA to adopt the staff plan, by supplementing a significant number of jobs.
“Today, I’m bringing you good news, these days I sent to the circuit, to be approved, your request existing since the beginning of 2016, motivated by the supplementation of the staff plan, considering the need to ensure the technical support in investigating cases of DNA’s jurisdiction, following the adoption of the GEO no.6/2016 which refers, among others, to measures for performing technical surveillance”, Ana Birchall also stated.
Prosecutor General Lazar: 7,500 unsolved cases at 2016 year-end, up compared to 2015
Prosecutor General of Romania Augustin Lazar stated on Thursday, at the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) yearly review, that one of the Public Ministry’s priorities for 2017 is to reduce the stockpile of unsolved cases, stressing that the number of unsolved cases at the end of 2016 is higher compared to the same period of 2015.
“One of the major priorities of the Public Ministry leadership in respect to the results of the prosecutor’s offices activities throughout 2016, including the DNA’s activity, consists in identifying efficient solutions in order to reduce the stockpile of unsolved cases which remained at the end of the year. (…) Therefore, the number of unsolved cases at the end of 2016 compared to 2015 has increased and a number of 7,500 cases remain to be solved, which is an important stockpile. This significant problem occurred mainly because of a genuine avalanche of new-entry cases during 2016, almost 5,000 new-entry cases. This is an unprecedented situation and the DNA will have to find the necessary resources to solve these cases, to close a better part of this stockpile during 2017. Moreover, I want to note the fact that, although the stockpile of cases has increased, the promptness which they were solved with was very good. Almost a third of cases were solved by our colleagues, who managed to find a solution within a year from the date they were notified,” Lazar stated.
In this context, he pointed out that the fight against corruption still represents an “absolute” priority of the state and the Public Ministry, and assessed the DNA’s activity throughout 2016 as being “a considerable one, superior in volume and quality, compared to the activity conducted during 2015, despite all difficulties encountered by the Directorate.”
President Iohannis: Irreversibility of anticorruption fight not guaranteed; anticorruption legislation to be amended only following public debate
President Klaus Iohannis stated on Thursday, at the meeting in which the DNA reviewed its 2016 activity, that legislation in the anticorruption domain must be amended only following ample public debate and only after the relevant institutions are consulted.
“Ordinance no.13, the unfortunate Ordinance 13 of 2017 has been abrogated, the measures threatening the anticorruption fight have been withdrawn and the sword of Damocles seems to have been removed, for the moment. We have a legislation that is often deficient, which generates problems of interpretation. Undeniably, it must be amended, but measures such as the amending of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code or laws granting collective pardons require ample public debate, transparency and responsibility in the decision-making process. These are aspects that cannot be ignored in Romania in 2017,” Klaus Iohannis said.
The president deemed that the adoption of measures amending anticorruption legislation must be the expression of a real debate in Parliament, following the consultation of specialists, the taking into account of expertise in the domain and the Opposition’s point of view.
“The irreversibility of the anticorruption fight is not guaranteed. Legislative measures that weaken the applicability domain of corruption crimes, the interference of the political factor in the judicial act, media campaigns against some magistrates or judiciary institutions are only a few of the factors that can radically affect the path Romania has set out on,” the president warned.
Klaus Iohannis added that the Government’s attempts to modify the criminal legislation were censured in the European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism report, “which sounds the alarm in the sense that any changes meant to weaken the efficacity of judiciary institutions that fight corruption would result in a reassessment of the progress made by Romania in this domain.”
The president pointed out that his actions, as head of state, were always in the spirit of loyal cooperation between institutions and expressed his confidence that the DNA and the judiciary’s institutions will play an active role in terms of the competent positions they can present, based on their day-to-day activity.
“You have in me an unconditional supporter to consolidate the rule of law”
President Klaus Iohannis told an activity report meeting on Thursday of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) that he will provide unconditional support for the consolidation of the rule of law, pointing out that the DNA is playing an essential part in the fight against corruption and in the observance of the law.
“Romania finds itself at a time when it can confidently walk on the path of consolidated democracies, where the mechanisms of the rule of law are independent of political will. It takes very much poise and wisdom on the part of all the parties involved so that the progress made so far will not be wasted. What must prevail is Romania’s desideratum to become a strong country defending the interests of its citizens. In the new paradigm, the DNA remains a key institution playing an essential part in the fight against corruption and in the observance of the law. Through our actions in 2016, you proved that the objectives undertaken by you can be turned into palpable realities,” said Iohannis.
He added that he will be an unconditional supporter in the consolidation of the rule of law.
“You have in me a partner and unconditional supporter in the consolidation of the rule of law, because I firmly believe that Romania’s real development depends on it,” said Iohannis.
“Deficient judiciary legislation, it has to be amended”
President Klaus Iohannis also declared that legislation is often deficient in the judiciary area, stressing that it should be amended, but through debate and decisional transparency.
“We have a legislation that is often deficient. Undeniably, it must be amended, but measures such as the amending of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code or laws granting collective pardons require ample public debate, transparency and responsibility in the decision-making process. These are aspects that cannot be ignored in Romania in 2017,” Klaus Iohannis said.
He stressed that in such cases, consultations in Parliament and with justice experts are needed.
The Head of the State also expressed his confidence that the DNA and the judiciary’s institutions will play an active role in the process of amending the legislation.