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November 21, 2019
JUSTICE POLITICS

Senate passes amendments to Criminal Code after a tense sitting, final vote in the House on Wednesday

The Senate, as the first notified Chamber, adopted the bill amending the Criminal Code on Tuesday, with 74 votes in favour, 28 against and nine abstentions. The bill was adopted after a tense meeting in which the Opposition tried to leave the ruling power without a quorum, but its bid failed because UDMR Senators entered the hall so that the meeting could continue.

Before the final vote, PNL and USR upheld their more than 160 rejected amendments.

The House will have the final say on the bill. The special committee on the amending of the judicial laws, chaired by House lawmaker Florin Iordache (PSD), adopted on Monday the amendment to Article 297 on abuse of office, so that the offence is not punishable if the damage caused does not exceed one gross minimum salary (RON 1,900). Moreover, a guilty act is considered abuse of office only if the goal of its perpetrator was to obtain undue material benefits for self, the spouse, or relatives up to the second degree. Likewise, the special committee eliminated from the sphere of the abuse of office offence the drafting, issuance, or approval of legislative acts by Parliament and Government. Article 298 of the Criminal Code was abrogated. At the same time, the committee decided to modify the Criminal Code’s definition of the crime ring, in the sense that a group formed occasionally for the immediate perpetration of one or more crimes, and that lacks continuity, does not represent a crime ring. On Monday, the National Anticorruption Directorate pointed out that numerous cases will be closed because of prescription.

 

Opposition boycott and protest during Senate’s plenary meeting which debated Criminal Code

 

Opposition MPs walked out of the plenum hall while the Senate was debating the bill amending the Criminal Code, so that the necessary quorum needed for the final voting would not be ensured. On the hallways, USR representatives unfurled a banner reading “Without lawbreakers.”

UDMR ensured the plenary meeting’s quorum on Tuesday, after the Opposition decided to boycott the voting on the bill amending the Criminal Code and walked out of the hall. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, UDMR representatives entered the hall shortly after USR, PNL and PMP lawmakers decided to walk out.

After a few minutes, once they realised that their absence did not cause a lack of quorum, USR, PNL and PMP Senators returned to the hall. Shortly after their return, Senator Adrian Tutuianu (PSD), chairman of the plenary meeting on Tuesday, announced that 73 Senators were present so the proceedings could continue. USR representatives returned to the hall and unfurled in front of the rostrum a banner reading “Without lawbreakers.”

“To have it noted, we have 113 signatures and 73 members of Senate are present, consequently the proceedings can take place,” Adrian Tutuianu stated.

 

UDMR Senator Attila Cseke criticizes the fact that the CCR decisions have been transposed only now in the criminal legislation

 

Before the amendments to the Criminal Code were put up for vote, Cseke Attila announced during the plenary meeting that the Union will not support the bill unless the amendments to abuse of office and the amendment eliminating negligence resulting in breach of duty are rejected. “Two extra issues have been introduced on abuse of office, namely the lowering of the upper limit of the punishment from 7 to 5 years, and the wording ‘to obtain a patrimonial benefit for self, the spouse, or relative up to the second degree.’ The UDMR group cannot agree with these two issues added. I’m telling you that when the rejected amendments are read we will vote the two amendments that will solve the two issues, for negligence resulting in breach of duty to remain, and for abuse of office to remain in the form requested by the CCR. If this doesn’t happen, UDMR will not be able to support the bill,” UDMR’s Senate whip Cseke Attila announced before the Senate.

UDMR Senator Attila Cseke criticized the fact that the CCR decisions have been transposed only now in the criminal legislation and said that UDMR doesn’t agree with repealing the article in the Criminal Code regarding the dereliction of duty and with certain amendments brought to the abuse of office.

“Must the CCR decisions be transposed in the internal legislation, or not? The answer is definitely yes. Must these decisions have been transposed at this moment? The answer is definitely no. They must not have been transposed now, but much earlier. (…) There are two issues we cannot support as they are formulated in the report of the specialized Committee. We do not agree with repealing the article regarding the dereliction of duty. We cannot agree with this, because the modality of breaching the office duties by negligence would disappear. What the Court told us related to the abuse of office should have been regulated here, in relation with this offense, because they are related somehow”, Cseke said.

Regarding the abuse of office, he said that UDMR agrees with certain amendments made according to CCR’s requirements, but regarding the threshold for this offense, “this is a different discussion”.

“Regarding the offense of abuse of office, we can support a form that transposes the two CCR decisions, which told us two things: the office duties must be regulated by a law, this part is in the Committee’s report, and a threshold must be established for this offense, and this issue is established. How high this threshold should be, this is a different discussion”, he added.

The UDMR senator also said that he agrees with repealing the punishment by fine when the imprisonment is provided, as well as with the regulation that, regarding the extended confiscation, the administered evidence should lead to the conclusion that the goods are obtained from criminal activities.

 

PNL’s Gorghiu: The modifications represent nothing but “the absurd ambition of one man”

 

During the debate on the amendments to the Criminal Code, Senator Alina Gorghiu (PNL) said that these modifications represent nothing but “the absurd ambition of one man,” while Senator Nicu Falcoi (USR) said that “PSD has invented a new way of stealing.” Likewise, Senator Attila Cseke (UDMR) criticised the fact that Constitutional Court decisions were only now transposed into the criminal legislation and said that UDMR disagrees with the abrogation of the article concerning negligence resulting in breach of duty and with some amendments to the article on abuse of office. Senator Serban Nicolae (PSD), one of the initiators of the process of amending the Code, said that most of the adopted amendments come from the CSM and the professional associations, pointing out that he does not believe that judges are to blame for the fact that “Parliament is impermissibly late in devising these norms.”

“Unfortunately, we are indeed discussing an essential bill for democracy, for the judicial system and for each one of us in conditions that are impossible to label in civilised terms. I find the lack of quorum impermissible at such an important law, and the loud screams of a lady in the hall at this moment, I find that impermissible too. It has to do with common sense, education, but you can’t get blood out of a stone,” Alina Gorghiu said.

Likewise, she said that the Criminal Code bill represents the absurd ambition of one man. She criticised the fact that Justice Minister Tudorel Toader was not present at the debates.

“The Criminal Code bill (…) represents nothing but the ambition of one man, and we are talking about an ambition as absurd as possible. We are talking about an important law, a major law, that not only has no impact study behind it, but it does not even have a sad Justice Minister present in the plenum, today (Tuesday – editor’s note), even though every time an aide, director or state adviser comes within the committees you say you do not debate bills except when the minister shows up. Today, in the Senate’s plenum, when the minister is not showing up, you have no kind of hesitation and you do not even blink. You are proud that nobody from the Government has come to represent the institution you support,” Gorghiu added.

Senator Nicu Falcoi (USR) pointed out that the new definition of abuse of office will mean that in Romania there will no longer be any dossier for this offence, claiming that “PSD has invented a new way of stealing.”

“After I found out the new definition of abuse of office, my first thought was to see whether any dossier opened for this offence will remain in Romania. To realise whether Mr Iordache, Mr Nicolicea, and the other PSD-ALDE-UDMR representatives within the committee have fulfilled all the tasks given to them or maybe they have somehow missed something that could once again prompt Mr Dragnea to apologise to criminals. (…) PSD has invented a new way of stealing, the altruistic theft in which you share with the pack of political altruists what you stole from Romanians,” Nicu Falcoi said.

PSD Senator Serban Nicolae said that most of the adopted amendments come from CSM and from the professional associations, mentioning that he doesn’t think that judges are guilty because “the Parliament delayed much too much the issuance of these rules”.

“In fact, we tried to simplify this debate at the level of the institutions in charge with implementing the law. Most of the amendments come from CSM and from the professional associations. I saw the final form, and as an initiator, I can tell you I am satisfied that we overcame this stage, and we can overcome the decisions that have found the unconstitutionality of certain provisions of the Criminal Code, so that the alternative to the version currently in force can be the one proposed by the specialized committee. Between having unconstitutional provisions in the Criminal Code and forcing the courts to do abnormal things for the statute of the judges, namely between forcing them to distinguish what exactly can be applied in the Criminal Code, and within which limits, and how the law must be interpreted, and making the amendments we appreciated to be necessary at this moment, the second option is preferable. I think judges are guilty because the Parliament delayed much too much the issuance of these rules. (…) I also saw the Committee’s rejected amendments, and as we all could see, they only tried to delay the debates, to bring into discussion particular cases, individualized to certain persons, in order to ensure themselves that they can go on with this political purge mechanism or political game using the criminal legislation and the judicial institutions”, the PSD Senator stated.

 

Dragnea on Criminal Code: I don’t want to talk anymore. Regardless of what my colleagues or I have said, opinions have remained unchanged

 

Social Democratic Party (PSD) President Liviu Dragnea stated on Tuesday that he no longer wants to talk about the Criminal Code, because opinions have remained unchanged no matter what he or his colleagues have said. Likewise, he accused the press for not reacting to the abuses of and the decisions taken by the courts “based on unconstitutional articles.” Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu said he is convinced that changing “the Criminal Coe’s philosophy” by putting greater emphasis on the recovery of the damage was necessary and the more accurate definition of Criminal Code stipulations may help eliminate the abuses on whose basis “many innocent people ended up being convicted.”

“I no longer want to talk. We have been talking for more than a year and my conclusion is that, regardless of what my colleagues or I have said, opinions have remained unchanged, so there is no point,” Liviu Dragnea said.

“You know what I noticed about you (the press – editor’s note)? No reaction during this whole period to the abuses, to the decisions taken by courts based on some unconstitutional articles. Here I have seen no reaction. For this reason, I no longer want to talk about this,” he added.

Asked for his response to those who say that the amendments to the Criminal Code will help him get rid of some charges, the leader of Social Democrats responded: “Do you think these guys will let me get away?”

 

Tariceanu: Of course, the amending of the Code will bring controversies any time and it’s good that there are different points of view

 

In his turn, Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu said that the modification of the Criminal Code would have created controversies regardless of its timing.

“Of course, the amending of the Criminal Code will bring controversies at any time, and it’s good that there are controversies, it’s good that there are different points of view, because we are living in a democratic society. But, eventually, considering the experienced gained so far in what concerns the functioning of the Codes, the numerous CCR [Constitutional Court] decisions admitting unconstitutionality exceptions for a very high number of Criminal Code articles, the European practices in this field, the ECHR decisions, the recommendations of the Venice Commission, these modifications have proven to be absolutely necessary and, of course, in the end, through the vote of the majority, the form in which they are to be adopted will be decided,” Calin Popescu Tariceanu said.

He added that he is convinced that it was necessary to change “the philosophy of the Criminal Code” by putting greater emphasis on the recovery of the damage.

“My conviction is that there is a need to change, at this moment, the philosophy of the Criminal Code, in the sense that we are putting greater emphasis on the recovery of the damage, because the simple imprisonment of those found guilty in court does not completely solve the problem. We want the recovery of the sums considered as damage incurred by the state budget, and the emphasis will be put on this element to a greater extent,” he added.

Likewise, the leader of ALDE pointed out that the more accurate definition of Criminal Code stipulations can help eliminate the abuses on whose basis “many innocent people ended up being convicted.”

“We also believe that a more accurate definition of Criminal Code stipulations will help in an essential way, so that in the future the abuses and excesses that have been noticed in recent years in the judicial system, and due to which many innocent people have probably ended up being convicted, would be eliminated. We want a better, clearer definition of these Criminal Code stipulations. I couldn’t say whether I’m pleased or not, the Judiciary Committee is the one that did this important work, ask for the opinion of the specialists there,” Tariceanu added.

 

Iordache Cttee convenes again to draft new report on amendments to Penal Code, before final vote in the House

 

The special parliamentary committee on the amending of judicial laws, chaired by House lawmaker Florin Iordache (PSD), convened again on Tuesday, two hours after the Senate adopted the bill amending the Criminal Code. According to the procedure, following the vote in the Senate the bill will go back to the committee to be debated again and for some modifications to be brought, after which it will undergo the final vote in the House.

Thus, according to the decision of the Standing Bureau of the House, the bill amending the Criminal Code will enter the plenum’s debates on Wednesday and will be put up for vote on Thursday. After these procedures conclude, the bill will go to the President for promulgation.

“The country is under [flood] waters, and PSD’s top priority is the lawbreakers’ Code! So, after 3 p.m., see you at the Iordache Committee,” Stelian Ion wrote on his Facebook account.

 

Tutuianu on amendments to Criminal Code: I don’t believe we shouldn’t see the reality and we shouldn’t adapt the legislation. This law “does not concern Liviu Dragnea in particular”

 

Senator Adrian Tutuianu (PSD) stated on Tuesday that the debates on the Criminal Code have lasted several months and the Code has not been amended hastily. He claims the modifications were necessary and this law “does not concern Liviu Dragnea in particular.” “The first discussions on the texts took place in November-December, they continued in January-March, and these days, in June, the vote within the special committee has been reached, basically a resumption of the talks took place. We’ve passed [it] through the Senate, the first Chamber notified, and it will undergo the procedure in the second Chamber,” Tutuianu said, thus rejecting the statements that the Criminal Code was amended hastily.

Asked whether the new stipulations mean Liviu Dragnea could still be charged with anything, the Social Democratic Senator responded: “If we always relate the way we legislate to persons, we will err fundamentally. Consequently, I don’t believe this law concerns Liviu Dragnea in particular.”

“I too have followed the case you are talking about, you will see he is also indicted for other crimes – forgery. We don’t know what the appeals court will decide in this case,” he added.

Regarding the fact that Liviu Dragnea is accused – in the Tel Drum case – of setting up a crime ring, another offence that parliamentarians have redefined, the Social Democratic Senator said: “I don’t have all elements on this topic. The definition of the crime ring was indeed modified in the sense that the crime ring is based on an agreement between those taking part in it, and not the very lax definition that exists today and that has allowed the indictment of persons who in fact had nothing to do with those who committed the crime. It remains for the court to decide. For the time being, on this topic, we don’t even have an indictment, we only have a pending DNA dossier in which Liviu Dragnea is not a suspect for the time being. Relating even to the directive regarding the presumption of innocence, we are discussing this without serious juridical grounds.”

Asked why, in the case of abuse of office, it was stipulated that the undue benefit is material in nature so it cannot be, for instance, an office, Tutuianu explained: “An office also means some benefits, a salary. Maybe you recall that someone was indicted for receiving very many likes on Facebook. I don’t believe we shouldn’t see the reality and we shouldn’t adapt the legislation.”

 

PNL’s Orban asks Criminal Codes debate to be suspended until Venice Commission issues opinion

 

National Liberal Party (PNL)  leader Ludovic Orban on Tuesday asked the speakers of the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament, Liviu Dragnea and Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, to suspend the legislative process of bringing modifications to the Criminal Code and possibly the Criminal Procedure Code too, until the Venice Commission issues an opinion about the proposed solutions.

“We ask you, on behalf of the National Liberal Party (PNL), to suspend the legislative process of bringing modifications to the Criminal Code and, possibly, the Criminal Procedure Code too, until the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) issues its opinion related to the proposed legislative solutions. We are asking you to act, in your capacity as Speaker of the Senate/Speaker of the Deputies Chamber and leaders of the PSD-ALDE ruling coalition, to the best interests of the Romanian state. Otherwise, by continuing with this process of bringing modifications to the laws in the criminal field, while ignoring at the same time all the signals that you received related to them, you risk to bring severe prejudices to all the Romanian citizens,” read the letter sent by Orban to the speakers of the two chambers of Parliament.

Ludovic Orban also referred in his letter about the report of the European Commission regarding the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism of November 15, 2017, the repeated requests of the European officials to take into account the assessment made by the experts of the Venice Commission in the process of bringing modifications to the justice laws, the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, the repeated stands of the Occidental states’ embassies, both partners from the EU and NATO, the ad-hoc GRECO report and the acceptance of the PNL request to have the Venice Commission notified about the modifications brought to the justice laws, Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, through the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The PNL head motivated his request by saying that Romania belongs to the EU, NATO and the Council of Europe, and by mentioning the conditionalities accepted by the country when it entered the EU and the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification was established, alongside the ratification by our country of the United Nations Convention against corruption through Law no. 364/2004.

 

Read also: 

Parliament holds extraordinary session to adopt controversial amendments to Criminal Code and Administrative Code. Iordache Cttee adopts report on amendments to Penal Code. Senate to vote on bill on Tuesday

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