STRASBOURG, France (AFP) — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday censured Romania for firing a senior anti-corruption investigator who has since been appointed the European Union’s top fraud prosecutor.
As head of Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate, Laura Codruta Kovesi was instrumental in opening fraud probes against 14 former or current ministers, 43 lawmakers and more than 260 local officials between 2013 and July 2018, when she was dismissed.
The European court ruled the government had violated Kovesi’s rights to a fair trial and to freedom of speech, upholding her complaint that she had been fired for criticizing legislative changes to corruption laws.
“Her right to freedom of expression had been violated because she had been dismissed for those criticisms, which she had made in the exercise of her duties on a matter of great public interest,” the ECHR said in a statement.
“One of her duties as anticorruption chief prosecutor had been to express her opinion on legislative reforms which could have an impact on the judiciary and its independence, and on the fight against corruption,” it said.
Her removal appears to have “defeated the very purpose of maintaining judicial independence,” the court added, “and must have had a chilling effect on her and other prosecutors and judges in taking part in public debate on legislative reforms affecting the judiciary and judicial independence.”
The judges also upheld Kovesi’s claim that she had been denied the possibility of challenging her dismissal in court.
‘A question of principle’
Kovesi, an icon of the anti-corruption fight in her country, welcomed the ruling.
It helped clarify “a question of principle concerning the independence of prosecutors and, generally, the judicial system”, she said.
Her decision to take her case to the ECHR was based on a desire “to prevent such abusive procedures being applied to other prosecutors,” she said in a statement to Romanian media.
Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, whose pro-European National Liberal Party last November took over power from the Social Democrats under whom Kovesi was removed, appealed Tuesday for reforms to “prevent similar breaches” of EU-held principles and values.
During Kovesi’s time as head of the DNA, hundreds of elected officials were convicted of corruption offenses. That earned her the enmity of many in Romania’s political class and criticism that she had overstepped her mandate.
Her work was regularly praised by European institutions, which also condemned the judicial overhauls proposed by the former leftwing government.
Critics say the changes would undermine the rule of law and the fight against corruption in one of the EU’s most graft-prone states.
Last October, Kovesi was appointed head of the new European Prosecutor’s Office, responsible for investigating the misuse of EU funds and VAT fraud between EU member states.
© Agence France-Presse