Laura Codruta Kovesi. Photo: EPA-EFE/Stephanie Lecocq
A special department in Romania set up to investigate magistrates summoned the country’s former anti-corruption chief prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, for a hearing on Thursday – after a four-hour hearing notified her that she was a suspect in a second case.
The hearing in Romania took place as leaders of political groups in the European Parliament met in Brussels to decide the next steps in choosing the head of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, EPPO, for which Kovesi is in the running.
Two European Parliament committees have already selected her as their choice to head the EPPO, the Civil Liberties and Justice Committee and the Budget Control Committee. Both preferred her to her nearest rival, Francois Bonhert of France.
While Bonhert enjoys the support of the French government, Kovesi has been openly opposed by the Romanian government – which has lobbied against her appointment to the EPPO post.
She was summoned on Thursday for a hearing before the special department that investigates magistrates, which was recently set up as a result of changes in justice legislation promoted by the ruling Social Democratic Party.
It has accused her of bribery, abuse of office and false testimony. Kovesi has denied the charges. A group of anti-Kovesi protesters gathered in front of the Attorney General’s Office on Thursday, while an opposing group of her supporters cheered her.
“I am accused of running an organized crime group inside the National Anti-Corruption Directorate,” she told journalists after the hearing.
The investigation into her started after the IT tycoon and politician Sebastian Ghita, a former Social Democrat MP – himself accused of corruption in several cases – filed a complaint against her. He is currently in Serbia, where he has obtained political asylum.
The Romanian government fired her as head of the Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA, in July 2018.
During her five-year tenure at the DNA, she angered the ruling party by prosecuting hundreds of politicians, civil servants, and public officials for corruption-related offences – many of them from the Social Democrats.
She also sued the Romanian government in December 2018 before the European Court of Human Rights for firing her without giving her the possibility to defend herself.
When the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the EU, COREPER, voted for Bonhert to run the EPPO on February 20, this was widely seen as the result of strong lobbying by the Romanian government.
The Bulgarian news website Sega reported that the Bulgarian representative in COREPER had also voted against Kovesi’s appointment.
News of this angered some in Bulgaria. A campaign, called “I support Laura Kovesi for Chief Prosecutor of the EPPO,” launched a week ago, has already gathered over 1,500 followers on Facebook.
They have drafted a letter of support for her and have apologised for the Bulgarian state’s position in the COREPER vote.
The winner will be appointed as a result of negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council.
The European Parliament on Thursday set up a commission of three members that will negotiate with the Council on the final appointment.
They are Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, author of a report on Hungary that led to triggering Article 7 against the country, German MEP Ingeborg Grassle, from the centre-right European Popular Party, a supporter of Kovesi’s and a member of the Budget Control Commission, and British MEP Claude Moraes, the head of the Civil Liberties Commission.