By Richard L. Cassin | Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 9:18AM
Parliament adopted the “snap amendment” without debate. It would remove from the definition of “public officials” the country’s president, senators, members of the lower chamber, as well as lawyers. The law if adopted would mean they can no longer be held accountable for abuse of office, bribery, conflicts of interest and other corruption crimes, the story said.
Past convictions for eligible non-public officials could also be expunged by the new law.
As in most countries, there are many lawyers among the government ministers, members of parliament, and in the bureaucracy.
The Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said 28 members of parliament have been convicted or are currently on trial for corruption.
“Mayors and other local officials would no longer be held liable for conflicts of interest,” the EU Observer said. The anti-corruption office said more than 100 mayors and vice-mayors are on trial for awarding public contracts to family and friends or for similar abuses.
Romanian President Traian Basescu said Tuesday he would send the bill back to parliament for more work.
But the EU Observer said the president can only send it back to parliament once, and lawmakers don’t have to take the president’s objections into account.
“I thank them for thinking about me, but I don’t need it,” Basescu said in reference to the exemption that applies to his office.
Berlin – The Romanian parliament on Tuesday (10 December 2013) exempted top politicians and lawyers from corruption crimes, in a move which flies in the face of agreements with the EU.
The snap amendments, voted without parliamentary debate, say that the country’s President, senators, members of the lower chamber, as well as lawyers, are no longer to be considered “public officials.”
This in turn means they can no longer be held to account for abuse of office, bribery, conflicts of interest and other corruption crimes.
Those who have been convicted may walk free if the law comes into force.
With many ministers also being parliamentarians and lawyers, the new immunity extends to government members.
Meanwhile, mayors and other local officials would no longer be held liable for conflicts of interest.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, who still has to sign the law for it to be enacted, on Tuesday promised to send it back to the parliament.
But he can only do so once and the parliament is not obliged to take his objections into account.
“I thank them for thinking about me, but I don’t need it,” Basescu quipped in reference to the exemption, which also applies to his office.
“This change means 10 years of regress,” he added in a press conference in Bucharest.
According to the Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (DNA), 28 members of the Romanian parliament have been convicted or are currently on trial for corruption.
In addition, over 100 mayors and vice-mayors are on trial for awarding public contracts to family and friends or for similar abuses.
“This legislative change puts Romanian law in flagrant contradiction with the international agreements Romania has ratified in 2002 and 2004, respectively: the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe and the United Nations’ Convention on Corruption,” the anti-corruption office said in a press statement.
Both international conventions require states to give a comprehensive definition of public officials and to explicitly refer to corruption of lawmakers.
The new exemptions also mean that Romania will “no longer meet the criteria of international judicial cooperation and will be unable to execute requests for judicial assistance when it comes to these kind of persons,” the DNA added.
The country’s ethics body for judges and prosecutors (CSM) – which had not been consulted on the legislative changes – has also criticised the bill.
It said the proposed law would “basically exonerate” the President and lawmakers from any responsibility for crimes.
It is not the first time Romanian lawmakers have tweaked laws in a bid to protect themselves from investigation.
In summer last year, changes aimed at limiting the powers of the Constitutional Court were politically motivated as the state institutions got caught up in a political war between the centre-right President and the centre-left prime minister.
It ended with a failed referendum to impeach the President.
Romania, as well as its southern neighbour Bulgaria, is still under a special monitoring mechanism by the European Commission, which assesses its progress in terms of respect for the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime.
Transparency International demands repeal of legal changes granting immunity to Romanian politicians
Posted 13 December 2013 by Transparency International Secretariat
Transparency International demands the immediate repeal of new legal amendments passed earlier this week in Romania that exempts the president, as well as members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate from corruption charges while in office. These developments risk opening the door for corrupt politicians to act with impunity.
The Chamber of Deputies recently adopted two amendments to the Criminal Code through which all appointed or elected officials are no longer criminally liable for corruption charges against them. Debate on the law was hidden from the public, nor was civil society consulted before voting on the changes in law.
Transparency International also demands that all changes to legislation like those on the immunity of lawmakers from corruption charges be transparently debated with civil society in advance of voting. If done this way, Romania would have avoided the huge national and international outcry over this new law.
We take this opportunity to underline that the Criminal Code has to be reviewed and improved before coming into force in February 2014.
Transparency International will closely monitor this situation going forward.