New laws proposed by the Government handicap the powers of prosecutors and make a mockery of the rule of law in a country which has yet to prove to Europe that it has a mature legal system.
The changes to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code state that prosecutors cannot tap a phone-line without asking permission from the person they want to bug. Prosecutors will not be able to search a house without first informing the home-owner in advance. They also prevent investigating a Minister, using the set-up of a bribe. Plus there is a law which would mean a prosecutor could only spend six months on a case – after which he or she would have to give up the investigation.
Every change is seen by legal and political observers as a cynical attempt to stop any prosecution of a politician.
President Basescu has sent the laws back to the Parliament under the excuse that they would prevent investigations in to high-level corruption. Romania is yet to convict any politician or top businessperson accused of bribery or trafficking in influence, while remaining the most corrupt country in the EU, according to Transparency International.
But these new laws are an anarchist’s charter. They make accused criminals clients of the prosecutors and threaten to transform Romania into a mafia state – where the law is at the service of the powerful.
They do not undermine the activity of the prosecutors, they nullify their existence. The laws also ask massive questions of Romania’s ability to prosecute potential terrorists if the country becomes a target for extremist attack. Would they give notice to a known member of Al Qaeda if they wanted to search his cave?
The legislation is similar to a list of paradoxical or idiotic laws regularly exchanged by group email, detailing the legal system of obscure Pacific colonies - places where they ban the eating of coconuts on Tuesdays or punish anyone who talks dirty to parrots with a stoning by pineapple.
Ambassador Taubman of the USA has spoken out, bravely, about the proposals, stating: “Some have labelled this an effort to dismantle the hard-won independence of prosecutors, a vital component in Romania’s judicial reforms.”
For this, he received a riposte by the president of the Chamber of Deputies Bogdan Olteanu on whether Taubman bought his way into his diplomatic position through campaign contributions to President Bush.
Does it matter? The Ambassador is doing his job by representing the values of his country where he sees them under attack. And as for his critics, it is a maxim that when people cannot defend a position they know to be untenable, they launch into personal attacks on their adversaries.
The timing of the laws is also bizarre. Two months ago, Minister of Agriculture Decebel Remes was trapped on camera accepting a bribe for a fixed auction. His phone was tapped and the deal was a set-up by prosecutors. With this package of new laws in place, this could not have happened. But since then the Minister has resigned and his career is over. It is too late to save Remes. It seems this Government can pass emergency laws deciding anything they want, but even they cannot pass legislation asking time to turn itself backwards.
It awaits to be seen what new laws the country will come up with to discourage any investigations into corruption and humiliate the rule of law.
Maybe the Government will force all prosecutors to wear a tutu, ride around the court-room on a child’s tricycle and moo like a cow while presenting evidence to a judge.
Nothing could be more absurd than what has already been proposed.