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European report slams changes to criminal codes

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New laws limiting the powers of prosecutors have been slammed by the European Commission (EC) in its interim monitoring report on the Romanian justice system.
The proposed changes to the criminal procedures code would have a "substantial negative effect" on the efficiency of criminal investigations in Romania, stated the report.
The modifications would mean criminal investigations would be limited to six months in length, after which time any charges would not be admissable.
The amendments also state that prosecutors cannot undertake any bugging or house searching without informing the individual under investigation.
Another amendment to the package of laws would consider a fraud below nine million Euro as a 'minor offence' with a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
“[These changes would] affect joint investigations with member states, the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of cross-border crime,” the report added.
The current changes are under parliamentary debate at present.
The European report also stated there were no convincing results yet demonstrated in the fight against high-level corruption.
There was also indirect support for the embattled Anti-Corruption Department (DNA), which was set up by then Minister of Justice Monica Macovei in 2005.
This department is tasked to investigate corruption at the highest level, especially among senior public officials.
In the last year there have been rumours that the Government intends to dismantle the DNA.
The report called for “stability” in the legal and institutional status for Romania's existing anti-corruption framework.
The EC praised the DNA for a positive track record over the six months of monitoring.
Recently the DNA has requested permission from the President and Government to start criminal investigations on eight present and former ministers, including ex-Prime Minsiter Adrian Nastase.
The report stated that a new body existing to monitor the wealth of public officials, the National Integration Agency (ANI), was still not operational and received little support from Government.
There was also criticism of delays in implementing a coherent recruitment system for the judiciary.
The interim report is a step before the full assessment due in June.
The European Commission can still threaten Romania with a move that rejects the country's legal decisions.
This enaction of the so-called 'safeguard clause' in justice means that the decisions of the Romanian courts will not be recognised in any of the EU member states and also that there will be a cut in the European reimbursable financing on justice for Romania.

Eight ministers approved for investigation

President Basescu and interim Minister of Justice Teodor Melescanu have approved the investigation into one present and seven former ministers, after four months in which the cases were blocked due to political infighting.
National Liberal Party (PNL) Minister of Labour Paul Pacuraru, ex-Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, former Social Democratic Party (PSD) Minister of Transport Miron Mitrea, former Conservative Party  Minister of Economy and Trade Codrut Seres, ex-Liberal Minister of Justice Tudor Chiuariu, former PSD Minister of Defence Victor Babiuc, ex-IT&C Minister, Zsolt Nagy and ex-PNL Minister of Agriculture Decebal Traian Remes are under a criminal probe.
Until recently the approval for an investigation of a minister by the head of state depended on  consultation with a presidential commission.
This detail was raised by then-Minister of Justice Chiuariu, one of the eight dignitaries under examination.
But the Constitutional Court decided that Traian Basescu did not need any commission approval to decide whether to permit the investigation.
Under the law, Basescu also needed to send the approval for the investigation to the Minister of Justice, who had to deliver the President’s response to the prosecutors.
At first, interim Minister of Justice, Teodor Melescanu, who is also Minister of Defence, refused to ask the prosecutors to start the investigation into the eight ministers, saying that he had to read all the documents assembled by the prosecutors.
But the law does not permit anyone, not even the President or the Minister of Justice, to view the evidence. This would mean an interference by politicians in the justice process.
Thus Basescu accused Melescanu of abuse in service. A few days before meeting the European Commissioner for Justice, Franco Frattini, Melescanu sent the President’s approval to the anti-corruption prosecutors.
But Melescanu’s initial refusal is seen as another obstacle to investigations into high-level corruption.
Romania has still not convicted anyone in a leading political position of corruption, a situation which the European Commission holds in grave regard.
As we went to press another obstacle in the way of investigations had appeared.
Four of the eight ministers, Paul Pacuraru, the only minister still in office, Adrian Nastase, Miron Mitrea and Codrut Seres are also members of Parliament. Their parties were trying in the Parliament to block the investigations.
The parties invoked the argument that the prosecutors also needed the approval of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
However, at any moment, Traian Basescu can use his power to relieve Paul Pacuraru of his duties as Minister of Labour.

Kick in the teeth for football bosses

Ten of the most high-profile figures in Romanian football are under criminal investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors for money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud.
Millionaire and former deputy prime minister George Copos, owner of Rapid Football Club, Gheorghe Netoiu, shareholder in Dinamo, Cristian Borcea and Mircea Stoenescu, present and former president of Dinamo, Jean Padureanu, president of Gloria Bistrita, agents Ioan Becali, Victor Becali and Gheorghe Popescu, former president of Otelul Galati, Mihai Stoica and lawyer Puscoci Sica are under investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors.
The ten are accused of having misappropriated ten million Euro from the four football clubs during transfers of 12 players, for which they should have paid 1.7 million Euro in taxes to the Romanian state and some 600,000 Euro in fees to the Romanian Football Federation.
Prosecutors state they have evidence that between 1999 and 2005 the bulk of the amounts which should have been paid to the clubs were transferred into the accounts of off-shore companies in the Virgin Islands and the Netherlands, and later cashed by the people involved in the respective transfers.
All ten deny they are guilty of any wrongdoing in the case.
Agent Ioan Becali has filed a complaint against anti-corruption prosecutor, Doru Tulus.
“This is a media lynching, orchestrated by the prosecutors,” said Becali. “We have been forbidden access to the evidence underlining the accusations.”

Basescu and Tariceanu battle over Justice Minister appointment

Rows over the successor to Minister of Justice Tudor Chiuariu has triggered another conflict between Prime Minister Tariceanu and President Basescu.
Tariceanu has proposed National Liberal Party (PNL) Senator Norica Nicolai to replace Chiuariu.
The President then refused. He stated that in 1987, when Nicolai was a prosecutor, she sentenced an innocent person to 18 days in prison.
Basescu added that he has nothing against the nominee, but he wants a “spotless” Minister for Justice.
Nicolai denied the President’s accusations. She explained that the mistake had been corrected in due time and the individual in question did not see any time in jail.
The Senator continues to have the support of both the PNL and Prime Minister.
Tariceanu had only one weapon against the President’s decision, to ask the Constitutional Court to solve the dispute. As we went to press, the judges were still undecided.
In the meantime Minister of Defence Teodor Melescanu has taken on the job of Minister of Justice.

Short News

Rural teens dropping out

Only one-quarter of 15 to 19 year-olds living in rural areas went to high-school last year. Poverty and children working on farms were the main causes of the high rates, according to a report by charity World Vision Romania. The NGO cites official numbers saying that in 2007 only 25 per cent of the children in rural communities attended high-school classes, against 36.8 per cent in 2005. Children are encouraged by parents to give up school before they complete the compulsory education and take up farming because this is the family’s only means of subsistence, the report states. Romania has the largest percentages of rural population in central and eastern Europe, with 45 per cent of its people resident in the countryside.

Local elections due in May

Prime Minister Tariceanu has decided to hold local elections on 25 May, pending Parliament approval. All the political parties, except for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), agree with the date. The PSD proposed to postpone the local elections until next November when the parliamentary elections are supposed to take place.

Moldova: Romanian foreign
policy priority

Support for the complex EU aspirations of the Republic of Moldova is a main priority of Romanian foreign policy in 2008. President Traian Basescu told an audience of foreign diplomats that his support was for the “consolidation of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova by finding the best solution to the Transnistrian conflict”. Basescu’s position towards the neighbouring country comes amid fresh tensions between Bucharest and Chisinau. Since August 2007, the Moldovan authorities have repeatedly accused Romanian officials working at the Embassy in Chisinau and, recently, the Ministry of Justice in Bucharest of helping Moldovans receive Romanian citizenship in exchange for illegal payments.

Romania bottom of class in
reading and science

Romanian 15 year-olds score the lowest in the quality of skills in reading and science among countries in the European Union. The nation also registers a place second from bottom in the bloc for mathematics, behind Bulgaria, in an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and PISA survey of 400,000 students from 57 countries, which did not include Cyprus or Malta. This decline in educational skills in key subjects is a blow for a country which is attempting to foreground its IT know-how as a major strength in its labour force. Romania showed a decline from 2000 to 2006 in reading literacy where the quality of skills among its 15 year-olds was behind Mexico, Serbia and Jordan.

Princess Margareta to succeed
last monarch

Romanian’s last King, Mihai of Hohenzollern, has designated his only child, Princess Margareta, as successor and heiress to Romania’s Royal House. If the Romanian people ever decide to revert to their previous monarchy, Margareta will take on the responsibility, following Mihai’s death. The 87-year old former Romanian sovereign abdicated in 1947 under duress from the new Communist regime. Margareta is married to a former actor, Prince Radu, and was a former amour of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown when they were students together in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has no children.

Ex-Justice Minister in abuse probe

Former Minister of Justice Monica Macovei is under the attention of the anti-corruption prosecutors over alleged abuse in service during her mandate. This is the first phase of an investigation and, if taken further, will need presidential approval. This comes after a complaint by Macovei’s successor, Tudor Chiauriu, who accused his predecessor of forging official documents which allowed NGO Freedom House to win a public auction. Macovei has called the accusations lies.

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