Andrew Robathan is a Conservative Member of the House of Lords. He is a former MP and minister.
Over the past week, Tudorel Toader, the Romanian Justice Minister, has been conducting interviews for a new head of the Anti-Corruption Directorate (known as the DNA). Despite four applicants eventually coming forward, the vacancy hardly generated excitement amongst wannabe corruption fighters, with Sky News reporting that zero people had applied only 24 hours before the deadline. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given the air of controversy that has hung over the organisation under the recently dismissed director, Laura Kovesi. Her removal was eventually decided by court order and brings to an end an era which has raised grave concerns that Romania’s anti-corruption fight may have itself become corrupted.
The on-paper success of Romania’s anti-graft drive in recent years, in particular the actions of Kovesi, has won lavish praise from across the EU. Given the DNA’s impressive headline figure of a 92 per cent conviction rate, it’s not hard to see why. But not all is as it seems. Such figures are seemingly presented to the EU with the aim of pleasing those responsible for ensuring Romania’s deeper integration into the bloc. In this respect, it seems that the EU’s Schengen accession criteria, which include a requirement to demonstrate clampdowns on corruption, have been egregiously abused by Romania.
In the build-up to the Romanian presidency of the Council of the European Union, set to begin in less than six months, the DNA has made louder noises about cracking down on corruption. However, commentators have questioned the integrity of this anti-corruption campaign, condemning it as a fiction concocted for far-away bureaucrats in Brussels.
In a report published last year, the Henry Jackson Society concluded that “Romania is falsifying the results of its anti-corruption drive in order to secure accession to the Schengen zone. The EU’s willingness to believe the convenient fiction that progress is being made risks exposing it to a form of political contagion.”
Evidence has emerged that the DNA has been secretly colluding with the Romanian Secret Intelligent Service (SRI). Domestic whistle-blowers have likened the SRI’s actions to the sinister “Securitate”, the hardline enforcers of Ceaucescu’s brutal regime. The targets seem to be political opponents and public figures deemed a threat to the establishment. The methods used by the SRI, in collusion with the DNA, include secretive recordings, later broadcast on Romanian TV, planting evidence in cars and homes, falsifying witness statements and official records, fabricating evidence and blackmailing witnesses.
In May of this year, The European Bar Association (FBE) published a troubling report highlighting the scale of SRI involvement in Romania’s ostensibly independent justice system. The FBE noted “[SRI] interference with the independence of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the administration of justice… through the conclusion of the (secret) protocols of cooperation between the secret service and the Romanian justice authorities”.
These allegations, dismissed out of hand by the DNA, have finally led to Kovesi’s dismissal. Sadly, many of the anti-corruption convictions that have previously been praised could have been a consequence of corruption and collusion amongst the authorities, often at the expense of human rights, civil liberties and judicial independence. In pursuit of opponents, Romania has become one of the most zealous users of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), raising the risk that these abusive practices may have been exported across the continent, including several high-profile legal cases ongoing in the UK.
Last month, the European Court of Justice published a statement on a recent judgment regarding the EAW. The statement referred to the case of a Polish national, subject to three different European Arrest Warrants. Crucially, it asserted that the Irish Courts had the right to decide whether they believed the suspect in question would receive a fair trial in their respective home country.
This ruling questions the legitimacy of the EAW as it is applied across the European Union. This is especially the case in the UK, where our longstanding and proud tradition of judicial independence and the rule of law are under threat from practices that threaten over these values. Far too often this has been the case with the jurisdictions of some former Eastern bloc states, with Romania the most flagrant example. In a recent case in London in April, a judge upheld an EAW saying that Romania was a signatory to the ECHR and he was “entirely satisfied that it will abide by its Convention obligations”; this flies in the face of the evidence.
The dismissal of Kovesi represents an equally important precedent. It demonstrates that some countries whose judicial systems are not up to our standards are still transitioning from Soviet notions of justice to a truly independent judicial system. It leaves Romania at a crossroads, now free to quell concerns of a politicised justice system and shift to one that prioritises the liberty of the individual and the rule of law above all else.
Romania offers a stark example of why the United Kingdom must pay closer attention to the political motivations and abuses of justices that may lay behind EAW requests. Britain has always found the legislative instincts of the European Union suspiciously Napoleonic. In welcoming the opportunity a new head of the DNA presents, the UK would be demonstrating its historical adherence to the sacred presumption of innocence, contrary to the of prevailing trends of Europe’s Corpus Juris.