Romania faces long search for new anti-graft tsar

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BUCHAREST: Romania faced a long search Friday for a new anti-corruption chief following the controversial sacking of star prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi earlier this month.

The Justice Ministry on Friday rejected four senior prosectors who had applied for Kovesi’s old position as head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (DNA), saying none of the met the relevant criteria.

President Klaus Iohannis approved the dismissal of Kovesi — considered a symbol of the fight against graft in one of the European Union’s most corruption-plagued members — on July 9 after long resisting attempts to remove her by the ruling Social Democratic Party.

A second one-month selection process to fill the vacancy will start on August 6.

The opposition National Liberal Party called on Justice Minister Tudorel Toader to explain his reasons for rejecting all four candidates.

The former head of Romania’s Constitutional Court, Augustin Zegrean, told AFP that in his opinion all four candidates were qualified for the post. “Probably the minister wants someone else”, he said.

Three of the four applicants already work at the DNA and are known to have had good working relations with Kovesi during her tenure.

The government had claimed victory in May after the Constitutional Court ordered the president to fire Kovesi.

But Iohannis delayed approving the decision, leading prominent figures in the ruling party to raise the prospect of his impeachment.

An emotional Kovesi confirmed in a televised statement after the sacking that she would no longer be working for the DNA but said she would remain a prosecutor and urged Romanians not to give up the fight against corruption.

With Kovesi at the helm, the DNA had led a crackdown on corruption among local and national elected officials in recent years, earning accusations of abuse of power and the enmity of many in Romania’s political class.

Despite Kovesi’s sacking, Zegrean told AFP that the DNA “has all the conditions to go forward, as it’s very trusted and appreciated by the society.”