Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Romania president warns against pardons for graft convictions

Agence France-Presse
December 10, 2013

Romanian President Traian Basescu on Tuesday urged lawmakers to reject a controversial draft law that would pardon a number of politicians convicted of graft.

"If this draft law is adopted, Romania will lose credibility in its efforts to fight against corruption", Basescu said in a statement.

"It would have devastating consequences on the next report by the European Commission on the rule of law in Romania."

The Balkan country, which joined the EU in 2007, is closely monitored by the European Commission over its efforts to step up the fight against graft and reform its judiciary.

The proposed new law would pardon detainees jailed for up to six years unless they were sentenced for violent or sexual crimes, human trafficking or crimes against minors.

The draft law was submitted by MPs from the ruling Social-Democratic Party (PSD) who said it would ease prison overcrowding.

"It is impossible at this stage to say how many people would be freed but many politicians convicted for graft would benefit from the bill", Laura Stefan, an anti-corruption expert for the Expert Forum think tank, told AFP.

Among the high-ranking politicians that could walk free are several ex-ministers as well as former lawmaker and football club owner Gigi Becali, according to the Alliance for a Clean Romania watchdog.

Rights groups have strongly criticised the lack of transparency surrounding the proposed law.

Romania's House of Representatives unexpectedly decided to put the bill to an emergency vote on Tuesday, publishing the text just a few minutes before the session.

But following disputes among lawmakers, the vote was postponed to an unspecified date.

The draft law would also grant amnesty to people facing trial for certain charges punishable by up to seven years, though this amnesty would not cover corruption cases.

"MPs from the ruling coalition are trying to save some friends from jail by granting amnesties and pardons to an army of offenders," said leading opposition member and former justice minister Catalin Predoiu.

Under strong EU scrutiny, some 50 public officials from local administration were put on trial over high-level corruption charges last year, according to Romanian prosecutors.

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