Romania's iron lady leads corruption efforts

Chief anti-graft prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi has become a symbol of the country’s fight against corruption. It is becoming clear that she will stand out in Romanian politics as one of the strongest women the country has ever seen.

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Romania's iron lady leads corruption efforts - NewsMavens
Laura Codruța Kövesi, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Since the legislative elections in December 2016, both political debate and public scrutiny in Romania have been focused on the fight against corruption and prosecutors’ independence. Amidst all the political turmoil, one woman has become an icon of political ethics.

Laura Codruta Kovesi is the youngest and first woman ever to have served as Romania’s Attorney General (2006 until 2012) and she currently leads the powerful National Anti-Corruption Directorate. Under her leadership, anti-graft prosecutors have prosecuted hundreds of politicians and public officials, including ministers, MPs and local officials, for corruption-related offences.

But this has put her and many of her subordinates under intense scrutiny and criticism.

Kovesi was investigated by the Judicial Inspectorate after she was accused of pushing prosecutors to indict high-ranking officials. She denied the charges.

The government officially asked the presidency to dismiss her on February 22, but President Klaus Iohannis, one of Kovesi's suppirters, refused to fire her. However, Romania's Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that the country's President Klaus Iohannis should dismiss Kovesi at the request of the Justice Minister. 

But despite her numerous critics, Kovesi enjoys support not only from her fellow prosecutors but also the public. Wednesday's ruling caused the uproar of many magistrates as well as anti-corruption activists. Up to 3,000 people protested against it on Wednesday night in Bucharest. 

Whether she is dismissed or not, she is already one of the most powerful women in Romania, and a politician Europe should watch.

Details from the story:

  • For Romanians, anti-graft chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi is the symbol of a new division in society: she has been at the center of a political fight for controlling the justice system in the country for over a year and a half.
  • On the one hand, politicians have been trying to pass legislation to limit prosecutors’ influence and relax the fight against corruption, and on the other, tens of thousands of Romanians who took to the streets many times to support the fight against corruption.
  • In 2006, when she was only 33, Kovesi became the youngest person and the first women to ever become Attorney General in Romania.
  • Her father was a long standing chief prosecutor in the Transylvanian town of Medias.
  • She says the first thing she heard from her father was that a prosecutor’s office was no place for a woman, but she thinks she proved the contrary.
  • After a 5-year marriage to a local businessman whose last name she kept, Kovesi started as an organized crime prosecutor in Sibiu in 2004. Within a year she was the chief prosecutor of the local organized crime and terrorism prosecutor’s office.
  • She impressed then Justice Minister Monica Macovei by dismantling an organized crime network that as stealing scrap iron from a factory in Hunedoara and she moved to Bucharest to become General Attorney, at a time when Romania’s justice system was going through a rough time, with the government in Bucharest under pressure from Brussels to move against the endemic corruption.
  • Kovesi was intensely criticized during her six-year mandate as Attorney General for her reluctance to start prosecuting former communist prison wardens for crimes committed against political detainees. She also disapproved with prosecuting former officials for the 1989 crackdown on the anti-communist uprising, one of the longest investigations Romania has ever seen.
  • A specialized commission in the Ministry of Education decided in 2016 that 4 percent of her thesis was indeed similar to other works, but that was not enough to withdraw her degree.
  • After her appointment as chief anti-graft prosecutor at the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) in 2013, Kovesi came under criticism for increasing the number of high-profile graft cases, while some of them ended with acquittals and many see prosecutors rushing the investigations and not recovering the damages.
  • In 2017, Kovesi was asked to appear in front of a Parliament commission that investigated an alleged under the table protocol between the DNA and the counter-intelligence agency SRI. She refused on several occasions.
  • Romanian authorities also arrested and sentenced two employees of the Israeli Black Cube private security company -- the same one allegedly involved in undermining the Iran deal in Washington -- after they tried in 2016 to steal Kovesi’s personal data and spy on her.
  • At a rare press conference that lasted for two hours on February 14, while the Social Democrat led government was asking for her dismissal, Kovesi stood her ground and answered all questions arousing the admiration of her supporters. However, a series of recent acquittals in high-profile corruption cases, including Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s, threatens to affect the credibility of prosecutors in general and the fight against corruption, especially.
  • Many of the acquittals were based on a criminal code article that decriminalizes abuse of office under certain conditions, based on an interpretation by the Constitutional Court. That might lead the general public to the conclusion that anti-graft prosecutors are reckless in pushing for more cases against politicians.
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