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Romania corruption amnesty would harm rule of law: EU

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Under scrutiny during its first six-month EU presidency, Romania would be damaging rule of law should it decriminalize some forms of corruption and grant an amnesty to offenders, the head of the European Commission said on Friday.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis speaks next to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Bucharest, Romania, January 11, 2019. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS

The leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, has a conviction for vote-rigging and has been pressing Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis for the legal changes.

But the head of the EU bloc’s executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed disapproval of that at a joint news conference with Iohannis in Bucharest.

Even though the European Union was built on compromises, there could be no negotiating legal principles, he said.

“If an amnesty was adopted, as some in this country envisage, it would be a step back in the rule of law,” Juncker said in response to a question.

Dragnea, who denies wrongdoing but is barred from becoming prime minister, has been pushing for changes including a decree that would grant prison pardons and amnesty, including for himself.

An attempt by the Social Democrats to decriminalize several corruption offences at the start of 2017 triggered Romania’s biggest street protests since the 1989 fall of communism.

In November, lawmakers approved a bill pushed by the Social Democrats and their coalition partner that would cancel wiretap evidence used to prosecute past corruption cases and could wipe out hundreds of convictions, including Dragnea’s.

If it comes into force, the bill could retroactively cancel evidence intercepted by the intelligence services on behalf of prosecutors based on court warrants.

It could nullify hundreds of verdicts for crimes ranging from corruption to human trafficking. The bill was challenged at the Constitutional Court by the centrist opposition and the court could issue a ruling as early as Jan. 16.

In its first stint at the helm of the European bloc, Romania faces Brexit in March, European Parliament elections in May and tough talks on the next long-term EU budget.

The second-poorest EU country, Romania joined in 2007.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Radu-Sorin Marinas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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