Romanian anti-graft crusader finally confirmed as EU fraud prosecutor

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The battle is over and a new one begins. Romanian prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi has cleared the final hurdle to become Europe’s first chief prosecutor tasked with investigating fraud, corruption and serious cases of cross-border VAT fraud.

The European Parliament endorsed Kovesi, 46, as first head of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday, 15 months after the Romanian government engineered her dismissal accusing her of overstepping her authority and pursuing high-impact media cases.

Although parliament’s approval was considered a formality, Kovesi encountered opposition from her own government who lobbied against her getting the job.

The Social Democrats, ousted in a no-confidence vote in the Romanian Parliament last week, began to dismantle anti-graft legislation in 2017 after they won elections. The move led to the biggest street protests since the collapse of communism.

Despite the opposition from the government, Kovesi secured backing from the European Parliament all the way through negotiations which began last year.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova congratulated Kovesi who said she would do “an excellent job” of protecting the EU’s financial interests.“We want to send a strong signal to criminals that we are serious about fighting financial crime and protecting the taxpayers’ money. EU is losing at least 50 billion every year due to the VAT fraud which the” office will investigate.

She gained crucial support from the European Council. The council initially favored France’s Jean-Francois Bohnert, leading to criticism that it was bowing to pressure from Romania, but after European Parliamentary elections in May where the Social Democrats scored badly, France dropped its support for Bohnert.

The Luxembourg-based office is expected to be operational at the end of 2020, and will prosecute crimes against the EU budget, including VAT fraud exceeding 10 million euros. The office could potentially to be extended to include terrorism.

So far, 22 EU member states have joined the EPPO. Five countries who have opted out are Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Ireland and Denmark, but they could reverse their decisions.

Kovesi won plaudits from  the EU, the U.S. State Department, President Klaus Iohannis, magistrates and thousands of ordinary Romanians for her tough approach to high-level graft.

Kovesi became Romania’s first-ever female prosecutor-general in 2006 at age 33 and served two terms in office. But she made her name after her 2013 appointment to chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate.

The softly-spoken but tough former basketball player oversaw the successful prosecution of sixty-eight high-level functionaries, including 14 ministers, 39 deputies, 14 senators, and one European Parliament lawmaker. Among those was a sitting prime minister, ex-Premier Victor Ponta, who was eventually acquitted, and a former prime minister.

Under Kovesi’s supervision, she says some 1,000 people were sent to trial and about 900 people were convicted by courts every year.

The Financial Times on Kovesi.


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