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Romanian president urges cabinet to scrap 'decriminalization' decree

Reuters

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's president urged the government on Friday to scrap draft decrees pardoning thousands of prisoners and decriminalizing some graft offences, joining other critics who accuse it of undermining an anti-corruption drive.

According to drafts published on Wednesday, the government intends - among other changes - to decriminalize abuse of power actions causing financial damage of less than 200,000 lei ($47,500), an offence the leader of the ruling Social Democrat party is accused of inciting a third party to commit.

Critics including the prosecutor general, the supreme court, civil rights groups and diplomats have expressed concern about the proposed decrees, as well as a lack of transparency and public debate over their implementation.

"The judiciary's most authorized voices are saying the emergency decree drafts ...are null and void (and) unacceptable," President Klaus Iohannis said on his Facebook page.

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"These are sufficient arguments to urge the government to withdraw these emergency decrees."

Romania's president holds a largely ceremonial role, but Iohannis' comments will increase pressure for a rethink by the leftist government.

Romanian prosecutors have investigated lawmakers, ministers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen in recent years, in a crackdown that has exposed widespread graft and won praise from Brussels.

On Wednesday, thousands of Romanians rallied in Bucharest and several other cities against the cabinet plans, and further protests are expected on Sunday.

Abuse of power cases account for a third of anti-graft investigations in Romania, chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi has said.

Those under investigation or on trial include lawmakers and local officials, among them Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who is also speaker of parliament's lower house.

He is on trial on allegations of using his influence as the leader of a county council to persuade the director of a child protection unit to keep two people on the public payroll. He has denied wrongdoing.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has its justice system under special monitoring.

The prime minister and justice minister have said the decrees were needed to get the criminal code in line with recent constitutional court rulings and ease the burden of Romania's overcrowded prisons.

The decree drafts also contain provisions to pardon convictions of less than 5 years for several crimes, and cut sentences by half for all prisoners aged over 60, having a terminal illness or children to support, and for pregnant women.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by John Stonestreet)

 
 
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