Secretly debated changes to Romania's Criminal Code pose a threat to democratic values in the country, the international community and experts warn.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 27/12/13
Romanian lawmakers secretly passed a series of amendments that decriminalises political corruption. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]
On December 10th, Romanian lawmakers secretly passed a series of amendments that take lawmakers, the president of the country and the liberal professions, such as lawyers, out from the category of "public officials," which means they are no longer accountable for offences such as bribery, peddling of influence, abuse of office and conflict of interest.
"The amendments basically create total impunity for lawmakers; they will be the only category which will be out of the reach of corruption criminal investigations," Laura Stefan, an anti-corruption specialist of the Expert Forum, a leading Romanian think-tank, told SETimes. "It blows away the whole activity of the anti-corruption bodies deployed over the last decade."
The amendments, voted for without any public debate, have sparked criticism among the international community and civil society in Romania.
This is a step backwards for the Romanian democracy, some ambassadors in Bucharest and foreign chambers of commerce warned. The European Commission said all citizens are equal before the law and warned the amendments will be reflected in January's report on the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), the instrument through which Brussels assesses Romania's and Bulgaria's progress in the field of justice, with a great stress on the anti-corruption fight.
Hundreds of people took the streets downtown Bucharest protesting against the changes secretly passed by lawmakers. The activists have asked President Traian Basescu not to approve the law.
Basescu announced he would not promulgate the law containing these amendments, saying the changes will send Romania 10 years back.
At the same time, a bill on amnesty has been sent back to the judiciary committee by the Chamber of Deputies under the pressure of the civil society. The bill would pardon anyone serving up to six years in prison, including influential politicians who are already under investigation of corruption charges, as well as those who are unable to hold public offices after serving a prison term.