Romania Approves Part of Controversial Judicial-Reform Bill

(Bloomberg) -- Romania’s parliament approved part of a controversial judicial-reform package that’s been criticized as another attempt by the ruling coalition to weaken punishment for convicted officials.

Lawmakers voted 175-78 in favor of the changes to the code of criminal procedure, according to Deputy Speaker Gabriel Vlase. One amendment may allow Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea to appeal a conviction for vote-rigging. President Klaus Iohannis, who’s frequently fallen out with the government, must still sign off on the bill before it takes effect. He said he’ll probably challenge them to “correct this situation.”

“This is unheard of -- ruling-party lawmakers are voting laws for their boss,” Iohannis said Tuesday in televised remarks in Bucharest. “We’ve seen them approving changes to the judicial legislation in the dead of night already, and the result is disheartening.”

Attempts last year to curb an unprecedented crackdown on corruption in one of the European Union’s poorest countries triggered the biggest protests since the fall of communism, prompting warnings from officials in Brussels and Washington over democratic backsliding. Dragnea, whose conviction bars him from holding a government job, is also awaiting a first verdict in another trial. That’s due on June 21.

‘Stop Abuses’

Social Democrat lawmaker Florin Iordache told parliament that the changes are necessary to avoid officials being unfairly targeted. “We’re doing this because we want to stop abuses in the judiciary,” he said. “We’ve seen many people doing the ‘perp walk’ and then these people were proven innocent.”

The opposition said some of Monday’s amendments will restrict prosecutors’ scope to investigate suspected wrongdoing and benefit convicts and felons. The opposition plans to challenge the changes -- which include banning the publication of information from ongoing criminal trials and raising the bar for convictions -- in the Constitutional Court.

Romanian prosecutors are also working on challenging the changes after lawmakers failed to take into account observations and proposals by magistrates and judiciary experts.

Prosecutors are “concerned over the way in which the changes to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure were approved, without consultation or real collaboration with the judicial institutions that enforce criminal law,” they said in a statement.

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