Romania Takes New Swipe at Anti-Corruption Drive With Decree

(Bloomberg) -- Romania moved to further blunt an unprecedented crackdown on crooked officials in what’s one of the European Union’s most corrupt nations.

An emergency government decree published late Tuesday will make it harder for prosecutors to join the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, which has led the Black Sea country’s graft-fighting efforts. The move is reminiscent of measures taken almost two years ago that were reversed after they sparked the biggest street protests since the fall of communism.

Attempts by the ruling Social Democrats to defang the battle against corruption have widened a rift with President Klaus Iohannis, and soured ties with the U.S. and the EU, whose rotating presidency it will host in the first half of 2019.

Party boss Liviu Dragnea, Romania’s de facto leader, rejected opposition claims that the government’s latest move is aimed at easing his own legal problems. He has two criminal convictions, preventing him from taking the job of prime minister.

Tuesday’s decree increases work-experience requirements for anti-corruption prosecutors, and stipulates that the Justice Minister Tudorel Toader can ask for investigations into whether prosecutors have been guilty of misconduct. That provision “creates the risk of political control” and that disciplinary actions become “a political tool to dominate the judiciary,” the general prosecutor’s office said.

Toader said the changes were necessary to end what the ruling party has called a witch hunt against its officials.

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