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Sunday, 04 September, Year 3 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu







Classified By: DCM Mark Taplin for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: A recent European Commission interim report on judicial reform in Romania provoked disappointment in many judicial circles, with pro-reform activists hoping for a sharper rebuke of recent backsliding. Based on comments from many local contacts, we have prepared a "parallel report" on the state of judicial reform in Romania, keyed to the four European Commission Benchmarks of 1) judicial reform and proposed amendments to the Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes; 2) creation of a National Integrity Agency; 3) ongoing high-level corruption investigations; and 4) measures to prevent corruption at local government levels. Our interlocutors note regress in a number of areas, including hiring practices for judges that one interlocutor characterized as "ripe for nepotism"; attempts to hobble--and perhaps declare unconstitutional--the National Integrity Agency (ANI); and continued attempts to weaken the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). While pressure from the U.S. and U.K. Embassies (and a Presidential veto) resulted in withdrawal of controversial amendments of the criminal code and criminal procedure code, there remains concern that Parliament may soon pass a new version of these laws which retain many dodgy elements that could seriously hamper prosecutors' ability to investigate corruption and other serious crimes. End Summary.

2. (C) The European Commission February 4 released its interim report on Romania's progress in the fight against corruption. The report was required under the terms of Romania's EU accession and stemmed from EU concerns that Romania (and Bulgaria) had made insufficient progress against corruption pre-accession and required special monitoring in this regard. A full report is due mid-year. While many expected the report to issue a sharper rebuke of recent backsliding in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption, the EC drafters prefaced the report with a disclaimer that their aim was to provide a "factual" update of progress without providing an assessment of results achieved by Romanian authorities in the four overall benchmarks including, inter alia: 1) judicial transparency, efficiency, and accountability for the Superior Council of Magistrates, and impact of newly-adopted amendments to the Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes; 2) establishment of a National Integrity Agency to verify the assets and conflicts of interests of key political figures; 3) investigations of allegations of high-level corruption; and 4) measures to prevent corruption within local government levels.

Commission in Bucharest Takes Harder Line
3. (C) Interestingly, our local Commission contacts were somewhat abashed at the cautious language of the official EC report, and referred emboffs to the Commission's public talking points on the report as the more hard-hitting and critical commentary on the current state of Romanian judicial reform. Dr. Dorina Nastase, head of the Political Section of the Bucharest EC office told Polcouns that one reason why the Commission Report did not invoke the "stick" of the safeguard clause was because of reluctance of individual EU countries that argued that this might impact ongoing cooperation on other areas, including Romanian willingness to accept arrest warrants from fellow EU members. More importantly, there was concern that invoking the safeguard clause might impact Romanian willingness to accept repatriated Romanian nationals expelled from other EU states.

4. (C) Nastase stressed that in its talking points for the Romanian media, the Commission office had explicitly defended the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). She also noted that the EC press points referred to a lack of "convincing progress" in fighting corruption, as well as procedural delays in bringing to court 10 important high-level corruption cases. Similarly, the Commission Office had explicitly referred to recent attempts to amend the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, noting their "serious negative consequences" for the prosecution of criminal cases. Nastase said that another area for criticism was the lack of a coherent recruitment and training strategy for the judiciary and delays in establishing the National Integrity Agency. Finally, the Commission's talking points evinced concern about the overall pace of judicial reform and

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the need to defend the legal and institutional tools needed to ensure continuation of the fight against corruption. Nastase also expressed gratitude for the U.S. Embassy's active involvement (along with the U.K. Embassy) in calling public attention to the potential negative impact of the recent Criminal Code amendment, and welcomed future coordination on judicial reform issues.

Judicial Hiring: System Ripe for Nepotism
5. (C) The recent election of the leadership of the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) underscored that the CSM still has far to go in cleaning its own house. The controversial election of Lidia Barbulescu as CSM President was greeted with protest from NGOs--and some snickers from the Public Ministry--that the old guard is still in charge. The CSM initially reported that Barbulescu, the sole candidate for the position, was elected unanimously. When General Prosecutor Laura Kovesi protested that she had voted against Barbulescu, the CSM leadership held a recount and sheepishly acknowledged that there had been a miscount. (Note: Barbulescu was investigated by former Justice Minister and anti-corruption advocate Monica Macovei for abuse of power when she tried to amend Romania's bar exam requirements to ensure her daughter passed. She also opposed the annulment of a provision allowing magistrates to purchase certain properties at discount prices.) The Bucharest EC office described Barbulescu as "anti-EU, anti-NGO, anti-any outside interference. She believes judges make their decisions before God and no one has the right to question them."

6. (C) The CSM has also been under fire for its strategy to hire more judges and prosecutors in the face of a major staffing crisis. Traditionally, judges and prosecutors must graduate from the highly competitive National Institute for Magistrates (NIM) with a curriculum including a series of exams and years of training. The CSM initiated a new policy in which applicants with five to ten years of judicial experience could become judges or prosecutors via an expedited interview with CSM and one exam. Critics, including the Bucharest EC office, have charged that the CSM system is "ripe for nepotism." Similarly, NIM director Mihai Selegean noted that the CSM's definition of "judicial experience" is a loose one that could include both clerks and attorneys. He described the CSM's interviews as a sham, lasting between two to three minutes per applicant, adding that the exams have never been administered. His comments were echoed by General Prosecutor Kovesi, who remarked in a January 30 meeting that of the 240 new hires from this process "maybe 10 per cent might be good." When emboff queried Barbulescu on the interview process, she snapped: "Time does not matter. We focus on substance!" In her first act as President of the CSM, Barbulescu lifted the June 2008 expiration date for this interim recruitment policy.

ANI: A Watch Dog With Three Legs and No Teeth
7. (C) The creation of a National Integrity Agency (ANI), an administrative body charged with the verification of public figures' assets and potential conflicts of interest, was one of the requirements for Romania's entry into the European Union. However, 6 months past its scheduled launch date, the ANI remains non-operational and faces significant political battles. At a recent meeting with NGOs and the diplomatic community, the ANI Vice President Catalin Macovei, the agency's sole employee, noted that during several rounds of interviews, Parliament rejected all applicants for the position of the agency's President. Macovei said he had to "beg" for the keys to the ANI's office and Parliament has continually blocked efforts to hire investigators. Parliament's budgetary allocations for the ANI also reflects its attitude towards the agency; investigators would only be paid 4,800 to 16,800 USD per year, and only 2,200 USD has been allocated for training all investigators for the entire year. Macovei was unsure whether government and private institutions were legally obliged to cooperate with investigations.

8. (C) The CSM appears to have joined Parliament in its efforts to crush the fledgling agency, when CSM President Barbulescu declared that a Constitutional Court's decision last week (e.g., that the law establishing the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) is

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unconstitutional) should be extended to cover other "unconstitutional institutions". Many read her comments as being a veiled threat against the ANI. One European diplomat summed up the situation: "The Commission decided that Romania must have a watch dog, so Parliament created one with three legs and no teeth."

DNA: Prosecutors under Fire
9. (C) Also under fire is the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which has become a prime target of the politicians and magistrates it investigates. Both Parliament and the CSM have tried to remove the DNA chief prosecutors and limit the DNA's power through restructuring. At the core of President Basescu's reasons for vetoing the appointment of Norica Nicolai as Justice Minister is the control that the Justice Minister has over appointing the new head of the DNA when incumbent head Dan Morar's term expires this August. Bucharest EC representatives confided concerns that Parliament would try to change the law regarding this process to remove presidential approval authority over the appointment, increasing the Justice Minister's influence. Our Commission contacts said that they have explicitly warned the GOR, "Do not touch Morar."

10. (C) Similarly, General Prosecutor Kovesi told emboffs that restructuring the DNA is high on the CSM's agenda, and said that this was because of the agency's recent investigations targeting magistrates. Kovesi predicted that Barbulescu wants to further weaken DNA's semi-independent status within the Public Ministry, diluting its investigative powers and limiting its financial freedom. Kovesi pledged that she would make every effort to prevent this, including requesting postponements to any proposals to restructure the DNA and continuing to use the media as her mouthpiece. Anca Jurma, one of DNA's Chief Prosecutors, admitted that she fears a restructuring proposal from Parliament or the CSM in the near future. She noted that the Justice Ministry has made its own efforts to sideline DNA by refusing to include the DNA in the EC-mandated Action Plan for judicial reforms. Visibly frustrated, Jurma noted that in the midst of Parliament's efforts to derail ten high-level corruption cases of former and current ministers, the DNA continues to proceed with investigations and that one case would be going to court very shortly.

Criminal Procedure Code Amendments
11. (C) Pressure from U.S. and U.K. embassies (reftel) appears to have temporarily shamed Parliament into backing off a highly controversial amendment package to the criminal procedural code that caused significant political fallout last October. President Basescu returned the package to Parliament for revisions and on February 7, the Senate's legal committee eliminated several controversial amendments. The Senate removed both the ban on wiretapping before the initiation of criminal prosecution and the sanctioning of journalists who broadcast audio/visual investigative evidence. The Senate approved a more moderate threshold for the charge of "abuse in office with serious consequences" of around 270,000 euro, instead of the 9 million euro threshold proposed by the Chamber of Deputies. Unfortunately, the amendment package will proceed to the Chamber of Deputies next week, opening a dangerous window for MPs, such as parliamentary Speaker Bogdan Olteanu, to reverse the Senate's positive modifications. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has assembled a working group, including judges, prosecutors, and Romanian and European legal experts, to draft new criminal and criminal procedural codes, which Ministry contacts predict will also be on the table this year. These codes would take precedence over the amendments currently in front of the Parliament.

12. (C) Comment. The EC's lukewarm characterization of Romania's shortcomings on judicial reform obscures the disappointment felt by our European counterparts. Advances since 2004 in judicial reform have regressed in the past six months, with the controversial tenure of former Justice Minister Chiuariu, Parliament's criminal code antics, and the election of a questionable CSM president. Parliament had to be publicly embarrassed before retracting amendments that would have seriously impeded criminal investigations and

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which would have left many of their most corrupt members to walk free. Even after last fall's public rebuke, it is likely that the Chamber of Deputies will again try to erode the criminal code in coming weeks. Our British colleagues, for instance, in recent days have lobbied PSD President Mircea Geoana, whom they characterized as "wobbly." We intend to work with British counterparts to convince MPs that this would be an ill-advised move. Some contacts have evinced the hope that the onset of both local and general elections later this year may have a salutary effect, as MPs may try to avoid bad corruption-related publicity before voters head to the polls; the criminal code's progress later this month will test this theory. However, non-elected officials, such as CSM members and the Constitutional Court, will be able to act with relative impunity in trying to weaken the most promising--and most vulnerable--forces in judicial reform, the ANI and DNA. End Comment. TAUBMAN

Category: Breaking News
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