Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader on Thursday launched a procedure to dismiss the popular and internationally respected head of the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi.
At a press conference, the minister accused 44-year-old Kovesi of “violating” the constitution and “harming the image” of the country.
“The fight against corruption can not mask non-constitutional, illegal, defamatory behavior against officials of public institutions,” Toader said.
According to the Romanian constitution the only President Iohannis Klaus has the power to dismiss a magistrate. Mr klaus, who has always defended Ms. Kovesi, reacted quickly, saying in a statement, “The president has repeatedly said he was satisfied by the activity of DNA and its leadership, an opinion he continues to have.”
According to local media, about 2,000 people took to the streets in Bucharest and other big cities immediately after the minister’s announcement to express their support for Ms Kovesi, who has become a symbol of the fight against corruption in the country.
The center-right opposition parties, for their part, demanded the resignation of Mr Toader, accusing him of having “placed himself on the side of the delinquents”.
The PSD, on the other hand, welcomed the minister’s decision, “based on clear and solid arguments”.
Despite her general popularity, Ms Kovesi has recently had to deny accusations of misconduct. Last week a former NDA prosecutor accused Kovesi of asking her to expedite an investigation into a former minister, who was rumoured to be considering a run for prime minister, because she feared that his pick for justice minister would have been detrimental to the DNA.
Meanwhile the Directorate’s office in Ploiesti has been accused by a former MP, Vlad Cosma, of asking him to plant evidence against a former Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Cosma phoned into an investigative news report on live TV to play a recording of a discussion he had with DNA prosecutors in which they can be heard asking him to fabricate the evidence.
Laura Kovesi and the DNA deny both accusations and in the case of the latter say that the recording has been edited so as to falsely incriminate them.
In recent years, DNA magistrates have prosecuted hundreds of local and national elected officials, attracting the enmity of the political class.
Since their return to government in December 2016, the Social Democrats, including several elected officials have been targeted by prosecutors. Attempts by the government to relax anti-corruption legislation has triggered the largest protest the country has seen since fall of the communism in 1989.