Europe's graft watchdog: Major concerns for Romania's courts

BUCHAREST, Romania - Europe's corruption watchdog urged Romania on Wednesday to abandon a judicial overhaul that critics say will undermine the country's fight against graft.

The Group of States Against Corruption issued a report criticizing the Romanian government's efforts to decriminalize some graft offences and called for more safeguards in the appointment of senior prosecutors.

As part of the left-wing government's proposed overhaul, elected officials wouldn't be investigated for alleged bribery or influence peddling.

The proposals have led to protests, with critics saying they would make it harder to prosecute high-level corruption. Romania's constitutional Court this year struck down several of the planned changes, which are now being examined by the Senate.

The watchdog group encouraged Romania to scrap the creation of department to probe wrongdoing by magistrates, saying it "could easily be misused to ... interfere in sensitive high-profile cases."

There was no immediate reaction from the government. Leaders of the ruling Social Democratic Party and its junior partner have said Romania's current laws on the legal system give prosecutors too much power and need to be updated.

The report also criticized plans to effectively decriminalize official misconduct offences involving sums under 200,000 euros ($248,000), noting that average monthly wages in Romania "are in the range of 600 to 800 euros ($744 to $992)."

The Group of States Against Corruption report commented on "the controversial process" Romania's justice minister initiated in February to try to dismiss the country's chief anti-corruption prosecutor, who has been widely praised for tackling government and political corruption.

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