BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian lawmakers voted to allow prosecutors to arrest a former finance minister for corruption on Wednesday but blocked the detention of another ex-minister, prompting renewed criticism of the country’s commitment to tackling high-level graft.
The United States, Britain and the Netherlands issued statements after parliament’s decision not to lift the immunity of former transport minister Dan Sova, which also sparked anger and calls for protests in several cities on social media.
Romania is seen as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and its justice system is under special monitoring, though its prosecutors and magistrates have won praise from Brussels.
Under Romanian law, prosecutors need parliament’s approval to investigate and detain sitting lawmakers for graft offences committed while they were in office. Lawmakers have a patchy record of approving such requests.
“Parliamentary immunity should not be abused to protect individuals from accountability,” the U.S. embassy said. “As we have said before, reducing corruption is critical to Romania’s development and security.”
On Wednesday, senators voted on requests by prosecutors to arrest former finance minister Darius Valcov and Sova in separate cases. Both men deny wrongdoing.
Valcov, who resigned this month after an investigation into him began, is accused of favouring a firm for a public works contract in exchange for about 2 million euros ($2.20 million) while in his former post as mayor. Prosecutors subsequently accused him of unlawful gains after they discovered cash, gold bars and a French Impressionist painting in his safe.
Sova is under investigation for complicity in abuse of power involving contracts signed by two state energy firms. Prosecutors say he forged documents to prove his innocence and had hard drives at his law firm wiped to erase evidence.
“I think my colleagues understood that a case takes place in the court room,” said Sova, who attended a parliamentary prayer group on Wednesday and had myrrh smeared on his forehead by a senator in an Orthodox Christian religious rite.
“Parliament did not block justice because justice is not made through arrests but through judgement by judges.”
Before Sova, parliament has blocked probes into two other politicians this year.
“Parliament’s practice regarding our requests has not been consistent,” Laura Kovesi, head of the anti-corruption agency, told Reuters previously in an interview.
“We couldn’t identify objective criteria based on which we could go back with some requests or understand why some of them were rejected.”
Editing by Matthias Williams and Gareth Jones