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Despite pressure, Romanian president won’t fire prosecutor

January 4, 2019
In this Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, photo a man walks by the monument of the European Union Founding Fathers in Bucharest, Romania. Romanian officials have slammed European Union officials for treating it as "a second-rate" country as it prepares to take over the EU's rotating presidency. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s president on Friday refused a request from the justice minister to dismiss the county’s top prosecutor, who has clashed with the government over its commitment to fight corruption.

President Klaus Iohannis said he wouldn’t fire Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, a critic of a governmental judicial overhaul that he and others say will make it harder to prosecute senior officials for corruption.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader asked Iohannis to remove Lazar from his post last month based on a 63-page report that alleged mismanagement. But Iohannis said Lazar was “doing a very good job” and rejected “this so-called evaluation,” which he said doesn’t adhere to legal principles.

The president also refused to appoint two other ministers.

His refusal drew a sharp rebuke from the ruling Social Democratic Party, which accused Iohannis of blocking government activity and “influence peddling.”

The party claimed the president was in cahoots with Lazar, who was a regional prosecutor in an office that in 2010 dropped charges against Iohannis in a fraudulent property restitution case. Iohannis was mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu at the time, before being elected president in 2014.

The ruling party said it would “use all legal and constitutional means... to defend the constitutional order and the rule of law and assure a minimum political stability,” during the six months it holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, which began Jan.1.

Iohannis on Friday also rejected Toader’s repeated request to appoint regional prosecutor Adina Florea to the post of chief prosecutor at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate. Iohannis said it was “rather odd” that Tudorel would resubmit her name after Iohannis said last month she was not legally qualified for the position.

The Superior Council of Magistrates also ruled Florea was unsuited for the high-profile position because it said she handled stress badly and had problems with “honesty and impartiality.”

The European Union says it’s concerned about corruption and the erosion of the rule of law in Romania.

But the government claims the EU is discriminating against Romania, and insists prosecutors have too much power. It says the country should be free to decide upon its own laws.

Last year, Tudorel engineered the dismissal of the former chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, alleging that she mismanaged the office and overstepped her authority.

The U.S. and the EU, however, praised Kovesi, the driving force behind the corruption convictions of hundreds of officials in recent years.

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