Romania's former top anti-corruption official has won a landmark victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled that her dismissal in 2018 violated her human rights.
Laura Codruta Koevesi's removal from the DNA anti-corruption agency at the behest of the ruling leftist PSD party was widely seen as a blow to efforts to tackle corruption in Romania, and drew a warning from the European Commission.
The ECHR -- which is part of the Council of Europe, a human rights body -- said on May 5 that her sacking had violated her rights to a fair trial and to freedom of expression.
“Her premature removal defeated the very purpose of maintaining judicial independence and must have had a chilling effect on her and other prosecutors and judges in taking part in public debate on legislative reforms affecting the judiciary and judicial independence,” the ECHR said in a statement.
The court found that Koevesi had been fired primarily because of her public comments, including criticism of proposed legislation that she feared would undermine the anti-graft fight in one of the European Union's most corrupt countries.
“This ruling defends magistrates from political interference,” said Koevesi, adding, “I hope that this decision will give all Romanian magistrates courage.”
President Klaus Iohannis, who was forced by Romania's Constitutional Court to fire Koevesi in July 2018, said the ECHR decision “shows us that this institution needs to be reformed at the constitutional level.”
“The credibility of the Constitutional Court, already affected by some controversial decisions over the past few years, is now even more seriously shaken,” Iohannis said.
Romania's Constitutional Court forced President Klaus Iohannis to fire Koevesi in July 2018, dealing a severe blow to the fight against corruption in the country.
The center-right Iohannis initially refused to dismiss Koevesi as urged by the leftist Social Democratic-led government, which had accused her of undermining the ruling coalition and exceeding her authority by making unfounded claims in interviews given to foreign news media.
But the court, which critics say is under the control of the notoriously corrupt social democrats (PSD), ruled in favor of Koevesi's dismissal.
Koevesi in December 2018 filed a complaint with the ECHR, arguing that the decision had denied her access to a court to challenge her dismissal.
Koevesi also argued that she had been fired for publicly expressing her views in her professional capacity on legislative changes pushed by the PSD to exonerate its leader, Liviu Dragnea, who was being tried for corruption and is currently in prison.
In September, Koevesi was appointed to the newly created position of top European Union anti-fraud prosecutor.