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Top Romanian Court Nullifies Government's Criminal Code Reversals


Romanian activists protest against the way authorities handled the kidnapping and killing of a 15-year-old girl.

BUCHAREST -- Romania's Constitutional Court has struck down amendments to the Criminal Code made by the government -- a ruling that comes amid public outrage over the suspected kidnapping, rape, and murder of a teenage girl whose telephone calls to an emergency hotline were mishandled by police.

The July 29 ruling comes two days after thousands of people protested in Bucharest over the slow response by police to the disappearance of 15-year-old Alexandra Macesanu.

Macesanu reportedly was kidnapped on July 24 while trying to hitchhike to her home in a village near the southern Romanian city of Caracal.

Macesanu managed to make three calls on July 25 to the national emergency dispatcher and give clues about her location before screaming "he's coming, he's coming" as the line went dead.

It took authorities 19 hours to locate and enter the premises where Macesanu was thought to be held. Police said they found human bones and jewelry at the site -- a disused automobile repair shop.

The owner of the building, 65-year-old Gheorghe Dinca, later admitted to murdering both Macesanu and 18-year-old Luiza Melencu, who went missing in April.

Gheorghe Dinca outside a courthouse in Craiova on July 27.
Gheorghe Dinca outside a courthouse in Craiova on July 27.

However, authorities have yet to confirm that the bones found on Dinca's property matched the DNA of either Macesanu or Melencu.

'Bungled' Case

Protesters who gathered in Bucharest on July 27 blamed Romania’s government for bungling the case -- arguing that the incident proved that government changes to the criminal justice system weakened not only anti-graft cases, but also the ability of the state to fight violent crime.

Protesters March In Bucharest Over Slow Response By Police To Teen's Kidnapping, Murder
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The amendments nullified by the court on July 29 included language that shortened the statute of limitations on corruption offenses and some other crimes -- a move that would automatically shut down many corruption cases, shorten prison terms, and decriminalize negligence in the workplace.

Romania's governing coalition, led by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), initially overhauled the codes in 2018. That prompted warnings from the European Union that years of anti-corruption reforms were being reversed in one of the EU's most corrupt countries.

Since the PSD-led coalition took power in late 2016, Romania's government has made a series of legal and personnel changes seen as threatening judicial independence in Romania.

The changes have raised concerns within in the EU, at the U.S. State Department, and among thousands of local magistrates in Romania.

'Toxic And Contrary'

Center-right President Klaus Iohannis welcomed the court's decision, but called for a complete reversal of the changes, which he described as "toxic and contrary to the Constitution."

The amendments are now being sent to lawmakers who must modify them in a way that complies with the court's decision.

The Venice Commission, the advisory body on constitutional matters for the Council of Europe, previously recommended scrapping the amendments entirely.

Meanwhile, the chief of the Special Telecommunications Service (STS) that manages the Romania's national emergency hotline handed in his resignation on July 29.

Critics say the STS gave an inaccurate location to police, and that, coupled with the police's unnecessary request for a search warrant, slowed down the reaction to Macesanu's calls for help.

Outgoing STS chief Ionel Vasilca (file photo)
Outgoing STS chief Ionel Vasilca (file photo)

But outgoing STS chief Ionel Vasilca said he was resigning not because the STS "bore the slightest shadow of guilt," but in order to uphold "the institution's prestige."

The STS is also responsible for operating software and communications during elections. Romania is scheduled to conduct a presidential election later in 2019.

Romania's national police chief, Ioan Buda, was fired on July 26 along with two regional police officials over the slow response by authorities to Macesanu's calls.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, g24media.ro, digi24.ro, Reuters, and AFP
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