Romanian MPs spare fellow corruption suspect lawmaker of arrest

Romanian MPs spare fellow corruption suspect lawmaker of arrest

 

By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The lower house of the Romanian Parliament has tonight rejected an arrest application submitted by the anti-corruption prosecutors for a lawmaker who under criminal investigation for corruption, a decision which sheds new light on the MPs’ commitment to fight graft.

Vlad Cosma, a social-democrat lawmaker, is the son of a powerful country council head, both under investigation for corruption. The vote, 222 to 105, was secret and the only ones admitting they vote in favor of the arrest were the liberals, the social-democrats’ partners in the ruling coalition.

The vote in the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies came a few hours after the chamber’s judicial committee also decided to reject the prosecutors’ demand. Speaking before the vote, Cosma said the anti-corruption authorities seek his arrest without holding strong evidence and based on the assumption he representing a danger to the public. “Dear colleagues, when you go home tonight, speak to your children in whisper because your phones are surely tapped, as it has been mine since 2012” Cosma also said, trying to win his fellow lawmakers’ affection.

Several ministers, including the prime-minister, are said to have attended the vote in the plenum. He said his social-democrats lawmakers hadn’t received instructions as to how to vote.

Vlad Cosma and his father, Mircea Cosma, are accused they asked for bribes amounting to 4.4 million lei (about 1 million Euros) from local companies in the county administered by his father. Also arrested, Mircea Cosma was soon released on medical grounds. They promised in return they would use their influence to grant the companies state contracts, such as public roads maintenance, but most of these contracts had been over-evaluated so that the final sums also covered commissions the two pretended.

The vote in the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies comes as the country’s anti-corruption efforts have been hindered by a series of controversial decisions, such as amendments passed in December by the lawmakers to shield themselves from corruption charges. These changes drew the ire of the west and were retracted amid public pressure. In February, a new Penal Code came into force barring prosecutors to tap phones during an anti-corruption inquiry unless the suspect is informed there is a criminal investigation against him. Prosecutors argue this provision undermines their investigations and dramatically reduces chances to collect proof against a suspect.

The Romanian Parliament has been repeatedly criticized by the European Commission for protecting lawmakers who are under criminal investigation by not approving arrest warrants issued by prosecutors.