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BUCHAREST, Romania – Romania's chief anti-corruption prosecutor was fired Monday over misconduct and incompetence accusations by her own government ministry, raising concerns at home and abroad about the country's commitment to fight corruption.
Laura Codruta Kovesi's dismissal complies with a ruling from Romania's top court, which had ordered it over the accusations of incompetence, President Klaus Iohannis's office said.
In a February report, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader had accused Kovesi of being authoritarian, and claimed that prosecutors under her command had falsified evidence and an inordinate number of defendants had been acquitted. He also accused Kovesi of harming Romania's image in interviews with foreign journalists.
Kovesi, an experienced prosecutor who has been widely praised for investigating senior officials, refuted his accusations.
The European Commission praised the anti-corruption agency saying if current high standards were in the future "called into question, the commission will reanalyze its conclusions." Romania's justice system remains under special monitoring by the European Union.
Canada's ambassador to Romania, Kevin Hamilton, said that Kovesi's "forced dismissal" was "discouraging news," while some Romanians voiced dismay on social media about her ousting.
Flanked by prosecutors, a visibly emotional Kovesi later hit out at politicians who are currently passing laws that critics say will make it harder to punish graft. She said lawmakers were seeking "protection for the past, the present and the future."
She said she would remain a prosecutor but not at the anti-corruption agency, and ended her statement with an appeal to ordinary Romanians: "Corruption can be beaten, don't give up!" Prosecutors applauded her.
Under her leadership, the agency has successfully prosecuted lawmakers, ministers and other top officials for bribery, fraud, abuse of power and other corruption-related offenses.
But her prosecutions and popularity among ordinary Romanians— who praised her in near-weekly anti-corruption demonstrations— angered some politicians, particularly members of the ruling Social Democratic Party. They frequently called for her departure and former Justice Minister Florin Iordache greeted her dismissal as "a sign of normality."
Iohannis said efforts to root out high-level corruption "mustn't slow down or be abandoned," saying endemic corruption "translates to a lack of hospitals, schools, highways and an efficient public administration."