A Judicial Council in Romania has dismissed Justice Minister Tudorel Toader’s request to recall the country’s acting attorney general, Augustin Lazar, continuing a showdown between the government and the judiciary. Justice Minister Toader was the only member of the Council to vote in favour of Lazar’s dismissal, with all other members, composed of 5 prosecutors, voting against. The Superior Council of Magistracy, which ensures the independence of the Romanian judiciary and prosecutors offices, did not immediately give reasons for its opinion.
Lazar has been entrenched in a battle with the justice minister since Toader announced his plan to oust him as attorney general last month, accusing Lazar of overstepping his authority, mishandling the violent anti-government protests in August and targeting innocent people with his investigations. Lazar in turn has said that Toader is acting illegally and making baseless accusations.
Romania’s Social Democrat-led government has been at loggerheads with the country’s judicial system over attempted reforms that have been condemned both at home and abroad as a threat to the independence of the courts.
In June Toader succeeded, after a prolonged confrontation, to remove the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate, Laura Codruta Kovesi, from her post for the same reasons as he is now trying to take down Lazar. Like Kovesi, Lazar had prosecuted dozens of public officials including many from the the ruling PSD for corruption. The Romanian government is widely accused of seeking the removal of the two prosecutors in order to replace them with more compliant candidates who will take a softer line on corruption.
In its audit report last week on the state of the judiciary and the fight against graft in Romania, the EU Commission explicitly called for an immediate halt to the recall procedure against Lazar and said the government’s proposed reforms to the judiciary and criminal code represented a reversal of 10 years of progress. As the court’s ruling is only advisory in nature, it is up to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, of the opposition Liberal party, to decide on the legality of Lazar’s dismissal.