Romanian minister quits over decree decriminalising graft

Riot police clashing with protesters in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest on Wednesday. The demonstrators were against a decree that could benefit dozens of corrupt officials.
Riot police clashing with protesters in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest on Wednesday. The demonstrators were against a decree that could benefit dozens of corrupt officials.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUCHAREST • A Romanian Cabinet minister has resigned, testing the stability of the month-old leftist-led government after 250,000 people came out in protest over a decree that could effectively grant amnesty to dozens of officials accused of corruption.

The order, hastily adopted late on Tuesday, has triggered the biggest nationwide protests since the fall of communism in 1989.

Critics said that decriminalising several graft offences marked the most significant retreat on anti-corruption reforms since Romania joined the European Union in 2007.

Mr Florin Jianu, Romania's Minister for Business, Trade and Entrepreneurship, announced on Facebook yesterday that he was resigning.

It was the "ethical thing to do, not for my professional honesty, my conscience is clean on that front, but for my child", he said.

"How am I going to look him in the eye and what am I going to tell him over the years?" he wrote.

"Am I going to tell him his father was a coward and supported actions he does not believe in, or that he chose to walk away from a story that isn't his?"

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has shown no sign of giving ground, but a vice-president of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), Mr Mihai Chirica, urged the government yesterday to withdraw the decree.

President Klaus Iohannis, a former leader of the opposition centre-right Liberal Party, followed Romania's top judicial watchdog in filing a legal challenge to the decree with the Constitutional Court.

The court has yet to say when it will consider the challenge.

The decree is due to take effect in a little over one week.

The government said that the order and a draft Bill on jail pardons are needed to ease prison overcrowding and bring the criminal code in line with recent Constitutional Court rulings.

Critics said the decree is tailor-made to benefit dozens of public officials under investigation or on trial for corruption, including PSD leader Liviu Dragnea. The government denied this claim.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Florin Iordache, who introduced the corruption decree, has handed over his duties to his deputy until Feb 7, state news agency Agerpres said.

Mr Constantin Sima will deal with "the intense activity required by the 2017 Budget adoption", Agerpres quoted a ministry official as saying.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Romanian minister quits over decree decriminalising graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe