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Romania court says penal code changes unconstitutional

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A number of changes to Romania's penal code recently pushed through by the ruling Social Democratic Party are unconstitutional, the country's highest court ruled Friday in a severe blow to the government.

Critics argue some changes will allow Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea to ask for a "review" of a two-year jail sentence he received in 2016 for electoral fraud play

Critics argue some changes will allow Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea to ask for a "review" of a two-year jail sentence he received in 2016 for electoral fraud

(AFP/File)

A number of changes to Romania's penal code recently pushed through by the ruling Social Democratic Party are unconstitutional, the country's highest court ruled Friday in a severe blow to the government.

The constitutional court's nine judges unanimously rejected about 60 amendments to the penal code that have already come under fire from the European Commission in Brussels and Romanian president Klaus Iohannis.

Critics argue that some of the changes will allow Social Democratic Party leader, Liviu Dragnea, to ask for a "review" of a two-year jail sentence he received in 2016 for electoral fraud.

And they suggest that the amendments will help Dragnea escape prosecution in two other cases.

The EU Commission's vice president, Frans Timmermans, has repeatedly expressed his "concern" about some of the changes and asked clarification from Prime Minister Dancila in a letter sent in early October.

"The commission is closely analysing the conformity of these legislative amendments with EU law, in particular as regards Romania's obligations to protect the financial interests of the EU and to comply with the EU criminal law", Timmermans wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

Many of the changes favoured suspects of a crime to the detriment of the victims and also placed obstacles in the way of investigators, the court argued in its ruling.

In June, 12 western countries warned that some of Romania's judicial reforms could "impede cooperation (with Romania) in international law enforcement."

Pprosecutors have had some success in the clamping down on corruption in Romania, one of the EU's most graft-ridden country, but the government accuses them of overstepping their power.

After winning elections in late 2016, the Social Democrat-led government attempted to water down anti-corruption legislation, but abandoned the plans in face of the biggest wave of protests since the collapse of communism in 1989.

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