Romanian president refuses to sack corruption prosecutor

Bucharest (AFP) - Romanian President Klaus Iohannis announced Monday that he has refused a government request to fire the country's popular chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi.

Iohannis said he had rejected the proposal from Justice Minister Tudorel Toader to sack Kovesi, head of the anti-corruption body DNA.

"I was not convinced by the justice minister's arguments", Iohannis said in a ten-minute speech announcing his decision.

Toader launched the procedure to sack Kovesi in February, accusing her of violating the constitution and of "damaging the image" of Romania by criticising the government's controversial judicial reforms.

Toader reacted to Iohannis' announcement on Facebook, saying that the president did not have the "legal ability nor the capacity to evaluate" Kovesi's activities and added that the government would contest Iohannis' decision before the Constitutional Court.

As well as sparking street protests at home, the left-wing government's reforms have raised worries abroad that Romania may be backsliding in its fight against corruption.

More than 108,000 people had signed an online petition calling on Iohannis, who is from the centre-right, not to dismiss Kovesi.

Kovesi has helped bring a raft of corrupt officials to justice in recent years in one of the EU's most graft-ridden countries.

This has won her praise abroad but also made her powerful enemies in Romania, as many of those convicted are members of, or close to, the ruling party.

Earlier this year Kovesi said the agency had investigated a record number of cases in 2017, despite "unprecedented attacks" by political authorities.