Romania minister prepares decree to invalidate graft cases

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s justice minister said Monday that he has prepared an emergency decree that could invalidate hundreds of corruption cases involving the country’s most senior officials.

Tudorel Toader is to meet later in the day with Prime Minister Viorica Dancila to discuss the ordinance. It could lead to the suspension of trials and verdicts as well as retrials, including in the case of Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the ruling Social Democrats, who has twice been convicted but denies wrongdoing.

The convictions bar him from being prime minister, although he effectively controls the government.

Anti-corruption groups say they’ll protest if the prime minister passes the ordinance, which critics say would be a setback for democracy and weaken efforts to fight high-level graft.

Three groups representing judges and prosecutors urged a public debate on the issue and asked the government not to pass a measure “that could endanger fundamental social values” in a country that respects the rule of law.

The European Union has voiced concerns about the erosion of the rule of law and a contentious judicial overhaul the government embarked on that critics say will protect corrupt officials.

Monday’s development follows a ruling in November by the Constitutional Court that one of five judges on the High Court for Cassation, the nation’s highest appeals court, wasn’t appointed properly in 2014, opening the way for it to review verdicts issued since 2014.

Some 20 former ministers, lawmakers and state company managers are now trying to get convictions overturned.