Romanian lawmaker proposes pardoning corruption jail sentences

Romanians light up blue pieces of paper and pieces of yellow star shaped fabric thus forming the European Union flag
Romanians light up blue pieces of paper and pieces of yellow star shaped fabric thus forming the European Union flag during a protest against the government, in Bucharest, Romania, February 26, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS

March 6, 2017

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A lawmaker from Romania’s ruling Social Democrats proposed extending a draft bill granting prison pardons to include corruption offences, weeks after protests forced the government to abandon plans to decriminalize some graft charges.

It is unclear whether the Social Democrat party, which together with junior partner ALDE holds a large parliamentary majority, would support the amendment presented by Senator Serban Nicolae, who said it was a personal not party proposal.

The government says the bill is needed to ease pressure on the European Union state’s overcrowded prisons – something echoed by Nicolae.

“I don’t think … the corrupt must live three to a bed in dampness and with precarious hygiene,” he told reporters.

Romania is seen as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring. While the European Commission has repeatedly praised the judiciary for progress stamping out graft, it has noted parliament has a track record of trying to weaken legislation.

In early February, the cabinet of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency decree that would have shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution, drawing international criticism and triggering the largest nationwide protests in decades.

The ruling coalition rescinded the decree and reshuffled the cabinet.

In its initial form, the draft pardons prison sentences of up to five years except for violence, treason, genocide and other serious crimes, as well as repeat offenders. It would halve sentences for pregnant women and single family earners.

Nicolae’s amendment would include pardoning sentences for bribery, influence peddling, abuse of power and conflict of interest.

The senate’s legal commission meets on Tuesday to debate the bill, which needs parliament’s approval to come into effect.

Nicolae said roughly 2,700 people would benefit from the bill, just under 10 percent of all of Romania’s convicts.

Earlier this month, another Social Democrat lawmaker filed a proposal to introduce jail sentences for protesters that disturb constitutional order.

Analysts have said the proposal was vaguely phrased and could apply to protests like the ones that took place across the country throughout February. The ruling party later said it did not back the lawmaker’s proposal.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams)