BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian lawmakers approved revised criminal justice statutes Monday that critics called a setback for prosecuting corruption, votes that took place hours after an American diplomat urged Romania to keep fighting official corruption to prevent "hostile powers" from undermining the country.
Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell said during a visit to Bucharest that the United States "applauds and encourages" the work of Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors "because this is how you remove vulnerabilities that hostile powers would use to undermine" a nation.
However, lawmakers from the ruling coalition unexpectedly began to approve a series of contentious amendments to existing criminal law. Opposition lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies objected, citing parliamentary rules that require the text of draft laws to be made available in advance.
Romania's left-wing government has been pushing for an overhaul of the judicial system as graft investigations have ensnared ruling party officials.
One of the measures adopted prohibits courts from overturning a lower court's acquittal of a criminal defendant unless new evidence surfaces.
As part of the revisions, information about criminal cases no longer will be made public without "legal public interest." Prosecutors also will need to bring charges against someone under investigation within a year for the case to go to trial.
Meanwhile, evidence about suspected wrongdoing supplied by whistleblowers more than six months after an alleged misdeed will be discounted. The package of changes also makes it harder to hold a suspect in custody.
"Today, Romania has become a paradise for criminals," Horia Barna, leader of the opposition Union to Save Romania, said. Opposition parties said they would try to get the laws declared unconstitutional.
Mitchell, who oversees the Bureau of European and European and Eurasian Affairs for the U.S. State Department, claims Russia and China want, in different ways, "to defeat the West."
"Now is not a moment ... when we would want to see Romania take a step back," he said.