BUCHAREST, Romania — A parliamentary committee in Romania on Monday approved a bill that would redefine official misconduct, a move criticized by the country's anti-corruption prosecutors and a rights' group.
Lawmakers on the committee voted 13-7 to make the charge of abuse of power in office only applicable to public officials whose actions directly benefit themselves or a close relative.
Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate says 215 cases it sent to trial last year would likely result in acquittals, if the proposal becomes law.
The agency noted that the new definition would preclude prosecuting an office-holder who illegally awards a public contract to a political party colleague or a friend, or who illegally hands over state-owned real estate.
The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania-Helsinki Committee criticized the development. It said prosecuting only "family corruption," would encourage "illicit material gain for friends and acquaintances, without it being a crime."
The draft law also proposes lowering the maximum prison sentence for official misconduct from seven years to five years.
One person who might benefit from the change is Liviu Dragnea, the powerful chairman of Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party. Dragnea received a 3½-year prison sentence last month for abuse of power in office.
He was convicted of intervening to keep two party members on the payroll of a public family welfare agency when he was a local government official. Dragnea denied wrongdoing and can appeal.
The legislation now goes to the full Romanian Parliament, where it is likely to be approved by Social Democrats and their allies. It would need Romanian President Klaus Iohannis' signature to become law.