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18th Jan 2020

Romanian government hit by corruption cases

Romania's deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea on Monday (7 October) was charged with electoral fraud and economy minister Varujan Vosganian resigned over a disputed natural gas deal - the latest in a series of high-level corruption cases.

Anti-corruption prosecutors charged Dragnea with "use of influence and authority" within the Social Democratic Party "in order to obtain undue electoral advantages" when a referendum was called last year on impeaching President Traian Basescu.

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The vote was 87 percent in favour of the impeachment, but was invalidated by the Supreme Court as it failed to gather the minimum turnout.

Dragnea's role, according to prosecutors, was to "coordinate a complex mechanism aimed at altering the referendum turnout." He called on local party leaders to "do their best and break the law if needed" to secure the minimum turnout.

Over 70 other people, including local party leaders and polling office officials, are also charged with electoral fraud.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta claims the prosecution is politically motivated and accused the prosecutor in charge of the file of taking orders from Basescu. The prosecutor was removed from office hours after he finished the case.

Ponta, however, accepted the resignation of a Liberal minister and former EU commissioner candidate, Varujan Vosganian, who was charged with "plotting against the national economy" when he negotiated a special gas price for a company that was highly indebted.

Vosganian remains free for now, as the Senate on Monday refused to lift his parliamentary immunity.

Last summer, the European Commission, the German government and the US ambassador in Bucharest strongly criticised the moves to impeach Basescu, especially the pressure on Supreme Court judges who had to validate or reject the result of the referendum.

Concern about the independence of the justice system in high-level corruption cases remains one of the key issues in a special monitoring system - the so-called cooperation and verification mechanism - that the EU has in place for both Romania and Bulgaria.

A series of other politicians, including MEPs, have been on trial and some sentenced to jail on corruption charges in the past few months.

Among them is Adrian Severin, the MEP who was exposed two years ago by the Sunday Times as accepting bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists. His trial started in September.

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