Centre-right candidate for Bucharest mayor post withdraws as investigation launched

By bne IntelliNews April 11, 2016

The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on April 11 it has started a criminal investigation into Ludovic Orban, the vice president of Romania’s second biggest party, the National Liberal Party (PNL), and has put him under judiciarl control on suspicion of influence peddling.

The investigation puts the PNL in a difficult situation as Orban was the party's candidate for the position of Bucharest mayor. Romania will hold local elections on June 5. Following the indictment, Orban announced he is withdrawing from the race, and he is also giving up his position within the party and that of vice president of the Chamber of Deputies.

Specifically, the DNA claims that on March 1, Orban contacted a businessman and asked him to provide him financial support for the electoral campaign. On March 20, he asked that businessman for €50,000 in order to pay some influential people from two television channels to promote his campaign.

That businessman agreed to pay the money in consideration of Orban’s leading position within the PNL and his potential to intervene in business areas where the businessman was active, according to a DNA statement.

Following a visit to the DNA, Orban announce he will not run for the Bucharest city hall any longer. “I can’t ask for citizens’ votes while I am being investigated. I am withdrawing my candidacy because I do not want to jeopardise the PNL’s chances to win Bucharest city hall,” Orban said, according to Mediafax news agency.

“In the past 25 years, I have never been suspected of corruption. When I came to the DNA, I was not aware of these details,” he added.

PNL co-leader Alina Gorghiu said that the party will discuss at who will be the party’s candidate for the mayor position a meeting on April 12.

Orban is not the first candidate for a mayoral position to be put under investigation. The vice president of Romania's biggest party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), and mayor of the city of Craiova, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, was detained on March 30 for 24 hours on suspicion of bribe taking, money laundering and influence trafficking. She said she will still run for the position.

Also, the mayor of Bucharest district 2, Neculai Ontanu, was put under arrest for 30 days for bribe taking. Ontanu, the head of the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR), was also supported for mayor in the Bucharest district by the PSD.

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have stepped up their efforts to fight high level corruption in recent years. The DNA reported a record year in 2015. It indicted over 1,250 people for high and medium-level corruption crimes, and 970 defendants received final convictions. Five times more ministers - including one prime minister - and members of parliament were sent to trial in 2015 compared to 2013.

Last week, the DNA announced it had started a criminal investigation into Liviu Dragnea, the head of the PSD, for instigation to abuse of power and instigation to forgery when drawing up documents.

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