Leader of Romania’s largest party PSD gets two-year suspended prison sentence

Leader of Romania’s largest party PSD gets two-year suspended prison sentence
By bne IntelliNews April 24, 2016

Romania’s High Court of Cassation and Justice has issued a two-year suspended prison sentence for Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania’s largest party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), for his involvement in the manipulation of voting in a referendum to impeach former president Traian Basescu.

The ruling is final and doubled the one-year suspended sentence issued earlier in the case. Although Dragnea announced he will not resign from the PSD leader post, the April 22 ruling will put extra pressure on the party ahead of local and general elections this year. Investigations have been launched recently into other PSD leaders, including vice president Lia Olguta Vasilescu and branch leader Liviu Negoita, who are running for mayor posts.

Prosecutors accused Dragnea of influence peddling in order to obtain advantages for himself or others. He is said to have inflated the number of votes, with the aim of meeting the quorum and impeaching Romania's then president.

The referendum on Basescu's impeachment was declared invalid because the turnout was below the required minimum of 50% plus one.

“When the referendum was organized and held on July 29, 2012, he used his influence and authority within the party in order to obtain electoral advantages for the political alliance his party was part of, i.e. meeting the attendance quorum, with the help of votes obtained under conditions other than legal,” the prosecutors claimed, according to Mediafax news agency.

The prosecutors claim that Dragnea was helped by 74 presidents or officials at polling stations from the Teleorman, Vrancea, Gorj and Olt counties. They have been prosecuted for forgery of documents and introducing into additional ballot papers into ballot boxes.

Despite the ruling, Dragnea said he will remain the leader of PSD and will lead the electoral campaign, saying that was the majority’s “almost unanimous opinion”.

“The decision, the almost unanimous opinion of the majority, was that my withdrawal could destabilize all the campaign activities and may lead to the PSD not obtaining the expected score,” Dragnea said. “I decided to remain in the post and manage the electoral campaign,” he added. However the decision will be discussed again after the local elections in June.

“We are speechless.  We are more than shocked, we are stunned at what is happening today in Romania. This man has done nothing more than to lead an electoral campaign asking people to go out and vote, do take down a monster, a tyrant who destroyed us for 10 years,” PSD deputy general secerary Codrin Stefanescu said.

The impeachment procedure was initiated by Romania's leftist ruling coalition led by former prime minister Victor Ponta. Some 88% of those who participated in the referendum supported the impeachment. However, the turnout was reported at 46%, below the required minimum.

The referendum is not Dragnea’s only problem with the law. The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on April 6 it had started a criminal investigation into him on suspicion of instigation to abuse of power and instigation to forgery when drawing up documents.

Neither the high court’s ruling or the DNA’s investigation has made the PSD leader withdraw from the frontline of the political scene. This, however, does not seem to be an uncommon attitude among Romanian politicians, who are not very keen to give up their posts once they are part of an investigation.

Ponta himself refused for several months to give up his post, even after prosecutors launched a corruption probe.

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, Ponta - and members of parliament were sent to trial in 2015 compared to 2013.