New probe into former Romanian PM Ponta linked to Blair visit

New probe into former Romanian PM Ponta linked to Blair visit
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest September 7, 2016

Former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is being monitored by prosecutors from the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), who suspect him of influence peddling and complicity in money laundering in a new case, according to a DNA note on September 6.

Added to the other investigations involving Ponta, this significantly limits the former prime minister’s capacity to play a role ahead of the parliamentary elections this year. He was suspected of planning to move from the Social Democratic Party (PSD) to the newly-emerged United Romania (PRU), which could have thus meet the electoral threshold and later joined forces with the PSD to form a majority in the new parliament.

DNA prosecutors suspect that in 2012, when Ponta was prime minister and president of the PSD, he indirectly received €220,000 from businessman Sebastian Ghita in exchange for placing the latter on the electoral lists for the parliamentary elections. Ghita was eventually elected to the parliament.

The money was used to pay for the organisation of a conference attended by “a high-profile political leader”, and with the special participation of PSD. While DNA does not specifically mention this, it is broadly believed that the political leader is former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Ponta was a speaker at the conference organised in March 2012 by the Foundation for Multimedia for Local Democracy, a short-lived NGO organised by a couple of advisers to the PSD, who later became advisors to Ponta.

The conference was organised to create the impression that it was the initiative of an independent NGO, and thus boost the credibility of Ponta and his party ahead of the local and parliamentary elections in 2012.

The prosecutors also placed Ghita, whom they suspect of money laundering, under monitoring. The allegations are related to the indirect payments made by Ghita, through third-party firms, for the organisation of the event.

Hotnews.ro speculates further about the relationship between Ponta and Blair’s consultancy firm, Tony Blair Associates, which has worked with numerous governments in Eastern Europe and the CIS. The online publication mentions that Blair introduced Ponta to US President Barack Obama at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013.

Ponta is already on trial on 17 counts of forgery, as well as money-laundering and complicity in tax evasion. He was the first Romanian prime minister to be indicted while still in office, and the first hearing in the trial came four months after Ponta left office last November.

He is also reportedly part of an investigation related to the settlement of a $600mn debt of KazMunaiGaz (KMG), the owner of Rompetrol Rafinare, which operates the country’s largest refinery Petromidia, Euractiv reported on July 6.

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