Ponta to step aside as PSD leader

By bne IntelliNews July 13, 2015

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Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has announced that he is temporarily withdrawing from the position of head of the country’s senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) until he clears himself of fraud accusations brought about by Romanian prosecutors. He will remain as prime minister.

The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) had earlier started investigations on Ponta and in early June asked lawmakers to remove his parliamentary immunity for deeds done while in office. The Chamber of Deputies blocked the request, but investigations are likely to continue in relation to allegations of criminality that occurred before he took office.

Prosecutors claim that Ponta forged documents to cover payments made to him between 2007 and 2008, a period before he became a government minister and when he was still working as a lawyer. The payments, amounting to some €40,000, were made by a law firm for services that were allegedly never delivered, with the services formally related to a contract between the law firm and state-owned companies.

“Because I do not want this situation to affect PSD, I am informing you I have decided not to hold any leadership position in the party until I prove my innocence on charges I am being brought,” Ponta said in a statement posted on his Facebook account on July 12.

Later in the day, interim PSD president Rovana Plumb clarified that Ponta is not resigning but temporary withdrawing. She added that Ponta’s resignation from the position of prime minister is out of question, as such a situation would provoke “a major political crisis",” according to news portal Hotnews.

Last month, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called for Ponta to step down, saying that it was "an impossible situation for Romania that the prime minister be accused of criminal actions" and that the last thing Romania needed was a political crisis. Ponta rejected the president’s request.

Ponta’s announcement comes just days after he returned from Turkey, where he underwent knee surgery.

Meanwhile, tension within the ruling coalition has intensified and a new majority could be formed. On June 30, the Romanian parliament voted in favour of appointing Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu as head of the foreign intelligence services SIE, despite a boycott from PSD. Junior ruling party UNPR supported Ungureanu for the position, despite PSD’s claims that he is too close to the centre-right parties currently in opposition.

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