bne IntelliNews -
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has been placed under investigation on suspicion of 17 counts of forgery, as well as for money-laundering, conflict of interest and tax evasion.
Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on June 5 that it had started criminal investigations into Ponta, accusing him of forging 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 formally related to a contract between the law firm and state-owned companies, prosecutors explained, but the services were allegedly never delivered.
Romania has been on anti-corruption drive in recent years. Last year 1,138 Romanians, including politicians, judges, prosecutors and businessmen, were convicted of corruption, up from 155 in 2006. However, Ponta will be the first sitting prime minister under official criminal investigation.
The contract in question with the state-owned companies is the subject of another on-going criminal investigation by the prosecutors, who claim that it was simply money siphoning and that no services were required by the state-owned entities, nor delivered by the law firm.
The investigation is related to a DNA case against Romanian politician and former transport minister Dan Sova, the owner of the law firm at that time.
On June 2, MPs voted against a request made by DNA prosecutors for Sova’s detention – a practice generally used to try to prevent falsification of documents and communication with accomplices. The Senate rejected the request by 72 votes to 66.
Even if not specifically stated in DNA’s press release, the evidence produced against Ponta also substantiates the prosecutors' demand to have Sova placed in custody. In fact, the case against Ponta could now be used to make another request for Sova to be detained, since the new case will bring forward supplementary evidence.
Prosecutors have also noted a conflict of interest when, in his position as prime minister, Ponta repeatedly nominated fellow lawyer Sova in his cabinet as Minister for Relations with Parliament, and later as Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transport.
In a statement on Friday, 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.
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