The Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) has started an investigation into the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, on suspicion of organising a criminal group, forgery and abuse of office, the DNA said on November 13.
The new investigation comes at a time when the ruling coalition is pushing to change the country’s justice system, a move which is seen as increasing political control over the judiciary. Dragnea was seen as the beneficiary of a government emergency ordinance adopted back in winter partly decriminalising abuse of office. However, the decree was repealed following mass protests in the country.
Dragnea has already received a two-year suspended sentence for voter manipulation in Romania’s 2012 referendum and is on trial for instigation to abuse of power and instigation to forgery when drawing up documents in a separate case.
According to the DNA statement, Dragnea, while he was head of the Teleorman county council, in 2001, initiated a criminal organised group which is currently active and which includes public servants and members of the business environment. The group mainly aims “to fraudulently obtain important sums from contracts financed by public funds (national and European), by committing abuse of office, EU funds frauds, tax evasion, money laundering and using information which is not public or by allowing unauthorised persons have access to this information,” the DNA said in its statement.
The case is based on a notification sent by the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) in 2016, regarding suspicions of several crimes, including illegally obtaining EU funds for road rehabilitation works, based on forged documents.
“OLAF found evidence suggesting collusion between the beneficiary of the funds, public officials and the contractor, including falsification of documents during the procurement procedure. Some of these documents were also used in support of the claim which the beneficiary submitted to the Managing Authority, resulting in the payment of €21mn from European Union funds,” OLAF said in a statement.
OLAF's investigations were concluded with a financial recommendation to the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, to recover the full €21mn, and with recommendations to the DNA to initiate judicial actions into the matter.
The DNA prosecutors clearly linked Dragnea to the Tel Drum, a company which Romanian media has long claimed was controlled by the PSD leader through intermediaries. The company was also mentioned in a previous DNA investigation which led to the resignation of former deputy prime minister Sevil Shhaideh, one of Dragnea’s close allies, and former minister of European funds Rovana Plumb.
Dragnea has rejected the accusations, saying he has no connections with Tel Drum.
“I categorically reject the allegations. I reiterate what I have been saying for years, I have no financial or patrimonial connections with that company,” Dragnea said.
The ruling PSD has been under lots of pressure lately. After ousting its own prime minister Sorin Grindeanu through a no-confidence vote, the fiscal and judicial measures since announced by the new government have been harshly criticised by the president, trade unions and investors.
Around 20,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest on November 5 to protest against the planned changes to the country’s justice system. Smaller protests were held on November 12 in several countries after the government adopted an emergency ordinance amending the Fiscal Code, including the transfer of social security contributions entirely to the employees.