Iulian Ernst in Bucharest -
Romanian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development Liviu Dragnea resigned on May 15 after the country’s highest court found him guilty of voter manipulation during the July 2012 referendum.
Dragnea is the second Romanian minister to be forced out in the last two months, after former finance minister Darius Valcov resigned in March following the launch of a corruption probe. Recently, Romania has stepped up its anti-corruption efforts, with numerous high-profile politicians and senior officials coming under investigation.
The High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ) issued a one-year suspended sentence for Dragnea, who is also the executive president of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). Dragnea has the right to appeal against the sentence, as does Romania’s anti-corruption prosecutor, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which may ask for a tougher sentence.
Following the ruling, Dragnea said he had submitted his resignation from the cabinet and would also stand down from his influential position within the PSD. However, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Dragnea added that he considered himself to be innocent. Ponta told journalists that the court ruling was “a symbolic decision”, and added that the party’s response to the situation would be announced on May 18.
The court ruled that Dragnea had used illegal measures in an attempt to push up the turnout in a July 29, 2012 referendum initiated by the PSD in an attempt to impeach Romania’s then president Traian Basescu. Although 87.5% of those who voted in the referendum backed Basescu’s impeachment, the turnout was below the 50% threshold required for the vote to be valid.
At the time of the referendum, Dragnea was secretary general of the PSD and head of the local administration in Teleorman county. He was accused by the DNA of coordinating a countrywide team of agents to directly influence voters, as well as operating a sophisticated telecommunications system to collect data on turnout in real time. While the use of the electronic system was not illegal in itself, its purpose breached the law. Dragnea and 74 others were indicted in October 2013.
Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have stepped up their efforts in recent years, bringing cases against a growing number of senior politicians and government officials. The DNA reported a record year in 2014 in terms of indictments, convictions in investigated cases, and investigations into high-level public officials.
In addition to Valcov, other influential politicians to come under investigation recently include former presidential candidate Elena Udrea, a close ally of Basescu, and the former minister for large projects, Dan Sova.
The European Commission commended Bucharest’s progress in its latest Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report issued in January, although it criticised the parliament, which has several times voted to block investigations into ministers and parliament members.
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