Romanian high court rejects PSD leader's appeal against suspended sentence

Romanian high court rejects PSD leader's appeal against suspended sentence
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest April 24, 2017

The Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice rejected on April 24 an appeal filed by the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Liviu Dragnea against the suspended sentence he received last year. 

Dragnea’s two-year suspended sentence for voter manipulation in Romania’s 2012 referendum prevented him from becoming prime minister after the PSD won the general election in December, since Romanian legislation bars people with criminal convictions from being part of the government. He also risks a prison sentence if he is found guilty in a separate case, in which he was indicted in 2016. 

In 2016, Dragnea was found guilty of influence peddling in order to obtain advantages for himself or others in the 2012 referendum on the impeachment of former President Traian Basescu. 

He was found to have inflated the number of votes with the aim of meeting the quorum and impeaching Romania's then president, who had a highly acrimonious relationship with the then PSD leader and Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The referendum on Basescu's impeachment was declared invalid because the turnout was below the required minimum of 50% plus one.

Dragnea, who is also the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, had sought to get the ruling overturned. In February, he challenged the sentence asking for it to be cancelled on the grounds that legal procedures were not observed when it came to writing down the reasoning for the final ruling, as two of the judges retired before this was completed. In addition, Dragnea argued the 30 day legal deadline in which the motivation should have been edited was exceeded.

The latest ruling is likely to further weaken Dragnea, who is rumoured to be involved in a power struggle with Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, who was nominated for the post after Dragnea’s original choice for premier was rejected by President Klaus Iohannis. 

The PSD has made several attempts to enable Dragnea to become prime minister and overturn his conviction by challenging anti-corruption legislation since it came to power in December. 

An emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office was adopted by the government in January, but later revoked following mass anti-corruption protests. Dragnea was seen as the primary beneficiary of the decree, though it would have also enabled numerous other officials and politicians to evade prosecution. 

In addition, the legislation banning people with criminal convictions from taking high office has been referred to the Constitutional Court by ombudsman Victor Ciorbea, but the court has already postponed making a ruling three times.

Meanwhile, in July 2016 prosecutors indicted Dragnea for instigation of abuse of power and instigation to forgery when drawing up documents in a separate case. Should he be found guilty, whether he then goes to prison will depend on the length of the second sentence and the judge's decision on whether to issue a suspended sentence or a prison term. Two suspended sentences are possible in Romania, provided they are under three years long.