Romanian prosecutors start criminal investigation into leader of biggest party

Romanian prosecutors start criminal investigation into leader of biggest party
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest April 6, 2016

The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on April 6 it has started a criminal investigation into Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s biggest party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

The new investigation comes a few months before local and general elections in Romania. Even though it might affect the party’s image, it is not likely to force Dragnea to withdraw from the political race, given that a new mandate as deputy will give him parliamentary immunity. Dragnea, as well as other Romanian politicians under criminal investigation, has proved to be determined to hold onto his position on the political scene.

DNA has accused Dragnea of instigation to abuse of power and instigation to forgery when drawing up documents.

Specifically, the DNA claims that between July 2006 and December 2012, Dragnea, who was at that time was the head of Teleorman county council and the leader of the local PSD branch, ordered the executive manager of Teleorman's general directorate of social assistance and child protection to violate her duties by keeping two employees on the payroll although in reality they worked for the PSD county organisation.

Dragnea’s former wife, Bombonica Prodana, is also being investigated in the same case.

Dragnea claims the investigation will not affect the party’s image during the electoral campaign. “You will see that we will run,” Dragnea said according to Profit.ro.

Dragnea was previously issued a one-year suspended sentence by the High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ) for his involvement in the manipulation of voting in the July 2012 referendum. The court ruled that Dragnea had used illegal measures in an attempt to push up turnout in the referendum initiated by the PSD in an attempt to impeach Romania’s then president Traian Basescu. However he has challenged the ruling.

Dragnea resigned in May last year from the development minister and PSD executive president position after being found guilty. However, he was elected the party’s president for an interim term in July, only to be confirmed in the position a few months later.

Dragnea replaced Ponta as head of the PSD after Ponta resigned from his position within the party amid corruption allegations. However, Ponta remained Romania's prime minister for several more months, dismissing the accusations against him. He eventually resigned after mass anti-corruption protests.

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have stepped up their efforts to fight high level corruption in recent years. The DNA reported a record year in 2015. It indicted over 1,250 people for high and medium-level corruption crimes, and 970 defendants received final convictions. Five times more ministers - including one prime minister - and members of parliament were sent to trial in 2015 compared to 2013.

The DNA’s efforts have continued this year. Most recently, PSD vice president and mayor of the city of Craiova, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, was detained on March 30 for 24 hours on suspicion of bribe taking, money laundering and influence trafficking. Also, the mayor of Bucharest district 2 was put under arrest for 30 days for bribe taking.

Despite these efforts, corruption is still an important issue in Romania. A recent poll showed that 43% of the population in the capital Bucharest believe that corruption gained momentum after the latest presidential elections in November 2014, while 41% believe that corruption has remained the same. The survey, carried out by CURS polling agency for the Romanian Academic Society (SAR), revealed that only 12% of those interviewed said that corruption had decreased.

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