Romanian minister found guilty of vote-rigging in referendum
BUCHAREST - Reuters
REUTERS PhotoA senior Romanian minister was convicted on May 15 of electoral fraud over a 2012 attempt to impeach a president and political rival, a judgment that dealt a blow to Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s efforts to demonstrate to the EU a hard line on graft.
Regional development minister Liviu Dragnea was convicted of masterminding a campaign to use bribes and forged ballot papers to swing an impeachment vote against then president Traian Basescu, arch rival of Ponta’s ruling Social Democrats.
The court gave Dragnea, a powerful figure in Romanian politics, a one year suspended jail sentence, which spares him prison. He will, however, be banned from holding public office. The decision can be appealed.
Dragnea, 52, is the second member of Ponta’s cabinet felled by graft charges in the European Union state, after the finance minister was put under investigation in March and resigned.
Ponta suggested the ruling was politically motivated, “a symbolic decision to convict a political action.”
His trial has put renewed scrutiny on Romania’s performance in tackling corruption on a political and judicial level. Brussels keeps the country’s justice system under special monitoring.
While giving prosecutors high praise for their work, it has criticized Dragnea being allowed to remain in office while under investigation.
In July 2012, Ponta’s ruling Social Democrats and their allies tried to oust arch rival Basescu, from the presidency.
A referendum plunged Romania into a constitutional crisis and drew fire from Brussels and Washington who saw the rule of law undermined. The attempt ultimately failed as the turnout did not meet the threshold of 50 percent of all registered voters.
Dragnea’s conviction risks being an embarrassment for Ponta, who suffered a surprise defeat at a presidential election in November and who faces a general election at the end of 2016.