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News 13 Nov 17

Romania Graft Watchdog Probes Ruling Party Chief

Romanian Social Democrat chief Liviu Dragnea was grilled by prosecutors on Monday about suspected fraud involving EU funds when he ran a county council. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Social Democrat chief Liviu Dragnea. Photo: Partidul Social Democrat/Flikr

Romania’s ruling Social Democrat Party chief Liviu Dragnea was called in for questioning on Monday by anti-graft prosecutors at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA.

Prosecutors say Dragnea is a suspect in an investigation into fraud involving European Union funds when he was acting head of Teleorman County Council.  

He is under investigation, together with eight others, including the management of Tel Drum, a Teleorman-based infrastructure constructor, the DNA said on Monday.

Allegedly, he controlled the company and, together with the eight others, criminally overcharged the local council for commissioned infrastructure works.

The estimated 3.2 million euro damages were allegedly used for personal purposes or to fund Social Democrat Party projects, prosecutors say.

Scores of Social Democrat MPs and supporters gathered in front of the DNA headquarters in Bucharest to support Dragnea.

The Social Democrat chief did not issue any statements at the DNA, where he remained for only half an hour. However, at party meeting on Sunday night, he accused the prosecutors of harassment.

“They are hunting us like pirates,” he said.

It would be the third time that Dragnea has been investigated for graft. In 2016, he received a suspended jail term for abuse of office and for trying to rig a referendum in 2012.

He is now on trial for another case of abuse of office and for influence peddling, for asking a state institution to hire and pay two employees who were, in fact, working for his party.  

Dragnea was set to become Prime Minister in January 2017, after the Social Democrats won the parliamentary elections. However, he could not assume office because of his suspended jail sentence.

He replaced former Prime Minister Victor Ponta as an interim leader in mid-2015, after Ponta resigned as head of the Social Democrats due to corruption accusations.

Dragnea has said on several occasions that the investigations are politically motivated.

He has been at the core of moves by his party to modify several justice-related laws, which civic activists and opposition politicians call a deliberate attempt to undermine the fight against corruption.

On Sunday, up to 10,000 people demonstrated for a second Sunday in a row in Bucharest and in several other cities against the controversial justice bill and other contested legislation that the Social Democrats have passed in recently. 

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