A senior member of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats resigned from parliament yesterday (21 October), the speaker of the assembly said, a day after prosecutors said they were investigating him for alleged corruption.
Viorel Hrebenciuc, the 61-year-old vice-president of parliament’s lower house, is suspected along with another lawmaker, Dan ?ova, of collaborating to produce a bill on pardons in criminal cases that could have benefited him.
The European Union has raised concerns about a failure to tackle rampant high-level corruption in Romania and Bulgaria, its two poorest members (see background). But with a weary public no longer shocked by such cases, the affair is not expected to damage Social Democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta in a 2 November presidential election, which polls suggest he will win.
Lower house speaker Valeriu Zgonea told reporters after speaking with Hrebenciuc: “He said he was a correct man all his life and that he wouldn’t want to walk the street and harm the party.
“He submits his resignation as a parliamentary deputy and he will put himself at the disposal of the justice system […] It’s a normal move in a European country.”
Hrebenciuc was not immediately available to comment. Calls to his mobile phone went unanswered, and he did not respond to a message left on his voicemail.
The anti-graft investigators of the Directia Nationala Anticoruptie (DNA) say Hrebenciuc used his influence to prompt ?ova, a Social Democrat senator, to propose a bill last week on amnesty and pardons. If passed into law, it could have protected him from prison in another case involving a transfer of forest land in 2012.
Prosecutors say the pair had “discussed in detail” the risk of Hrebenciuc being convicted in that case, in which he and Ilie Sârbu , the prime minister’s father-in-law, are suspected of supporting an organised crime group. ?ova and Sârbu have declined to comment.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.
A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession. Seven years after their accession, the CVM is still ongoing and will continue under the next EU Commission.
Lately, the Commission reported under CVM every year with reports on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. The last report on Romania was largely seen as positive.