Romanian prosecutors said they detained President Traian Băsescu's brother yesterday (19 June) for allegedly taking a bribe to help keep an underworld boss out of jail, prompting the prime minister to call for the president's resignation.
Mircea Băsescu was brought in for questioning after Florin Anghel, the son of crime boss Sandu Anghel, filed a criminal complaint against him. Anghel's father was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison for almost fatally stabbing one of his nephews in a bar in 2011.
Florin Anghel released secret recordings to Romanian TV station Antena 3 on Wednesday that suggested Mircea Băsescu had received cash from him for trying to sway magistrates to give Sandu Anghel a lighter sentence. They also suggested President Băsescu had knowledge of his brother's dealings.
Anghel himself is under investigation for blackmail, prosecutors said.
Mircea Băsescu has denied taking money to influence the judiciary.
"During 20 February 2011 and 22 February 2012, the accused Mircea Băsescu received 250,000 euros from the informant [Florin Anghel] through an intermediary in exchange for the promise that he would intervene with magistrates in the case against the informant's father [...] with the purpose of obtaining either a smaller sentence or release from jail," prosecutors said in a statement.
The intermediary, whom prosecutors did not identify, kept an additional €350,000 for himself, they said, adding they would ask a court on Friday to approve a warrant to hold Băsescu for 30 days pending trial.
The leftist government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta told reporters President Băsescu, who won his first term in 2004 on an anti-corruption ticket and has been a strong supporter of an independent judiciary, should step down.
"The president's resignation would be a natural gesture to eliminate any pressure on the judiciary," it said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, President Băsescu strongly denied any involvement.
"There is suspicion that I was involved in the case," he told reporters. "This is why I am asking any policeman, prosecutor or judge who was involved in the sentencing of Sandu Anghel to say whether there was any intervention on my part.
"Being the president's brother does not exempt you from being subject to the law. Let me assure you that between the need to consolidate the judiciary and the natural impulse to defend one's brother I choose consolidating the judiciary."
Romania ranks behind only Greece and Bulgaria in terms of corruption in the 28-nation EU, according to Transparency International, and the European Commission has put its justice system under special monitoring.
More than 1,000 people were convicted of corruption last year in the country. Those sent for trial included six ministers and parliamentarians, five county council heads, 34 mayors and deputy mayors, judges, lawyers and managers of state-owned firms.