Romanian ex-minister’s immunity lifted in latest graft probe

The Romanian Senate on Wednesday (3 February) lifted the immunity of a former minister accused of abusing his powers to use police motorcade escorts, in the latest graft probe to hit the corruption-prone ex-Communist nation.

In all 102 senators voted to allow legal action against former interior minister Gabriel Oprea, with 31 voting against in an affair which has also claimed the job of Romania’s chief prosecutor.

>>Read: Why the West wants Romania to be less corrupt

Oprea had called on colleagues to vote in favour of the request by anti-corruption prosecutors, to allow him to “prove (my) innocence before the law”.

Oprea was deputy premier under Social Democrat leader Victor Ponta, who was forced to resign as prime minister in November following huge street protests sparked by a nightclub fire which killed 60 people.

Many viewed compromised safety standards at the club as emblematic of a wider problem with rampant corruption in one of the European Union’s poorest nations. Ponta himself had been under pressure to quit over allegations of tax evasion and money laundering.

Oprea, accused of using police motorcade escorts for minor local trips, came under pressure after a young police motorcyclist crashed and died while acting as an escort in October.

The investigation into the incident revealed that Oprea had also allowed chief prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu to use police escorts to which he was not entitled.

>>Read: Romanian finance minister resigns over corruption allegations

Under pressure for the past week, Nitu resigned Tuesday “as a gesture of responsibility and honour,” denying that he had used the motorcades illegally.

Last month, the EU warned Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria they must do much more to combat crime, corruption and weak judicial systems amid growing criticism they are failing to meet reform commitments.

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