Romania’s deputy prime minister charged with vote-rigging

Victor Ponta [L] and Liviu Dragnea [EURACTIV Romania]

Romania's Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea has been charged by anti-corruption prosecutors with trying to rig a referendum that last year failed to oust President Traian B?sescu.

Prosecutors of DNA, the Romanian anti-corruption authority, have charged Dragnea, 51, for attempting to rig the referendum by reporting a turnout of over 60% in his former capacity as president of the local council for the Teleorman region, the website reports.

The referendum to impeach B?sescu was held on 29 July 2012 and yielded an 88% majority in favour of removing the centre-right B?sescu. But turnout fell short of the 50% turnout required as only 46% of registered voters cast a ballot during the referendum.

Following a month of political infighting, Romania’s constitutional court invalidated the referendum, initiated by Prime Minister Victor Ponta's Social Democrats (PSD).

Dragnea has served as the secretary general of the PSD since 2010 and deputy prime minister responsible for regional development and public administration since December 2012.

Dragnea was quoted as saying that neither he or his lawyer had any knowledge of the content of the accusations against him.

The Romanian press has reported that the charges against Dragnea raise the complex question of whether he should stay in office. Dragneas said he would not step down.

“B?sescu 'loves' me a lot. I’m not resigning,” he was quoted as saying.

Dragnea is part of a group of 67 people investigated by DNA for electoral fraud over the failed referendum.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta said that neither he or Dragnea feared the charges. He also said that B?sescu had threatened him, saying that he would “pay” for having attempted to oust him.

The European Commission is expected to issue in December a report monitoring the progress of law-enforcement in Romania. Usually such reports take stock of major court cases such as the one affecting Dragnea.

When Romania and Bulgaria 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.

The European Commission expressed concern about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its 18 July report which questioned the country’s ability to comply with the EU's fundamental principles and the sustainability and irreversibility of reform. Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the political feuds in Romania had "shaken the EU's trust" in the country.

The latest report, dated 30 January, appeared to turn the page of an extremely difficult 2012 year for EU-Romania relations.

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