Romanian court sentences former minister to six years in jail for graft

Romanian MP Elena Udrea (C), 41, is escorted by police officers out of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (DNA) headquarters, while wearing handcuffs. Bucharest, 10 February 2015. [Octav Ganea/EPA]

A Bucharest court yesterday (28 March) sentenced a former government minister to six years’ jail for abuse of office and taking bribes, the latest in a string of high-profile convictions in one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries.

Elena Udrea, a close political ally of former president Traian Basescu, who backed her failed 2014 presidential campaign, was a cabinet minister from 2008 to 2012. She can appeal the conviction.

Udrea, a 43-year-old lawyer, denied wrongdoing and accused prosecutors of bias and of being linked to the secret services.

Romanians stage biggest protests since the fall of communism

Hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets across Romania on Wednesday (1 February) to protest the government’s decriminalising of a string of corruption offences, the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989.

Anti-corruption prosecutors said that as regional development minister in 2010-12 Udrea and people close to her demanded bribes from companies in exchange for ensuring they would be paid on time for public works contracts.

Investigators said she used some of the money to finance the centre-right party she belonged to at the time, and also organised a private boxing event with ministry funds under the pretext of buying tourism advertising for Romania.

The European Commission, which keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring, has praised prosecutors and magistrates for their crackdown on high-level graft.

Commission rejects Romania's bid to lift EU justice monitoring

Romania’s justice minister claimed yesterday (12 January) that Bucharest had filled the requirements for the European Commission to lift its monitoring over the country’s judicial system this year. But Brussels has refuted the suggestion. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Seven other people were on trial alongside Udrea for bribery, tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes. Six were found guilty and sentenced. The court acquitted former economy minister Ion Ariton of charges of abuse of office and influence peddling.

Judges also acquitted Udrea of using forged statements to illegally tap EU funds, a third charge levelled against her.

Juncker, Timmermans issue stern warning against Romania’s ‘backtracking’

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans issued a stern warning today (1 February) after the Romanian government issued an emergency decree reducing penalties for corruption, allowing several politicians to avoid criminal prosecution.

Prosecutors’ investigations in recent years have showed mayors, county councillors, lawmakers and ministers favoured certain companies for public works deals and demanding a percentage of the contracts as bribes.

In February, the newly elected Social Democrat government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu decriminalised several graft offences through an emergency decree. Massive countrywide street protests ensued, ultimately forcing it to rescind the decree.

The leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, is on trial in an abuse of office case.

Romanian justice minister quits after graft decree debacle

Romanian Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned on Thursday (9 February) after a decree on corruption that he drafted triggered a week of street protests, international criticism and finally an embarrassing climbdown by the month-old government.

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