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Liviu Dragnea: Romania’s most powerful politician jailed for corruption

Ruling follows stunning rebuke for Dragnea's Social Democrats in EU elections

Marc Santora,Kit Gillet
Tuesday 28 May 2019 09:39 BST
Protesters clash with police in anti-government demonstration in Romania

Romania’s most powerful politician, Liviu Dragnea, was ordered on Monday to begin serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for abuse of power, upending the political order in the East European country and handing a victory to those who view corruption as the chief threat to the health of the nation.

The ruling by the Romanian Supreme Court, which declined to revisit a sentence handed down by a lower court in June 2018, is not subject to appeal.

It came one day after Dragnea’s party, the Social Democrats, were handed a stunning rebuke in elections for the European parliament.

The Social Democrats received just 23 per cent of the vote, down significantly from the 46 per cent they received in the last national parliamentary elections in December 2016.

The two main opposition parties combined to secure about 50 per cent of the vote.

At the same time, in a nonbinding referendum, an overwhelming majority of voters – more than 80 per cent – expressed deep dissatisfaction with attempts by the governing party to change corruption-related laws via emergency decree, and potentially offering amnesty to officials convicted of abusing their power.

Taken together, it was a thorough rejection of the way the Social Democrats have governed since coming to power in 2016.

“This is the end of the Dragnea epoch,” said Dan Barna, leader of the opposition Save Romania Union party.

“From now on, we can go back to a normal political fight, debating about infrastructure, education, hospitals, about the way we support entrepreneurship, because in the last three years Romania was captured by only one topic: how Dragnea can avoid jail.”

Dragnea had sought to portray the corruption accusations against him as politically motivated.

He received support last summer from Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who sent a letter to President Klaus Iohannis criticising Romania’s anti-corruption efforts.

Still, when 12 embassies in Bucharest issued a joint statement last month urging the country to avoid its proposed judicial changes, the United States was among them.

The Supreme Court has now settled the matter, siding with a lower court in finding Dragnea guilty of intervening to keep two of his party’s employees on the public payroll from 2006 to 2013 even though they did no state work.

Early on Monday evening, an unmarked police car drove Dragnea to Rahova Penitentiary, in southwestern Bucharest, to begin his prison sentence.

The New York Times

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