Romania’s anti-corruption prosecution office DNA said on June 5 that it was asking parliament to approve a request to pursue criminal charges for conflict of interest against social-democrat prime minister Victor Ponta, who is also under investigation on suspicion of committing document fraud, tax evasion and being an accessory to money laundering.
DNA prosecutor-general Laura Kovesi said that Ponta has appointed Dan Sova, a senator for the social-democrat party, to several ministerial positions between 2012 and 2014 after having financially benefitted from his relationship to Sova. Specifically, Ponta’s legal firm received monthly payments in 2007/08 from Sova’s legal firm for fictitious services that were never carried out, for a total of about 250 000 lei (or 56 000 euro at current exchange rates).
Ponta is also facing potential charges on 17 counts of document fraud, tax evasion and being an accessory to money laundering, stemming from DNA’s investigation into Sova’s contracts with two power plants, in which he is accused of complicity to mismanagement. Earlier this week, the upper chamber of parliament, the senate, narrowly defeated a motion authorising Sova’s arrest on those charges.
Ponta has denied any wrongdoing and refused to step down as prime minister, saying that only parliament could sack him. His party, the social-democrats, accused DNA of timing its announcement to coincide with the centre-right opposition filing a motion of no confidence in Ponta’s government, a claim that Kovesi denied.
Romanian president Klaus Iohannis – who defeated Ponta in last year’s presidential election and promised continued support for the judiciary and its investigations of high-profile politicians – met with Ponta on June 5 and asked him to resign. The president can suspend the prime minister only if parliament approves the prosecutors’ request to press formal charges.
In the wake of his defeat in the presidential election, Ponta has managed to hang onto his job as party leader and prime minister despite internal party dissent, which, some local analysts say, is mainly motivated by fears that the social-democrats might lose their parliamentary majority in the event of snap elections. Romania is next scheduled to hold parliamentary elections at the end of 2016.
The party has been hit the hardest by high-profile corruption investigations that have culminated in arrests and convictions over the past year, with a string of Ponta’s closest allies – including his father-in-law and several of his cabinet appointments – facing charges.
(Victor Ponta photo: Social-Democrat Party/flickr.com)