Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta charged with forgery

Ponta denies wrongdoing and says the case is politically motivated

Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta enters the national anti-corruption prosecutors office  in Bucharest, Romania.  Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta enters the national anti-corruption prosecutors office in Bucharest, Romania. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

 

Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta has been charged with forgery and serving as an accessory to tax evasion and money-laundering, further tarnishing the image of the ex-communist state as it struggles to shake off a reputation for corruption.

Prosecutors said they had named the prime minister as a defendant in a five-week long criminal investigation and temporarily seized control of his property. Ponta (42) denies wrongdoing and says the case is politically motivated.

Financial markets shrugged off the development, which stops short of a formal indictment that would send the case to trial.

However, it represents a new setback for Romania’s efforts to clean up its politics, business and judicial under pressure from the EU, which it joined in 2007 along with Bulgaria.

Romania’s reputation for corruption has deterred foreign investment, and even its anti-graft efforts have had the unintended effect of slowing decision-making and delaying important contracts.

Stepping down

Klaus Iohannis

Asked about Ponta at a joint news conference with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid, Mr Iohannis said: “I stick to the comments I made. I will have an institutional relation with the prime minister.”

The investigation began on June 5 and focuses on Ponta’s activities as a lawyer from 2007-2009.

“Prosecutors ordered a stepping-up of the penal action against the defendant Ponta, a lawyer at the time of the deeds . . . on charges of forgery of documents – 17 counts – accessory to tax evasion . . . and money-laundering,” the DNA anti-corruption prosecutors said.

Romanian television showed Ponta, who returned to Bucharest last week after nearly a month in Turkey for knee surgery, leaving the DNA headquarters on crutches and later entering the party’s headquarters for his allies meeting.

The meeting yielded further support for Ponta.

“Our plan is to get together in the coalition government until the 2016 parliament election,” said Calin Tariceanu from junior ally and liberal grouping ALDE.

“We back Ponta as prime minister in the coalition,” said another ally, deputy premier Gabriel Oprea of the leftist UNPR.

Romania has the fastest growing economy in the region, with gross domestic product rising 4.3 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2015. The Romanian leu did not react to the news of the charges, trading 0.4 per cent stronger on the day at 4.4236 to the euro. – (Reuters)