22 June 2018
Liviu Dragnea, head of the ruling Social Democratic party (PSD) has been handed a three-and-a-half-year sentence on 21 June 2018 in an initial verdict after a corruption trial. He is accused of keeping two women on the payroll of a family welfare agency, while they worked for by his party. He will appeal against his conviction.
In 2016, he was convicted for vote-rigging, effectively barring him from ever becoming prime minister. He is also under investigation in Brazil for money laundering. Romania’s anti-corruption body opened an investigation into Dragnea’s alleged involvement in creating an “an organized criminal group” to secure EU funds. The Guardian reported.
Although Dragnea was barred from becoming prime minister by a previous conviction for vote-rigging, he is the de facto leader of the government. He is currently the speaker of the lower house of Parliament.
In 2017, ruling party attempted to decriminalise official misconduct which resulted in a series of public protests. The party also sought to sack the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), that has convicted hundreds of politicians and officials in recent years for corrupt practices. The party is also seeking to limit the powers of the DNA.
DNA said that, in 2001, Dragnea created an organised criminal group, which is still active, that included public servants and business people. The group intended to gain illegally considerable amounts of money from public-funded contracts, committing crimes such as fraud against EU funds, tax evasion, money laundering and abuse of power for personal gain.
European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) conducted two investigations into projects financed by the European Regional Development Fund for road construction in Romania, which were concluded in May and September 2016. It was found that Tel Drum won rigged bids. OLAF found evidence suggesting collusion between the beneficiary of the funds, public officials and the contractor, including falsification of documents during the procurement procedure. OLAF found evidence suggesting collusion between the beneficiary of the funds, public officials and the contractor, including falsification of documents during the procurement procedure.
Dragnea has denied several times the alleged links to Tel Drum and the company’s owners. The company’s owners are not publicly known since they use bearer shares, a security that grants full control to whoever holds the physical stock certificate.
The PSD argues that even though it has landslide majority, a network of security agents, judges, and prosecutors are undermining the work of an elected government. Dragnea has accused the EU and NATO of backing “this odious system”.