The powerful leader of Romania’s Social Democrats is facing a new anti-corruption probe that could disrupt the ruling party as it pushes ahead with a controversial overhaul of the judiciary.
Liviu Dragnea, who already has a two-year suspended prison sentence for trying to rig a referendum and is under investigation in a separate case, is suspected of forming an organized crime group, giving false statements and abusing his official post, anti-corruption prosecutors said Monday in a statement. The allegations concern misuse of European Union funds during Dragnea’s 2000-2012 stint as head of the southern Teleorman county. Prosecutors said they worked with the European Anti-Fraud Office, or OLAF, on the case.
“It’s no surprise — I said from the start that this entire circus would have no meaning if I wasn’t called there,” Dragnea told a party event Sunday. “In my case they’re going to move straight to the second phase of the investigation. We’re not playing games.”
He declined to comment Monday as he left the prosecutors’ office. Several senior Social Democrat officials, including Deputy Premier Paul Stanescu, came to the prosecutors’ office to show their support for their party chief.
Dragnea once again finds himself engulfed by an unprecedented five-year clampdown on corruption in the eastern European nation that’s left hundreds awaiting trial or in prison, including a sitting prime minister. The Social Democrats, whose failed attempt in January to decriminalize some abuse-of-office offenses sparked the biggest protests since the fall of Communism, submitted their bill on revamping the judiciary to parliament last month.
Romania’s bid to join the EU’s border-free Schengen area is being held up by monitoring of the country’s judiciary, which the 28-member bloc says needs reform. Nations including Germany and the Netherlands have delayed a vote on Schengen, citing insufficient progress in fighting graft.
OLAF sent notification in September 2016 of false documents being used to wrongfully obtain EU funds. The case, which includes eight other people, involves a company from Teleorman, Dragnea’s home county, which has been in the spotlight for several years after winning large infrastructure contracts. Dragnea has repeatedly denied local media reports that he has a financial interest in the company.
“Dragnea set up a criminal group that’s still operational and includes…