Romanian Minister Resigns After Fraud Conviction

Romania’s Regional Development Minister, Liviu Dragnea, has resigned after being given a one-year suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud.

“I have submitted my resignation to protect my honour. Otherwise, I know I am not guilty of anything, and in the end this has to be proved,” Dragnea said on Saturday.

He added he would also step down as the executive chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, PSD.

Romania’s High Court of Cassation sentenced Dragnea on Friday to one year of probation in a case related to the electoral fraud in a 2012 referendum to impeach former president Traian Basescu. He was also banned from holding public office.

The decision, however, is not final and can be appealed.

Dragnea was accused of using his influence authority to obtain electoral advantages for his party – to “achieve the attendance quorum using votes obtained under conditions other than legal ones”, according to anti-corruption prosecutors.

Other 74 people were sent in the trial as they allegedly forged documents and introduced more voting bulletins into the ballot boxes, increasing the number of votes illegally.

The referendum to impeach Traian Basescu failed in the end due to a low turnout.

Dragnea is the second minister in the Romanian government to step down amid a crackdown on graft.

Darius Valcov, former finance minister, resigned in March after prosecutors opened an investigation into him over alleged corruption. He is accused of taking some two million euro after helping a businessman land a public works contract while he was the mayor of Slatina in 2009.

Romania has drawn repeated criticism from the European Commission for its failure to tackle the country’s corruption problem.

But in recent years, the number of high-ranking officials convicted of graft has increased significantly. In 2014 alone, among those convicted of graft and graft-related offences were 24 mayors, five parliamentarians, two former ministers and one ex-prime minister.