180 questioned about election fraud in Romania

AP News
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Posted: Oct 24, 2014 9:46 AM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Authorities in Romania say 180 people are being questioned on suspicion of election fraud in a referendum on ousting the president in 2012.

A leader from the ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, is being investigated by prosecutors on suspicion of masterminding the fraud, which allegedly included the use of names of dead or fictitious people. Dragnea, who was not among those questioned Friday in Bucharest, says he is innocent.

The probe centers on a plot to inflate voter numbers at a referendum promoted by the party to impeach President Traian Basescu, a harsh critic of the Social Democratic Party and its leaders. The effort failed because turnout was below the necessary 50 percent.

Also Friday, Andrei Hrebenciuc, the son of another Social Democratic Party elder, was arrested on suspicion of being part of a criminal group that illegally gained ownership of 43,000 hectares (106,250 acres) of forested land seized by the communists. Since 1990, Romania has had a lengthy process of "restitution" to return property expropriated by the state to the legitimate owners.

His father, Viorel Hrebenciuc, deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, resigned his post this week after prosecutors said they wanted to arrest him for questioning in the same case. They both say they are not guilty.

The probes come ahead of the Nov. 2 presidential election in which the Social Democratic Party leader, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, is the favorite. Ponta says the probes will not harm his chances.