Romanian finance minister charged with influence peddling

AP News
Posted: Mar 13, 2015 5:14 PM
Romanian finance minister charged with influence peddling

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Authorities in Romania have charged Finance Minister Darius Valcov with influence peddling and detained an influential mayor and three others in a separate corruption case.

Valcov was questioned and charged Friday in a case that stems from his time as mayor of the southern city of Slatina. Prosecutors said Valcov is suspected of favoring a local businessman for contracts with the city hall in 2009 in exchange for receiving a 20 percent cut. They said he received 2 million euros ($2.11 million) between 2010 and 2013.

Valcov denies wrongdoing.

Separately, Marian Vanghelie — known for his influence in the ruling Social Democracy Party until recently — was detained early Friday. A court will decide later whether to formally arrest him on suspicion of taking bribes, money laundering and abuse of his position. Three others suspected of being part of the scheme were also detained.

In Vanghelie's case, prosecutors are investigating whether he also took a 20 percent cut of all contracts he signed as mayor from 2007. They say contracts from 2007 to 2015 were worth 2 billion lei (450 million euros or $475 million).

Vanghelie was considered a deal-maker in the ruling party until he was expelled after openly criticizing Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

A populist and entertaining figure, Vanghelie, 47, painted drab high-rise communist-era apartment buildings bright colors after he was first elected mayor of District 5 in 2000 and easily secured re-election in 2004.

He was known for verbal gaffes and grammatical errors which did not deter him from speaking bluntly in public, and he shrewdly tapped into the notoriety he gained.

Despite his lack of formal education— he gained the equivalent of a high school diploma when he was 33 — he was known as a savvy political operator. Vanghelie was criticized for a lack of transparency in his town hall budget, but appeared to avoid investigation which critics said was due to his connections.

His girlfriend, legislator Oana Niculescu-Mizil, was also questioned. She and Vanghelie have denied wrongdoing.

As she exited the prosecutors' office on Thursday, Niculescu-Mizil said she would resign from Parliament and surprised reporters by announcing she was pregnant.