Romanian president urges PM to resign over allegations

AP News
Posted: Jun 05, 2015 4:45 PM
Romanian president urges PM to resign over allegations

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president on Friday urged Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign over corruption allegations including tax evasion and money laundering. Ponta refused, saying that only Parliament could dismiss him.

President Klaus Iohannis said after meeting Ponta that it was "an impossible situation for Romania for the prime minister to be accused of criminal acts." Iohannis warned that Romania could be embroiled in a political crisis if he did not resign.

The Romanian leu fell by 0.8 percent against the euro, the largest drop in a month, minutes after Ponta declared that he would not step down.

The 42-year-old premier had met earlier with the anti-corruption prosecutor's office and then told reporters he was suspected of making false statements, money laundering, conflict of interest and being an accomplice to tax evasion while serving in Parliament. He had not previously been identified as a suspect in the anti-corruption drive which scored more than a thousand convictions last year.

In a posting on his Facebook page, Ponta vowed to fight.

"I cannot accept that the anti-corruption prosecutor is above Parliament, the government and the citizens of this country!" he wrote. "That would mean a dictatorship and 25 years after the 1989 (revolution) would be a grave error for all of us!"

A few hundred people protested later Friday outside the government offices, calling for Ponta's resignation. Iohannis reiterated his call for the prime minister to resign in an interview late Friday with TVR, the state broadcaster, saying the allegations against the prime minister were damaging Romania's image abroad.

Prosecutors say that between 2007 and 2008, Ponta, a former prosecutor, entered a contract with the law firm of political aide Dan Sova. Ponta allegedly made 17 expense claims worth 181,000 lei (41,000 euros, $45,000), accepted payments toward two luxury apartments and had the use of an SUV vehicle — all approved by Sova's firm but not related to legal work.

The contract expired when Ponta was appointed a government minister in 2008, and he took over lease payments for the vehicle the following year, prosecutors said.

After he became prime minister in 2012, Ponta appointed Sova minister for parliamentary relations.

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Ponta, chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, ran for president in November 2014 but lost to Iohannis, who headed the rival Liberal Party.

The prosecutors have asked Parliament to prosecute Ponta, whose party counts on the support of smaller parties for a slim majority in Parliament.

Members of Parliament are immune from prosecution unless there is a vote to lift their immunity. Sova has beaten two attempts to lift his immunity. On Friday, anti-corruption prosecutors banned Sova from leaving Romania without permission and of communicating with people who are suspected of wrongdoing in cases involving him.

Ponta is the most prominent suspect to be identified as Romania's anti-corruption drive has intensified in recent months.

In 2014, the anti-corruption office secured a record 1,051 convictions, including a former prime minister, seven former ministers, a former deputy prime minister, four lawmakers, one member of the European Parliament, 39 mayors, 25 magistrates and two tycoons.