Romania's former deputy PM may face trial over motorcade scandal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 25, 2016 6:36 AM

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's former deputy prime minister may face trial over his use of motorcades that prosecutors say he was not entitled to, part of a crackdown on high-level graft in one of the European Union's most corrupt member states.

Romanian prosecutors asked parliament on Monday to approve a criminal inquiry into Gabriel Oprea - needed because he is still a senator - but lawmakers have a patchy record on such requests, rejecting some with no clear legal reason.

Oprea resigned in November alongside prime minister Victor Ponta after a deadly night club fire triggered massive protests. His use of motorcades came to light in October after one of his police outriders died when his bike crashed into a pothole.

Oprea has said he has not broken any laws.

"I consider myself innocent and this will be confirmed sooner or later," he told reporters on Monday.

"I will support the process of finding out the truth. I know political life comes with varied risks, including ... that of becoming a collateral victim in power battles."

Under Romanian legislation, only the president, prime minister and two parliamentary speakers are entitled to motorcades, while ministers can only use them for emergencies.

Prosecutors said Oprea, who was also interior minister, used motorcades roughly five times on average each day from January 2014 through November 2015, for official business, private visits, party meetings and traveling to restaurants.

He used motorcades three times as often as President Klaus Iohannis and twice as often as Ponta, prosecutors said.

"The misappropriation of traffic police resources who should have helped ease Bucharest traffic and using them to facilitate travel for an official not entitled to this benefit with the consequence of making it harder for other traffic participants has made it impossible for the institution to fulfill one of its vital functions," they said in a statement.

They also want to investigate Oprea for authorizing motorcades for the prosecutor general.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have launched several high-profile investigations in recent years - against ministers, lawmakers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen - in a crackdown that has exposed widespread graft and angered Romanians.

Brussels keeps the country's justice system under special monitoring, although it has praised prosecutors and magistrates for recent investigations into the political elite.

This month, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog said Romania must update legislation to prevent graft and reinforce improvements made in its major drive against entrenched corruption.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Louise Ireland)