Romanian parliament votes to lift ex-minister's immunity

AP News
Posted: Feb 03, 2016 7:59 AM
Romanian parliament votes to lift ex-minister's immunity

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's parliament voted Wednesday to lift the immunity of a former minister so he can be investigated on suspicion he abused his position by allegedly using an official motorcade five times a day which he wasn't entitled to.

Senators voted 102-30 to lift the immunity of Sen. Gabriel Oprea, a former interior minister, so he can face a criminal inquiry. Anti-corruption prosecutors say Oprea used a motorcade 1,607 times from Jan. 2-Oct. 21, 2015, an average of five times a day — three times as often as Romania's president used the privilege.

By law, only the president, the prime minister and Romania's two Parliament speakers benefit from the use of a police-escorted motorcade. Other senior officials are allowed to use motorcades only in special circumstances.

Prosecutors say Oprea used them on days he wasn't working, to travel to restaurants, drive to party meetings and be taken home "situations which can't be objectively justified as an emergency." Oprea denies wrongdoing.

Public outrage over motorcades erupted when a policeman escorting Oprea died when his motorbike hit a pothole. Oprea refused to resign, but eventually stepped down on Nov. 4 when the government collapsed following street protests over a deadly nightclub fire that killed 63.

Since January 2014, a former prime minister, seven former ministers, a former deputy prime minister, four lawmakers, one European Parliament lawmaker, and dozens of others of officials have been sentenced to prison for corruption.

Many Romanians complain that senior officials abuse their positions by overusing motorcades, which often block traffic in the busy capital.