Romania seeks to probe ex-minister in referendum row

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 10, 2012 12:56 PM
Romania seeks to probe ex-minister in referendum row

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian prosecutors asked parliament on Friday to approve an investigation against a former junior minister for suspected abuses in organizing a controversial July 29 referendum to impeach President Traian Basescu.

The request compounds political uncertainty in Romania where the dispute over Basescu has stalled policymaking, raised concern over Romania's aid deal led by the International Monetary Fund and plunged the leu currency to a record low.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta's drive to oust Basescu, who he accuses of improperly blocking government policies, has been condemned by the European Union and Washington, which say his cabinet has been eroding the rule of law in the EU member state.

Prosecutors said Victor Dobre, who oversaw public administration in the interior ministry and who quit earlier this week, used his post to influence a pending August 31 Constitutional Court ruling on the validity of the plebiscite.

Dobre, a parliamentary member of Ponta's leftist Social Liberal Union (USL) is accused of having an aide write to the court saying the interior ministry could not vouch for the accuracy of the electoral rolls.

The July 29 referendum yielded an 88 percent majority in favor of removing Basescu - who is unpopular for backing austerity and for perceptions of cronyism - but the turnout did not reach a threshold of 50 percent of all registered voters required by the Constitutional Court.

After the letter from Dobre's aide, and assertions by USL officials after the referendum that the actual numbers were much smaller than shown in the register, the Court put off a ruling on the referendum until August 31 saying it had received conflicting information about the size of the electorate.

The letter muddied the waters - "causing a significant disruption in the activity of institutions", as the prosecutors put it in a statement - because, before the referendum, the interior ministry had declared the electoral rolls up to date.

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"The prosecutor general has asked the lower house to trigger procedures for the request to start a criminal investigation against Victor Dobre ... under charges of abuse of the public interest," prosecutors said in a statement.

Under Romanian law, only the president and parliament can request an investigation of a minister.

The interior ministry was in charge of revising voter lists before the referendum. Dobre, along Interior Minister Ioan Rus, resigned earlier this week citing political pressure in connection with the court's work on the referendum.

The USL is keen to see the overall number of voters lowered, so that the 50 percent turnout target is satisfied and the impeachment referendum validated.

Parliament is dominated by Ponta's USL, raising doubts USL parliamentarians would approve the prosecutors' request.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)