Thursday, March 22, 2007

Romania suspends Nastase trial

BUCHAREST, Romania (Reuters) -- Romania's Supreme Court suspended a corruption trial against former prime minister Adrian Nastase on Thursday after defense lawyers said the case was unconstitutional.

"The court acknowledged the claim of unconstitutionality raised by the defendant's lawyers and decided to send the case to the constitutional court for assessment," a spokesman for the Supreme Court said.

The trial is one of the first prosecuting top-level graft in Romania, which joined the European Union this year, and is regarded as a litmus test of the two-year-old centrist government's ability to combat rampant abuse.

The trial was scheduled to start in January but court sessions have been delayed by the defense's requests. No timeframe was set for a ruling by the constitutional court.

Nastase's lawyers said requests to start inquiries into former ministers should come from parliament and not from prosecutors.

Anti-graft prosecutors have indicted Nastase, 56, with blackmail and taking bribes worth 1.4 million euros ($1.85 million). He headed the Black Sea state's government between 2000 and 2004.

Nastase has denied the charges and said his case was politically motivated.

Nastase's opposition Social Democrats were widely accused of allowing endemic graft to fester, particularly at the top level.

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