Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Romania to decide whether to prosecutor former PM

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's president met with top politicians on Tuesday to discuss a key vote on whether to prosecute a former prime minister on corruption charges — a decision that could affect the country's access to European Union funding.

Parliament is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to strip former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who now works as a legislator, of his immunity from prosecution and to try him in two corruption cases. A "yes" vote would make Nastase the most senior politician since Romania's 1989 anti-communist revolt to be prosecuted on corruption charges.

Nastase has said the charges are politically motivated.

Romania is under pressure from the European Union to tackle high-level corruption and could lose EU funds.

Its neighbor Bulgaria, which also joined the EU in 2007, saw the bloc freeze euro500 million (US$800 million) in aid as a penalty for corruption and organized crime.

In July, an EU report criticized Romania for failing to punish high-level figures for alleged acts of corruption. But the EU did not penalize Romania financially.

State prosecutors want to try Nastase on charges that he bribed an anti-money laundering official in 2000, and that he received bribes worth €1.3 million (US$2.03 million) while serving as prime minister from 2000 to 2004.

On Tuesday, President Traian Basescu discussed the Natase case and the EU report on corruption with leaders of the political parties in Parliament.

After the meeting, most politicians declined to say how they would vote Wednesday. But one political leader urged Parliament to prosecute Nastase.

"Parliament should no longer make a shield around those legislators who are being investigated by the justice system," said Emil Boc, who heads the Democratic Liberal party.

Parliament first tried to vote in June on whether to prosecute Nastase, but too few lawmakers showed up at that session.

In July, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu reacted to the EU report by saying the country is "determined to continue zero tolerance to those who use public office to get rich."

In an attempt to step up the anti-corruption fight, Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu on Monday named a prosecutor who specializes in criminal cases as the nation's new top anti-corruption prosecutor. Monica Stefanescu will replace Daniel Morar, whose mandate expires this month. Stefanescu, 47, has been a criminal prosecutor since 1990.

Predoiu said he hoped the EU's next report would note Romania's progress in the fight against corruption.

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