Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Romanian parliament stops graft probe against ex-PM

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's parliament rejected a request from prosecutors to investigate corruption allegations against former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on Wednesday, in a case seen as a test of the country's justice system reforms.

The probe is one of several bribery investigations prosecutors want to conduct against Nastase, 58, who led an ex-communist government between 2000 and 2004.

In this case, they sought to find out how he acquired property in central Bucharest during his mandate.

However, deputies voted 150 to 120 to block prosecutors' request, which needed parliamentary approval under Romanian law.

Nastase denies any wrongdoing and has accused prosecutors of bias and political manipulation.

"This is the parliament's will, deputies labeled this case as a political one and they did not want to play the game of those who orchestrated it," said Ilie Sarbu, vice-president of Nastase's opposition Social Democrat Party (PSD).

The parliamentary vote comes less than a month after the European Union said Romania was dragging its feet on fighting corruption, especially among senior officials.

The European Commission, which monitors Romania's progress in reforming the judiciary and curbing abuse since it joined the EU in 2007, said in July the new member faced political and judicial obstruction of the fight against graft.

Along with the investigation against Nastase, parliament also rejected a request to probe bribery allegations against Miron Mitrea, transport minister in Nastase's government.

Prosecutors have already asked parliament for approval in two other cases against Nastase.

Further delays could cost Romania a chunk of its aid from the EU, which has cut subsidies to Bulgaria in July because of Sofia's failure to curb organized crime and fraud.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak)

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