Monday, July 2, 2012

Romania PM plagiarized thesis, panel says

(Reuters) - A panel of Romanian academics concluded on Friday that Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized a large part of his doctoral thesis, but Ponta said the finding was politically motivated and he would not resign.

Plagiarism charges have forced several European politicians to quit: Hungary's president, a German defense minister who was tipped as a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the man Ponta nominated as education minister.

Romania's National Council for Certification of Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates (CNATDCU) said 85 pages of Ponta's thesis were copied, without correct attribution.

"I found nothing but plagiarism of a copy-paste type," Marius Andruh, president of the CNATDCU's general council, told reporters. "The council wanted to remove the title of doctor."

Earlier in the day, Ponta's leftist government - in power since early May - said the panel must be expanded and new members brought in, which would mean its judgment was invalid.

Ponta also said the conclusion was political and illegal.

"I will establish to the Education Ministry's ethics commission that I respected all the rules. I am not giving up the struggle which I started because of these attacks. No talk of resignation," Ponta told reporters as he left an EU meeting in Brussels.

A member of the panel denied there was anything political about its decision.

"Members of this committee do not do politics and are not paid for their activities," CNATDCU member Dragos Ciuparu told reporters.

Ponta is Romania's third prime minister this year, creating a climate of political uncertainty which has worried investors, and although he has committed to work with the International Monetary Fund, the leu currency hovers near record lows. More policy uncertainty could further pressure the currency and raise Romania's borrowing costs.

"Crucially, the institutional infighting is distracting politicians from passing reforms required under the IMF/EU bailout treaty and could result in negative news for investors," analyst Otilia Simkova, of political risk consultancy Eurasia, said.

The opposition Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL), whose government Ponta toppled in a no-confidence vote, has called for him to step down.

Science magazine Nature last week reported more than half of Ponta's Romanian-language thesis on the International Criminal Court, submitted for his doctorate at the University of Bucharest, consisted of duplicated text.

The prime minister has said his only error was to list sources in his bibliography rather than give credit in footnotes and has asked a separate ethics panel to investigate the accusations.

The supervisor of Ponta's doctorate, former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, started serving a two-year jail sentence this week on a corruption charge.

Ponta has said the plagiarism claims are part and parcel of the sparring with his political rival, President Traian Basescu.

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