Saturday, January 24, 2015

Romanian judge took BMW and dresses as bribes, prosecutors say

(Reuters) - A judge at Romania's highest court has been placed under investigation for abuse of power, taking bribes including a BMW car and two dresses for his wife, and setting up an organised crime group, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Judge Toni Grebla, who denies wrongdoing, is the latest in a series of top officials to be investigated for alleged corruption in Romania. They include the father-in-law of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the brother of former President Traian Basescu and the chief prosecutor at the agency in charge of fighting organised crime.

The former communist state, which joined the European Union in 2007, has come under heavy pressure from Brussels to clean up its government and judiciary. The EU has praised anti-corruption prosecutors for their efforts to tackle high-level graft.

Grebla, 61 was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2013 after serving as a senator since 2008. Prosecutors said in a statement he co-founded an organised crime group to forge customs documents and smuggle food to Russia after Moscow banned food imports from the European Union last year.

Grebla has also demanded and received a BMW worth 56,070 euros (42,992 pounds), 20,000 flyers for his senate election race, and two dresses worth 1,200 lei ($310) from a local businessman to intercede in his favour with public clerks, prosecutors said.

They added the judge, whose position prohibits him from having any commercial dealings, had managed an ostrich farm through intermediaries in southeastern Romania.

"What is being alleged has no connection to activity at the Constitutional Court," Grebla told reporters. "It is damaging my image, that is why it bothers me."

He said the BMW had been given to him by a businessman who was also his godson, and therefore was "in the family". He also denied running an ostrich farm.

The Constitutional Court has the final say in all legislative and state matters. Its nine judges serve nine-year terms and are appointed by the president, the senate and the lower house of parliament.

"It was a huge surprise for us, this is the first time that a Constitutional Court judge is in such a situation," chief judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters.

"We regret this situation. Anti-corruption prosecutors must see this investigation through and get to the bottom of things because I want no shadow of a doubt hanging over the Constitutional Court."

Grebla will be allowed to remain in his position for now but would be suspended if his case went to trial.

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