By Luiza Ilie
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors said on Tuesday they had indicted former presidential candidate Elena Udrea on charges of accepting bribes and abuse of power from 2010 to 2012 while she served as regional development minister.
Seven other people were indicted alongside her in the case, including former economy minister Ion Ariton who was charged with abuse of power, the prosecutors said in a statement.
Romania is one of the European Union's most corrupt states but a crackdown on high-level corruption has earned prosecutors praise from Brussels and from foreign investors fed up with cronyism.
Udrea, a 41-year-old lawyer, is a centrist opposition lawmaker and close political ally of former president Traian Basescu. She ran for president in November but came fourth.
The prosecutors said there was evidence that while a minister, Udrea and people close to her took bribes from private firms in exchange for ensuring they would be paid on time for public works contracts.
The bribes outlined by prosecutors, some in Romania's leu currency and some in euros, add up to about 1.8 million euros ($1.9 million) at the current exchange rate.
Udrea has denied wrongdoing and repeatedly accused the country's anti-corruption prosecuting agency of bias and of having links to the secret services.
Prosecutors are also investigating her in other cases and she has been in custody since late February.
A large number of the corruption cases uncovered in recent years showed mayors, city councillors, lawmakers and ministers favoring certain companies for public works deals, and demanding a percentage of the contracts as bribes.
Prosecutors also alleged that Udrea used some of the bribes to finance the center-right party she belonged to at the time.
They also said she used 8.1 million lei ($1.95 million) of the regional development ministry's money to fund a private boxing event under the pretext of buying tourism advertising for Romania.
Ariton, now a senator, allegedly convinced ten state-owned companies to sponsor the private event for a total of 1.7 million lei ($410,000). State-owned firms are by law not allowed to sponsor private events. Ariton also denies wrongdoing.
According to World Bank figures, one in 10 businesses in Romania report being asked for bribes.