Romania Ruling Party Boss Slapped With 3½ Year Prison Sentence For Graft

Romania's most powerful politician has been sentenced to prison on corruption charges. Leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party (Partidul Social Democrat, PSD) Liviu Dragnea was handed a three-and-a-half year sentence by Romania's highest appeals court on Monday.

He was attempting to get a conviction overturned stemming from egregious abuse of office violations, which included creating fake public sector jobs and handing them to party members for which they received salaries. Dragnea also had a previous conviction in a vote-rigging case.

Powerful PSD party chief Liviu Dragnea, via Europa FM

The timing has further proven an embarrassment for PSD, as the court upheld the conviction a day after PSD suffered an unexpected and devastating defeat in Sunday’s European Parliament elections.

Romanians had voted Sunday on representatives for the 2019-2024 European Parliament, and further decided a referendum related to overhaul of Romania's judiciary system. 

Those results show a stinging defeat for PSD:

According to preliminary results (96.35 percent counted), PSD ranks second with 22.7 percent of votes – a historic defeat for a party that got 45 percent of votes in the 2016 parliamentary elections -, far behind PNL (27 percent). 

Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of parliament and Romania's de facto leader, was ordered by the judge to report to jail by the end of the day, and is expected to be taken into custody by police. 

“I have thick skin and this isn’t the first time I’m on trial,” Dragnea stated last week, ahead of the final appeals court verdict. “If the justices are unhindered, they’ll acquit me. If they don’t resist the pressure, God help us!”

The populist ruling PSD has been accused of seeking to change Romania's judiciary in such a way that critics say will make corruption easier.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ) upheld Dragnea's conviction on Monday. 

Some say under the PSD the judiciary is becoming weaker, with the the EU reportedly warned Romania it could intervene if the PSD-led government continues on this path. Interestingly, contrary to the socialist implications of the party's name and roots, it has largely been in line with the rhetoric of the Eurosceptic parties, such as Victor Orban's far-right Fidesz, which itself swept Hungary's EU vote Sunday

Romanian Present Klaus Iohannis had sponsored the non-binding referendum as a foremost critic of the PSD court overhaul plan. He celebrated Romanians voting to block the move: “Dear Romanians, you’re fantastic! I congratulate you!” President Iohannis wrote on Facebook.

“You have participated today in large numbers in elections for the European parliament and in the referendum. You have given a clear vote, a firm vote, a vote that cannot be ignored by any politician in Romania.”

Meanwhile, Dragnea said the election results “give the PSD no cause for happiness. There must be swift and serious analysis in the party.”

The Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International has identified Romania as among the most corrupt members of the European Union.