BUCHAREST, Romania – A Romanian ex-prime minister shot and wounded himself Wednesday in an apparent suicide attempt, hours after the country's highest court ruled that he must serve a two-year prison sentence on corruption charges, the country's current premier said. Media reports said he had shot himself in the neck.
Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase would be Romania's most senior politician to serve time in prison since the 1989 fall of communism. He had appealed a March 30 court ruling that sentenced him to prison for illegally raising funds for a failed presidential campaign, but the Supreme Court upheld the sentence, sending shockwaves through the country.
The trial sent a signal to the European Union which had urged Romania to crack down on endemic corruption, was finally tackling high-level corruption. The Eastern European country's legal system has often been criticized for being under political influence.
National news agency Agerpres reported that the General Prosecutor's office said it was investigating a suicide attempt by the former prime minister.
Late Wednesday, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a close ally, visited Nastase at the hospital and said his condition was "under control."
"It is my right and obligation to visit him," Ponta said. "'I couldn't stay at home without seeing what was wrong."
Ponta would not detail Nastase's wound, but the Antena 3 and Mediafax news agencies said he shot himself in the neck after police arrived at his home to arrest him.
Images broadcast on Antena 3 showed Nastase being brought carried out of an ambulance into the hospital on a stretcher covered with a blue blanket. His lawyer, Ion Cazacu, said Nastase was conscious when he saw him at the hospital. "I spoke to him after the court ruling and he was calm and responsible," Cazacu added.
Serban Bradisteanu, a doctor at the hospital, said that doctors would likely operate on Nastase later Thursday after his vital functions had been stabilized. He said Nastase could speak, but with difficulty.
Nastase, who will be 62 on Friday, has insisted that the case against him is politically motivated and indicated he will take it to the European Court of Human Rights. He has claimed that the sentence was unjust, and that his exhausting eight-year-trial felt like a prison sentence of its own.
Nastase was prime minister from 2000 to 2004 and headed the Social Democracy Party from 2000 to 2005. He also served as foreign minister from 1990 to 1992, and was also parliamentary speaker.
As the news of the high court ruling broke, some Romanians rejoiced at the imprisonment of such a powerful figure, while others said they were dumbfounded.
"Of course, until the end of his life Nastase will say it is an injustice, but it is a landmark in Romanian legal history," journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu said. "(That) people who appear to be demi-gods can actually be sent to prison."
Judges found Nastase guilty of using fees that he charged companies and state agencies to attend a conference for his unsuccessful 2004 run for the presidency. Nastase lost the runoff vote to President Traian Basescu.
According to a 2011 Transparency International report, Romania is one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union, which it joined in 2007.