Europe

Romania's rich and powerful who may benefit from graft law

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 file photo, head of the Social Democrat Party Liviu Dragnea speaks to the media after exit polls were announced in the parliamentary elections in Bucharest, Romania. Liviu Dragnea, is the 54-year-old leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party who keeps a tight grip on Romania’s biggest party that easily won Dec. parliamentary elections. Critics say the ordinance was “dedicated” to Dragnea who legally can’t be prime minister as party supporters want, because of a two-year suspended sentence in April 2016 for vote rigging in connection with a referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu which failed due to low voter turnout. Dragnea says the law that bans him is unjust. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 file photo, head of the Social Democrat Party Liviu Dragnea speaks to the media after exit polls were announced in the parliamentary elections in Bucharest, Romania. Liviu Dragnea, is the 54-year-old leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party who keeps a tight grip on Romania’s biggest party that easily won Dec. parliamentary elections. Critics say the ordinance was “dedicated” to Dragnea who legally can’t be prime minister as party supporters want, because of a two-year suspended sentence in April 2016 for vote rigging in connection with a referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu which failed due to low voter turnout. Dragnea says the law that bans him is unjust. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta adjusts his collar during a meeting with foreign media at the government headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. Victor Ponta was Romania's prime minister from 2012 until Nov. 2015 and former Social Democrat chairman, his government collapsed in the wake of street protests over a fire at a Bucharest nightclub where 64 died. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta adjusts his collar during a meeting with foreign media at the government headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. Victor Ponta was Romania's prime minister from 2012 until Nov. 2015 and former Social Democrat chairman, his government collapsed in the wake of street protests over a fire at a Bucharest nightclub where 64 died. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 file photo, Elena Udrea a 41-year-old Romanian politician who gained notoriety due to her close relationship with Traian Basescu, Romania's president from 2004 to 2014, is escorted by policemen as she exits the anti-corruption prosecutor's office in Bucharest, Romania. Elena Udrea is probably the most powerful woman politician of the last decade, although she failed to win a seat in Parliament in Dec. 2016 elections. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)

    FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 file photo, Elena Udrea a 41-year-old Romanian politician who gained notoriety due to her close relationship with Traian Basescu, Romania's president from 2004 to 2014, is escorted by policemen as she exits the anti-corruption prosecutor's office in Bucharest, Romania. Elena Udrea is probably the most powerful woman politician of the last decade, although she failed to win a seat in Parliament in Dec. 2016 elections. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)  (The Associated Press)

Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Some are politicians, others are businessmen and several are in the soccer world.

Critics say these are a few who could be freed from prison under the emergency decree:

THE PARTY CHIEF

Liviu Dragnea is the 54-year-old leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party who keeps a tight grip on Romania's biggest party, which easily won the December parliamentary election.

Critics say the ordinance was "dedicated" to Dragnea who legally can't be prime minister as party supporters want. That's because of a two-year suspended sentence in April for vote rigging in connection with a referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu which failed due to low voter turnout.

Dragnea says that the law that bans him is unjust. This week, he went on trial for abuse of power while he was president of the Teleorman local council from 2006 to 2012. The trial was adjourned. He denies wrongdoing.

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THE EX-PRIME MINISTER

Victor Ponta was Romania's prime minister from 2012 until November 2015, and is a former Social Democratic chairman.

His government collapsed in the wake of street protests over a fire at a Bucharest nightclub where 64 people died. Demonstrators said corruption and lax safety rules were to blame.

Ponta is on trial for corruption charges related to work as he did as a lawyer from 2007 to 2008, charged with receiving money for work he didn't perform.

Ponta faces another case over allegations that he misused his authority as Social Democratic chairman to persuade a businessman to spend 220,000 euros ($230,000) on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip. Blair isn't being probed.

Ponta denies wrongdoing in both cases.

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THE EX-PRESIDENT'S AIDE

Elena Udrea is probably the most powerful female politician of the last decade, although she failed to win a seat in Parliament in the December election.

She was a close political aide of Traian Basescu, Romania's president from 2004 to 2014. Prosecutors indicted Udrea in 2015 on bribery and money laundering.

They suspect her of receiving $3.8 million in 2012 from a businessman in the energy sector in exchange for allowing him to control an electricity provider. She is also suspected of making false statements, influence peddling and abusing her position.

She denies wrongdoing and says her trial is politically motivated because of her close relationship with Basescu.

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THE MEP

Adrian Severin, a former member of the European Parliament (MEP) was sentenced to three years and three months in prison in a bribery case in February 2016.

The High Court for Cassation and Justice sentenced the former foreign minister for accepting money from British journalists posing as lobbyists from 2010-2011 in exchange for promising to amend EU laws.

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors said that Severin agreed to receive a proposed daily fee for each working day and had sent an invoice for 12,000 euros ($13,200). The Party of European Socialists suspended Severin in 2011. He left Parliament in 2014.

Two other European lawmakers were caught in the same sting. He says that the sentence is deeply unfair.

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THE ART COLLECTOR MINISTER

Former Finance Minister Darius Valcov is on trial for bribery.

Prosecutors say that Valcov, an avid art collector, amassed a trove of paintings from illicitly gained wealth including artwork by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol to conceal the origin of money.

He was charged with taking 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in bribes when he was the mayor of a small town in exchange for awarding contracts to a local businessman. He hid a Renoir painting, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of gold and stashes of cash worth $410,000 in a friend's safe.

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THE MEDIA MOGUL

Dan Voiculescu, the former owner of Antena, began a 10-year sentence for money laundering in 2014, at which point his daughters took over the television station.

The court ordered the confiscation of the TV studios to cover damages. The widely-watched Antena 3 news channel generally supports the ruling Social Democrats. There are conflicting messages whether Voiculescu could benefit from a proposal the government sent to Parliament to pardon prisoners. He has denied wrongdoing.

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SOCCER CHIEFS

Cristian Borcea, former owner of Bucharest's FC Dinamo soccer club, is serving a sentence of six years and four months for tax evasion and money laundering.

The general manager of FC Steaua football club, Mihai Stoica, was sentenced to three and a half years, and former soccer agents Ioan Becali and brother Victor Becali are also serving prison sentences as part of the the same case.

They were all involved in the transfer of players for large amounts of money to foreign clubs, with only a fraction paid to Romanian clubs. Most went to offshore companies, resulting in tax evasion.