BUCHAREST, Romania – The leader of Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party vowed Friday to implement new laws that critics say will dilute the fight against corruption — a move that came a day after he got a 3½-year jail sentence for abuse of office.
The Social Democrats reiterated their support for Liviu Dragnea, Romania's most powerful politician, saying he should be considered innocent pending a final verdict.
The High Court of Cassation and Justice found Dragnea guilty Thursday of intervening to keep two party members on the payroll of a public family welfare agency. Dragnea, 55, denies wrongdoing and can appeal the ruling.
In an appearance Friday, Dragnea said the party would be "firmer and more radical" in pushing through laws. The measures could include using contentious emergency decrees, thereby bypassing parliament, to enact laws.
He said he apologized to "thousands of Romanians who are in prison for an unconstitutional law, or who are dragged through courts based on a Soviet law."
He called the ruling against him "a mass execution," referring to other people who also received sentences in his corruption case, most of them suspended sentences.
The party is preparing a law would raise the bar for official misconduct and only punish it when damages exceeded 200,000 euros ($232,000). In Dragnea's case, prosecutors estimated the damages at 108,000 lei ($27,000).
Leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Ludovic Orban, accused the Social Democrats of "throwing the country into chaos, putting Romania in the hands of a person who only wants to save his skin."
After his conviction, thousands of Romanians marched in anti-corruption protests and celebrated by honking their car horns in downtown Bucharest.
"I can't understand why there is joy, song and dance over someone's misfortune," said Romania's European Funds Minister, Rovana Plumb.
Anti-corruption prosecutors tried to charge her over an illegal land deal but parliament voted to allow her to retain parliamentary privilege against prosecution. She denies wrongdoing.
Opposition leaders called for Dragnea to resign from the post of parliamentary speaker, but Prime Minister Viorica Dancila — hand-picked by Dragnea for the post because a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging bars him from being premier — said it was "unconstitutional" to ask Dragnea to resign.