FILE - In this Friday, April 27, 2018 file photo, the leader of Romania's ruling Social Democratic party, Liviu Dragnea, grimaces as he walks out of the anti-corruption prosecutors' office, in Bucharest, Romania. A Romanian court has handed down a 3 ½ year prison sentence for the powerful leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party for official misconduct. The High Court of Cassation and Justice on Thursday, June 21 sentenced Liviu Dragnea, after two previous adjournments. The ruling can be appealed. There was no immediate comment from Dragnea. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)

Romania: Party rallies around leader convicted of graft

June 22, 2018 - 8:25 am

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Leaders of Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party rallied Friday around their powerful leader after he was handed a 3½-year jail sentence for abuse of office.

Regional bosses sent messages of support for Liviu Dragnea, saying he should be considered innocent pending a final verdict.

Dragnea, who hasn't been seen in public for days, denies wrongdoing. He can appeal Thursday's ruling.

After his conviction, thousands resumed anti-corruption protests and there were also celebrations. In some neighborhoods, people cheered while cars honked their horns in downtown Bucharest, as the sentence was pronounced after hours of deliberation.

"I can't understand why there is joy, song and dance," said European Funds Minister, Rovana Plumb, referring to the celebrations.

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.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice found Dragnea guilty of intervening to keep two party members on the payroll of a public family welfare agency.

The party will meet later to discuss its future in the wake of his conviction. Concurrently, the party is also preparing draft legislation that 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.)

Meanwhile, opposition leaders called for Dragnea to resign from the post of parliamentary speaker.

Prime Minister Viorica Dancila — hand-picked by Dragnea in January for the post because a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging bars him from being premier — said it was "unconstitutional" to ask Dragnea to resign.

But the 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."

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