Romania party leader denies corruption in trial over fake jobs


Bucharest (AFP)

The leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrats party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, claimed to be innocent on Wednesday during his trial over the creation of fictitious jobs.

"I reject categorically these accusations and declare myself innocent," he told the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest.

Dragnea is accused of "abuse of power" between 2006 and 2012 by creating fake jobs when he was chairman of the departmental council in Teleorman.

Due to a previous two-year suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud, Dragnea could not take up the post of prime minister after the PSD won legislative elections at the end of 2016.

His appearance at Wednesday's hearing, which lasted more than seven hours, was his first since the trial opened in January 2017.

Dragnea rejected the accusations, dismissing them as "mere statements, gossip and rumours".

Prosecutors are seeking damages of 24,000 euros ($30,000).

Dragnea has been criticised for attempting to modify anti-corruption legislation to lighten his criminal record and remove obstacles blocking his entry into government.

In the hours following the opening of his trial in 2017, the government adopted a controversial reform of the penal code.

The revision adjusted the threshold of sanction for convictions of abuse of power, meaning Dragnea could only be sent to prison over a loss of more than 44,000 euros if found guilty.

The decree provoked a wave of protest forcing the government to backtrack.

Dragnea is also suspected of embezzling European funds in another investigation and his assets have been frozen.

The next hearing, which could be the last before the verdict, was set for April 25.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila on Wednesday wrote to European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker questioning Brussels' supposed "interference in the running of justice" in Romania.