Romanian ex-PM cleared of fraud charges

Bucharest (AFP) –


Former Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta was on Thursday cleared of fraud and other charges by the country's high court after a corruption probe.

Ponta, 45, had been accused of 17 separate counts of forgery, complicity in tax evasion and money laundering, all dating from 2007-2011 while Ponta was working as a lawyer.

Ponta, who was leader of the Social Democrats and prime minister between 2012 and 2015, had claimed his innocence.

Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the verdict.

Ponta was charged in the summer of 2015 while still in office, a first in a country where politicians often broke laws with impunity.

According to anti-corruption prosecutors, he received the equivalent of 55,000 euros ($62,000) from an acquaintance, Dan Sova, with whom Ponta had signed a business deal.

To justify the cash, which was paid in several monthly instalments, Ponta produced 17 invoices falsely claiming to have worked for Sova's legal firm, prosecutors told the court.

Sova, for his part, was cleared of charges ranging from complicity in abuse of power and tax evasion to money laundering.

Ponta resigned in November 2015 after huge street protests sparked by a nightclub fire which cost the lives of 65 people -- a tragedy blamed on corrupt officials waiving security protocols.