Romania Liberal Leader Quits as Probe Roils Party Before Ballot

  • Vasile Blaga being investigated for influence peddling
  • Departure to have ‘high’ impact on party, analyst says

The leader of Romania’s Liberal Party stepped down Wednesday after being probed by anti-corruption prosecutors for influence peddling, threatening the chances of the country’s second-biggest party in parliamentary elections.

Vasile Blaga, who managed campaigns that helped former President Traian Basescu win two terms and current President Klaus Iohannis get elected, is suspected of receiving about 700,000 euros ($785,000) in illegal party funding in 2010-2011 from a mayor and a businessman in exchange for contracts with the state and job appointments, anti-corruption prosecutors said Wednesday in a statement. While he denies wrongdoing, he resigned after being placed under police supervision and denied the right to leave the country.

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest country, is locked in an anti-corruption crackdown akin to Italy’s Clean Hands campaign from the 1990s. Prosecutors have put a record number of officials to trial, including a sitting prime minister and dozens of ministers, with many still being detained for graft and bribe taking. Romanians are set to vote in a general election that’s scheduled for Dec. 11.

“Blaga’s probe and resignation will have a very large impact on the Liberal Party,” according to Andrei Taranu, deputy dean of Bucharest’s Political Science University. “It will generate internal imbalances just before the elections.”

The Liberals placed second in the recent polls, with about 30 percent. The Social Democratic Party, led by Liviu Dragnea, who’s also being investigated by prosecutors and previously received a two-year suspended sentence for involvement in rigging a referendum to oust Basescu in 2012, would probably get 40 percent, a Sept. 13 survey by Avangarde showed.

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