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Romania government minister resigns after suspended sentence

May 15, 2015

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian government minister has resigned after receiving a one-year suspended prison sentence for fraud in a referendum to impeach Romania’s former president.

The High Court of Cassation and Justice on Friday convicted Liviu Dragnea of election fraud for inflating voter numbers at a July 2012 referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu. The referendum failed because turnout was too low. More than 50 percent of the eligible voters need to participate for a referendum to be valid.

Dragnea, who says he is innocent, resigned as minister of regional development after Friday’s sentence, and said he would also step down as executive chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party.

The court ruling is not final. Two other people were given prison sentences of two years each and 20 people were acquitted.

Dragnea, 52, was an aide of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and had one of the most influential portfolios in the Cabinet overseeing funds allocated to local mayors and councils.

He is the second minister in the Romanian government to step down amid a crackdown on graft.

The former finance minister Darius Valcov resigned after prosecutors charged him with taking bribes of 2 million euros ($2.14 million), including gold bars and paintings by French Impressionist artist Auguste Renoir, when he was mayor of a southern town.

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