Liviu Dragnea, officially the third-most powerful man in Romania as Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, but unofficially number one in political terms thanks to his chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party, the largest political party in the country, was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison and put behind bars. Judges upheld the ruling passed about a year ago in a case involving fake jobs given to party members at the Teleorman County Social Assistance and Child Protection Directorate.
Dragnea was sentenced for inciting abuse of office. More precisely, while a chairman of the Teleorman County Council, he made the heads of that public institution hire and keep on their payroll 2 Social Democratic Party members who cashed their salaries for years, although they never showed up to work.
This is the second prison sentence for the former Social Democrat leader. He had already received a 2-year suspended sentence for election fraud in the 2012 referendum on impeaching the then president Traian Basescu. This is what prevented him from taking the prime minister post after his party won the 2016 parliamentary election with 45% of the votes.
But even though he did not officially head the government formed at that time by the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, he controlled it with an iron fist. He replaced 2 prime ministers who disobeyed his instructions, the first of them through a no-confidence motion tabled against his own Cabinet, which was unprecedented in Romanian politics. He did the same in Parliament.
His ultimate goal was to avoid serving time, says President Iohannis, the right-wing opposition, journalists, observers, independent analysts and, not least, the citizens who constantly protested in the past 2 and a half years, against successive changes to the justice laws, the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Most of these changes threaten the independence of the judiciary and jeopardise the fight against corruption, EU institutions also warned.
When ordinary people have legal problems, they resort to lawyers. Liviu Dragnea had an army of lawyers, but, his critics say, desperation pushed him to try something else as well, namely to get control on those institutions that could have helped him sort out his court problems. He tried to extend to national level what he was already doing in Teleorman County, back when he was chairing the County Council. In such poor counties, the absence of investors makes the state, through its local agencies and institutions, the main employer. And this is how influential political leaders, as the anti-corruption prosecutors proved Dragnea to be, end up controlling everything, even fake employments.
A journalist said, sarcastically, that he was almost sorry that Dragnea was sentenced, because it would have been interesting to see him beheaded by his own party after the failure in the European election. This failure can easily be blamed on Liviu Dragnea, who attracted voters’ anger on the entire party. Liviu Dragnea is the highest-ranking public official sentenced for corruption in post-communist Romania, after another Social Democrat, the ex-PM Adrian Nastase, pioneered this practice several years ago.
(translated by: Ana-Maria Popescu)