Europe

Romania PM Victor Ponta to face corruption trial

Romanian Premier Victor Ponta is surrounded by media as he exits the national anti-corruption prosecutors office (13 July 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Ponta has strongly denied the allegations against him

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is to be tried by the country's top court after he was formally indicted on several counts of corruption.

Mr Ponta, who prosecutors say will not be arrested, has repeatedly denied the claims since he was charged in July.

He will be the first prime minister in Romania to stand trial while in office.

Mr Ponta has denounced the prosecution as "totally unprofessional". He says the charges against him have been fabricated and contrived.

Without referring to the prosecutor by name, the prime minister said that Romania's only problem was "the obsession of a totally unprofessional prosecutor to assert himself in his career by inventing and imagining untrue deeds and situations from 10 years ago".

Mr Ponta faces charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering dating back to his days as a lawyer before he was elected prime minister in 2012.

President Klaus Iohannis, who has previously called on Mr Ponta to resign, said Romania's image would suffer because of the case.

"In my view, the situation is more and more problematic for the prime minister, for the government and for the Social Democrat Party," Mr Iohannis told reporters on Thursday.

Four other people have also been indicted in the case and will also stand trial.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A man holds a placard reading "Ponta, resign!" during a protest in July

Mr Ponta - who came to power in 2012 as the country's youngest ever premier - has resisted calls to resign and so far has the backing of his leftist party and its allies to stay in power.

The case against him is now expected to go to Romania's top court, but no date has been set for any hearing, correspondents say, and he is expected to remain free up until then and during any proceedings.

Although the prime minister has some right to immunity because he is a lawmaker, the charges against him stem from a time when he was not in office, which means he cannot use his immunity to avoid the courts.

The indictment comes at a delicate time for his government, having already been wounded by a shock presidential election defeat last November and facing a general election in 2016.

Hundreds of top officials have been convicted of fraud in recent years, as the country's anti-corruption agency continues its drive to rid Romania of corruption.

Many of those targeted claim that the case against them is politically motivated.

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