Romanian former PM accused of corruption over Tony Blair visit

Victor Ponta alleged to have given seat in parliament to businessman in exchange for sponsoring former British premier’s visit

 Victor Ponta after an appearance at the high court in Bucharest last year.
Victor Ponta leaves the high court in Bucharest after a hearing last year

The former Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta is being investigated for alleged financial corruption relating to a visit by Tony Blair in 2012.

Romanian state prosecutors questioned Ponta on Tuesday about allegations that he misused his authority as leader of the Social Democratic party to persuade Blair to come to Romania.

They accuse Ponta of offering Sebastian Ghita, a local businessman, a seat in parliament in exchange for paying €220,000 (£184,000) to cover the costs of a visit by a political figure. Ghita told the Mediafax news agency that this figure was Blair.

Prosecutors said Ponta arranged the visit so it looked as if it had been initiated and organised by non-political groups, and that he benefited from press coverage of the visit.

Blair’s office said it was contacted by the Multimedia Foundation for Local Democracy to make the speech, and that the contact came via an American thinktank, the Centre for American Progress. Blair was paid a substantial fee for giving a lecture on the future of Europe, with the money passed in its entirety to one of his charities.

In exchange for sponsoring the visit, Ponta, who was prime minister from 2012 to 2015, allegedly promoted Ghita within the party to help him win a parliamentary seat and a four-year term in the chamber of deputies. Ponta and Ghita both deny wrongdoing.

Blair was not under investigation for any wrongdoing, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors said, and there was no suggestion that he was aware of any of the fallout from his visit.

Ponta is being investigated on suspicion of using his authority to obtain money, goods or other improper benefits and being an accomplice to money laundering. Prosecutors put Ponta under judicial control – the equivalent of bail – meaning he has to report to prosecutors, needs to get permission to leave the country, cannot talk publicly about the inquiry or make public comments about prosecutors.

Ponta is currently on trial in a separate case for corruption-related charges stemming from work he did as a lawyer from 2007 to 2008. He denies wrongdoing.

Ponta became prime minister in 2012. He resigned in 2015 in the face of mass protests sparked by a fire in a nightclub that killed more than 30 people and led to claims of wider corruption and ineptitude. At the time he was already indicted on corruption charges relating to activities before he became prime minister.

The Guardian

6 September, 2016