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Indicted Romanian Socialist leader sues the Commission

In a lawsuit filed at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the embattled Romanian Socialist leader Liviu Dragnea, who is also the speaker of the lower chamber of the Romanian parliament, accuses the European Commission of failing to respect his right of defense and the presumption of innocence in the dossier of a substantial European money fraud case investigated by OLAF, involving the Romanian constructions company Tel Drum.

The complaint was filed in the Official Journal of the European Union.

“This is an empty gesture meant for internal consumption, in order to show the Socialist voters how tough the anti-Brussels position of the PSD is, following the heavy criticism directed by the Socialists against the Commission, because of the MCV mechanism, the safeguard measure in the field of justice, and also against the European Parliament, for the resolution that criticizes the government’s abuses in the rule of law,” the Romanian MEP Cristian Preda (EPP) told this blog.

Dragnea is a figure difficult to pin down. An extremely ambitious provincial politician with no apparent charisma, a shallow education, no language skills and dubious humour, he has woven over the last two decades an extremely complicated and labyrinthine network of corruption and influence.

He was twice convicted, for vote-rigging and corruption. The second conviction, three years and six months in prison, is on appeal. The convictions are the reason Dragnea is not officially heading the government: after his party’s victory in the 2016 elections, the conservative, centre-right president Klaus Iohannis refused to accept him as prime minister.

The PSD leader wants to obtain the cancellation of the OLAF report, which criminalizes him for misappropriation of European funds, hoping he will also get rid of the DNA (National Anticorruption Directorate) file that is based on the conclusions of the European anti-fraud body. In the Tel Drum file, Dragnea is accused of setting up an organized criminal group.

According to the document published by the EU’s Official Journal, Dragnea uses three arguments in his complaint:

1. First plea in law, alleging a breach of articles 9(1), 9(2) and 9(4) of the OLAF Regulation and a violation of the rights of defence of the applicant in the investigations, including the right to be heard and the respect of the presumption of innocence.
2. Second plea in law, alleging a breach of the principle of sound administration in relation to the investigations as well as the refusal to open an investigation on the conduct of the OLAF investigation.
3. Third plea in law, alleging a violation of the right of access to documents concerning the OLAF investigation.

Liviu Dragnea asks the Luxembourg court to annul the Commission Decision OCM (2018) 20575, communicated to the applicant’s legal representative by letter of 1 October 2018, and to have the Commission cover the costs.

In the Tel Drum file, opened by DNA at the end of last year, Dragnea is accused of setting up an organized criminal group, abuse of office, and misuse of European funds for Tel Drum. The acts were committed in his capacity as chairman of the Teleorman County Council, the one awarding the contracts.

The fraud with European funds uncovered by OLAF in Romania is one of the largest in the European Union. Only for road construction it amounts to 21 million euros, which should be recovered from Tel Drum.

The Tel Drum file is one of the riskiest for Liviu Dragnea precisely because it is based on OLAF’s investigations. This is also the reason why the Socialist-led government is desperately trying to stop the nomination of the former DNA chief Codruta Kovesi as the future EU Prosecutor, given that she is very much familiar with the cases involving Dragnea and other Socialist figures.

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