The head of the Romanian Socialist-Democrat ruling party (PSD) and speaker of the lower house of the parliament, Liviu Dragnea, has been sentenced today to three years and six months in jail for instigating to abuse in office.
Dragnea was cleared of allegations of forgery in a case involving fake hirings at the Social Assistance and Child Protective Services Agency (DGASPC).
The jail sentence is not final and Dragnea can appeal.
Dragnea has been accused of instigating abuse in office and forgery and the Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA) has asked judges to convict him to a total of ten years in prison. He had received a suspended two-year sentence in the case regarding the 2012 referendum to remove the president from office.
The ruling party’s overhaul of criminal procedures on Monday attracted mass protests. It was presented as part of a legislative campaign to stop what the ruling party and Dragnea himself describe as a conspiracy to bring down the government via unfounded corruption charges.
Its intervention in the justice system has prompted the biggest protests since communism fell in 1989 and thrown down a challenge to the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007.
Brussels is already embroiled in a standoff with Poland over court reforms that the EU says threaten the rule of law and Romania’s moves risk broadening a rift between east and west.
The U.S. State Department and the European Commission have criticized the planned legal changes: the Commission keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring and has praised magistrates for tackling high-level graft.
The criminal procedure changes include limiting criminal investigations to a year before indictment and restricting the types of evidence and warrants that can be used in prosecutions. They also ban appeal courts from overturning acquittals by lower courts without new evidence.
Anti-corruption prosecutors have seized assets worth $2.3 billion in the past five years and secured 4,751 convictions, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.
Romania was the country where the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF ran most investigations of EU funds misuse last year.
The Social Democrats have said they aim to approve changes to the criminal code by mid-July and critics expect attempts to shorten sentences and target graft offences.
The European Commission has limited options. It can maintain the justice monitoring mechanism and trigger infringement procedures, and it can cut development funds, which Romania is already struggling to tap. It can also continue keeping Bucharest outside the borderless Schengen area.