The president of Romania has accused the country’s prime minister of “behaviour unacceptable in a democracy” in a scathing attack on his political rival who is under investigation for corruption.
President Klaus Iohannis’s criticism of Victor Ponta came after the prime minister survived a vote in parliament to strip him of his parliamentary immunity.
“This was a sad day for democracy in Romania and the millions of citizens who believe in democratic values,” Mr Iohannis said. “To destroy institutions and sacrifice principles to save a person’s career is unacceptable behaviour in a democracy.”
He added Mr Ponta should have do the “honourable” thing and resign as prime minister.
Mr Ponta, who was elected in 2012, faces a litany of charges including forgery, money laundering and tax evasion after coming under criminal investigation by the National Anti-corruption Directorate on Friday.
The investigation has once again shone the spotlight on Romania’s struggle with the high levels of corruption that have plagued it since the fall of communism in 1989.
Romania is ranked frequently as one of the most corrupt states in Europe, and its justice system is subject to special monitoring by the European Commission.
The Ponta case relates to the years 2007-8 when he was a lawyer, and his association with Dan Sova, another lawyer, who would later become transport minister in the prime minister’s cabinet, and the subject of a different criminal investigation.
Prosecutors allege Mr Ponta received the equivalent of around £29,000 for bogus work he carried out on behalf of Mr Sova after he issued forged invoices. With the proceeds, it is alleged he bought two luxury flats in Bucharest.
Mr Ponta has denied the allegations, saying he is prepared to go to court to prove his innocence. He also said the scandal would benefit Russia.
“Romania is in the most sensitive area of Europe,” Mr Ponta said. “We hope we will close this small but intense political crisis and we will get back to work, because Europe requires Romania to be stable and predictable in this region. I think only Russia will open the champagne bottles if Romania will be in a long political crisis.”
He dismissed calls for his resignation, claiming it would only worsen the political situation.
The prime minister now faces a no-confidence vote on his government. But with his centre-left coalition dominating parliament, he is expected to survive it, although this could precipitate a protracted constitutional and political war between himself and the president that could damage Romania’s international standing.