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Head of Romanian ruling party hit with new corruption allegations

HEAD OF ROMANIAN RULING PARTY HIT WITH NEW CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors on Monday opened a new criminal investigation into the chairman of the ruling party on suspicion that he misused European Union funds.

Romania's public prosecutors have levied new corruption accusations against Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the country's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) who has already been convicted of electoral fraud.

Dragnea, also speaker of the lower house of parliament, is accused of founding a "criminal group" and using it to embezzle European Union funds worth some 20.6 million euros (24 million dollars), the prosecutors' Anti-Corruption Unit (DNA) said on Monday.

The unit launched its investigation after a 2016 ruling by the European Commission's European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

Dragnea is accused of securing an EU-supported contract for his company Teldrum to repair roads in the southern Romanian district of Teleorman when he was leader of the regional parliament.

He is charged with abusing his office to obtain access to confidential information and overcharging the state, causing damages of equivalent to 6.8 million euros on the contract, state prosecutors said in a statement.

Dragnea's legal difficulties have clouded Romanian politics since his PSD party won the December 2016 election.

In April 2016, he was found guilty of electoral fraud and given a two-year suspended sentence, barring him from becoming prime minister.

As head of the ruling party, Dragnea is believed to exercise control over the government from behind the scenes and considered the most powerful politician in the country.

Dragnea also faces trial for incitement to abuse of office because he arranged for PSD employees to be paid by the Child Protection Office without working there.

Romania's DNA has made headway against widespread corruption in the country in recent years but has continued to fight attempts by politicians to water down its power.

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