Romanian deputy PM charged with election fraud

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian prosecutors on Monday charged the deputy prime minister and 74 local officials with election fraud during a referendum that failed to unseat President Traian Basescu.

A majority of those who took part in the July 2012 national referendum voted to impeach Basescu on the grounds that he had overstepped his authority, but the vote was declared invalid because not enough people voted.

Anti-corruption prosecutors allege that Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea used his influence as then-chairman of a county council to try to increase the recorded number of votes to make the referendum valid in his county.

Transcripts released Monday indicate Dragnea — who denies the charges — spoke to party officials and sent text messages ordering them to get people out to vote.

“Get yourselves organized and bring everyone to vote. Tie them up, bring them in your arms,” he allegedly told party colleague Valentin Boboc, according to the transcripts.

The 74 others in the case are accused, among other things, of “stuffing ballots for voters who had not voted and of signing for those people.”

Dragnea was the mastermind, alleged the prosecutors, who filed the case in the Romania’s top court, the High Court.

“He coordinated a complex information system through which he sent messages, orders and recommendations to stimulate citizens to vote through illegal methods via mayors, party activists and local authorities,” the prosecution team said.

Dragnea is a member of the Social Democracy Party, which was at the time in the center-left opposition but now is in the governing coalition.

The then-opposition knew it could remove Basescu from office if more than half the electorate voted. But only 46 percent of voters turned out, rendering the referendum invalid.

The opposition Democratic Liberal Party called Monday for Dragnea to resign. He refused, calling the charges “unfounded” and “a blow to the foundations of democracy.”

Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a Basescu rival, said the case was politically motivated.

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