Former Romanian PM Sentenced for Corruption

Former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for corruption in the first trial of a high ranking official in Romania since communist rule.

The Romanian Supreme Court convicted Nastase for illegally raising US$2.1 million for his presidential campaign in 2004, when he ran as the Social Democrat Party candidate. Nastase served as Prime Minister between 2000 and 2004, while the Social Democrat Party was in power. Nastase is currently considered an important figure in the opposition coalition.

Nastase, 61, was convicted of illegally using the proceeds from a 2004 symposium dubbed "Quality Trophy," organized by the State Inspectorate for Quality in Construction, to fund his own presidential campaign.

The trial began in January 2009, after Nastase was accused of using his position as party leader to further his own interests.

Five others were charged in the case, and received sentences of up to seven years in prison. Nastase announced that he is planning to appeal his conviction.

“There is no evidence against me and I will appeal the court’s decision,” Nastase told Romanian television Realitatea TV. “This is an attempt to keep me away from the political life.”

Nastase was also accused of giving a US$400,000 bribe to the head of the anti-money laundering agency during his term as Prime Minister in an attempt to stop a probe into his wife’s bank account. He was acquitted on these charges in December 2011. The case became known as "Aunt Tamara," because Nastase claimed that the money in his wife's account belonged to her aunt Tamara.

Romania is under pressure from both the European Union and its own citizens to crack down on corruption.  Concerns within the European Union about corruption in the country remain one of the key barriers its entry into the visa-free Schengen zone.

During the past two weeks, thousands of Romanians have taken to the street to protest what they perceive as rampant government corruption and declining living standards in the country.

According to Transparency International, corruption in Romania is still rampant.  In the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania tied with China for 75th place out of 182 countries.