Romanian Liberal Party head quits pending graft investigation

September 28, 2016 12:19 PM EDT

Vasile Blaga, president of Romania's Democrat Liberal party, addresses a joint congress with Romania's National Liberal party in Bucharest July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel


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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The leader and campaign manager of Romania's second-largest party resigned on Wednesday after anti-corruption prosecutors said they were investigating him on suspicion of abusing his position to illegally secure funding for the party.

The resignation of Vasile Blaga, who has led several successful election campaigns, could weaken his Liberals ahead of a parliamentary election on Dec. 11.

Romania has been run by a government of technocrats since last November following a deadly night club fire that triggered massive street protests and brought down the previous administration.

Prosecutors said Blaga used his influence to obtain funds in 2011-2012 by getting specific managers appointed to lead state-owned energy firms, who then granted public works contracts to third parties in exchange for bribes.

At the time, Blaga was secretary general of the then-ruling Democrat Liberals. The party merged with another center-right grouping in 2014 to form the Liberal Party with Blaga as its co-head.

Blaga has denied all wrongdoing but said he was resigning so as to not damage the party's credibility.

"Following the accusations leveled against me today, I will prove my innocence at the appropriate institutions," he said in a statement. "I cannot ask my colleagues to respect integrity criteria and not do that myself."

Blaga is the latest senior figure to be investigated in a crackdown on corruption praised by the European Commission, which has been monitoring Romania's justice system.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have gone after high-level politicians across all parties, exposing widespread graft and a pattern of granting public works contracts for bribes.

Opinion surveys have the Liberals trailing the leftist Social Democrats, the largest party in parliament, ahead of the Dec. 11 election. Their leader, Liviu Dragnea, has remained in his post even after being found guilty of electoral fraud earlier this year and receiving a two-year suspended sentence.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)



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