Romanian ex-PM Ponta under investigation in new probe

September 6, 2016 2:18 PM EDT

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors said on Tuesday they were investigating former leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta on suspicion of abuse of power and complicity in tax evasion.

Ponta is already on trial in a separate case on charges of forgery, money-laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion, which he has denied. He resigned late last year after a deadly nightclub fire set off massive street protests.

Prosecutors have prohibited him from publicly discussing the latest case, but he said on Facebook he would prove his innocence once he can comment.

Prosecutors said Ponta used his position the time, as prime minister and head of the Social Democrats, to put businessman Sebastian Ghita on the party's list of candidates for the 2012 parliamentary election in exchange for his paying 220,000 euros ($247,000) to bring an international celebrity to Romania.

"The purpose was to publicize some meetings with the celebrity so that Victor Ponta gain electoral capital," prosecutors said in a statement. "The 220,000 euros were obtained through intermediaries from Sebastian Ghita."

Ghita won a parliament seat in the 2012 election. Prosecutors said he was also under investigation in the case as an accessory to tax evasion. He has denied wrongdoing.

"Over the recent period in Romanian politics, it has become a habit for financially powerful people to easily gain elected public posts through being promoted by party leaders with the purpose ... of illegally funding parties' campaigns," the prosecutors' statement said.

Prosecutors did not name the celebrity.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have mounted a crackdown on corruption that has been praised by the European Commission, which keeps Romania's justice system under special monitoring.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams)

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