Romania probes plot to spare ex-PM jail with wound

BUCHAREST Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:07am EDT

1 of 4. Romania's former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase addresses the media after exiting a courtroom in Bucharest in this picture taken late June 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian prosecutors said on Tuesday they were investigating allegations that a doctor and three policemen had helped former prime minister Adrian Nastase try to avoid jail after he shot and wounded himself last Wednesday.

Nastase, 62, shot himself in the neck with a pistol when police came to take him to jail to begin a two-year sentence for corruption, but local media have questioned the seriousness of the wound given the lack of blood when he was in the ambulance, and suggested it may have been a ploy to keep him out of jail.

"The deeds which are subject of the penal investigation refer to hindering the enforcement of the punishment applied ... to former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase," the anti-corruption prosecuting office (DNA) said in a statement.

There were suspicions over the reliability of Nastase's medical diagnosis, Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi added, and officials would interview him as soon as medical staff allowed, according to the RTV television station.

The doctor and policemen being investigated were not named.

A Reuters witness saw Nastase being taken from his house to hospital last Wednesday with only a light scarf tied around his neck and no oxygen mask or bloodstains.

He is the most senior politician to be convicted of corruption since the fall of communist rule in 1989 after being found guilty of using $2 million in state funds in 2004 to finance his own presidential campaign.

The Supreme Court confirmed last week that he would have to serve two years in jail for the crime.

Analysts and campaigners see Nastase's case as a major breakthrough for Romania, which is ranked the European Union's third-most corrupt member state and is barred from the bloc's passport-free Schengen zone over graft concerns.

Nastase underwent surgery after the shooting incident and remains in hospital. He maintains he is innocent and says the case against him was political. His lawyers want his jail sentence to be delayed.

A keen hunter, Nastase was prime minister in a leftist government from 2000-2004 and still has a major role in the governing Social Liberal Union (USL), with close links to Prime Minister Victor Ponta who is himself facing allegations of plagiarism.

Ponta's Social Democrat Party (PSD) is the most powerful faction in the USL and is widely viewed as the successor to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's communists. Both Ponta and Nastase have close links to Ion Iliescu, a former communist who was Romania's first president after its bloody 1989 revolution. (Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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