World News

Romanian parliament lifts ex-deputy PM's immunity in motorcade probe

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s Senate voted on Wednesday to lift the immunity of former deputy premier Gabriel Oprea, opening the way for a criminal investigation into allegations that he ordered unauthorised motorcades for himself.

Romania is seen as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and its judiciary is under special EU scrutiny, though its prosecutors have won praise from the EU executive for stepped-up efforts to punish graft and abuses of power.

Anti-corruption prosecutors alleged last month that Oprea, who has also served as interior minister, ordered unauthorised motorcades for himself and for chief prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu.

The Senate, Romania’s upper house of parliament, voted 102-30 to lift Oprea’s immunity. Oprea and Nitu both deny wrongdoing.

Nitu resigned on Tuesday while Oprea quit in November alongside prime minister Victor Ponta after a deadly night club fire triggered massive protests. Ponta is now facing charges of forgery and money-laundering.

Oprea’s case came to light in October after one of his police officer outriders died when his motorcycle crashed into a pothole in downtown Bucharest.

Under Romanian law, only the president, prime minister and two parliamentary speakers are entitled to motorcades, while ministers can use them only for emergencies.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have launched several high-profile investigations in recent years - against ministers, lawmakers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen - in a crackdown that has exposed widespread graft and angered Romanians.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Mark Heinrich