World News

Romania to investigate official's use of police escort after outrider dies

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian investigators accused a former general prosecutor on Tuesday of using unauthorised police escorts in one of the highest-profile graft inquiries against a magistrate in 27 post-Communist years.

Only the president and prime minister are entitled to such escorts, which became widely loathed during the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who used dozens of Communist militia bikers to escort him and secret service agents to force other drivers off the road while he passed.

Sleaze scandals remain frequent among Romania’s political and business elites, despite pressure to adhere to European Union rules intended to curb corruption since its 2007 entry.

The illegal escort case came to light in October after one of the police outriders assigned to former deputy prime minister Gabriel Oprea died when his bike crashed into a pothole.

Prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu Nitu, 44 quit last week after prosecutors alleged that Oprea, also an interior minister, ordered unauthorised police motorbike escorts for him and Nitu. Oprea is already subject to an inquiry.

Both Nitu and Oprea have denied wrongdoing.

“The protocol signed by general prosecutor Nitu had been the basis on which, since April 2014, the Road Brigade ... subordinated to the (interior) minister, on a permanent basis, had been accompanying his journeys across the municipality,” anti-graft prosecutors said in a statement.

“The mission was carried out in two shifts by a police officer from the special operative service, by using a motorcycle.”

The crackdown has won praise from Brussels, which keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring along with that of southern neighbour Bulgaria.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Ruth Pitchford