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Romanian court sentences former finance minister to jail for graft

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A Romanian court sentenced former finance minister Darius Valcov to six-and-a-half years’ jail on Tuesday for taking a bribe and peddling influence in awarding public works contracts in one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries.

Valcov, 43, who had also been an economic adviser to cabinet and authored many of the then ruling Social Democrat party’s controversial tax cuts and price caps, has denied wrongdoing.

The verdict is not final, pending his appeal.

In 2018, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for influence peddling and money laundering in a separate case, a preliminary verdict also pending appeal.

Both cases concern graft in awarding public works contracts while Valcov was serving as mayor of the southern Romanian town of Slatina during 2004-2012, anti-corruption prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have secured a spate of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, including former Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea.

Their investigations across party lines have exposed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Repeated attempts by the Social Democrats to decriminalise some corruption offences, raise the burden of proof, and shorten sentences, up until they lost a no confidence vote last year, alarmed Brussels and triggered Romania’s largest street protests in decades.

The Transparency International watchdog ranked Romania and Hungary as the joint most corrupt nations after Bulgaria last year in the 27-member EU. Brussels keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne