BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s top court confirmed on Wednesday that former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will serve a two-year jail sentence for corruption, sending a signal the country is trying to address European Union concerns about widespread graft.
The failure to tackle corruption in Romania and neighboring Bulgaria, the EU’s two newest and poorest members has led to both being blocked from joining the passport-free Schengen zone.
Nastase becomes the most senior politician to be jailed since the 1989 fall of communism after the Supreme Court upheld elements of Nastase’s appeal, but confirmed a previous sentence of two years in prison.
Prosecutors said $2 million was missing from the state budget in 2004 when profits from an event organized by a state construction watchdog were used to finance Nastase’s presidential campaign. Nastase lost the election to Traian Basescu, who is still Romania’s president.
Nastase denied any wrongdoing and said the case was political.
Analysts and anti-graft campaigners hailed Nastase’s original conviction and sentencing in January as a step in the right direction for what watchdog Transparency International says is the EU’s third most corrupt country, after Greece and Bulgaria.
They say putting a senior politician behind bars sends an important signal that Romania is cracking down on graft. But while prosecutors have convicted some lawmakers, many sentences are suspended or remain free pending a long appeal process.
A keen hunter and fisherman, Nastase was prime minister in a leftist government in 2000-2004 and remains a senior politician in the USL alliance, which took power last month and is expected to win a majority in a parliamentary election due in November.
Romanians protested around the country earlier this year against austerity and perceived corruption among politicians. The demonstrations brought down the government.
Editing by Jon Hemming