September 5, 2019 / 2:56 PM / 16 days ago

U.S. bans Romanian party leader after corruption conviction upheld

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea joins the voting session on the changes to the criminal codes in Romania's lower house of parliament, in Bucharest, Romania, April 24, 2019. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday barred Romania’s jailed Social Democrat Party leader, Liviu Dragnea, and his two children from entering the United States after his corruption conviction was upheld.

“Today’s action sends a strong signal that the United States is committed to fighting corruption and supporting the rule of law in Romania,” the U.S. Department of State said in a statement.

The department said the United States was required by law to block the entry of any foreign officials involved in corrupt acts as well as any of their immediate family members.

Representatives for Dragnea, who is in prison, and his family could not be immediately reached for comment.

Dragnea, who is also speaker of Romania’s lower house of parliament, had been found guilty of keeping two women on the payroll of a child protection state agency for years even though they were working for his party.

Romania’s Supreme Court upheld Dragnea’s conviction and three and a half year prison sentence in May after he appealed the initial verdict last year. His protégé, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, is leading the party while he remains in prison.

Dragnea, 56, was previously convicted in a vote-rigging case that made him ineligible to be prime minister. He is also under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects.

His Social Democrats Party came to power in late 2016, but its efforts to chip away at the independence of Romania’s courts triggered the country’s largest street protests in decades and sparked criticism from the European Union.

Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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