Romanian ruling party chief under investigation in Brazil-report

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats and speaker of its lower house of parliament, Liviu Dragnea, is under investigation in Brazil on suspicion of money laundering, a Brazilian prosecutor was quoted on Friday as saying.

An online investigative reporting platform, Rise Project, quoted Brazilian federal prosecutor Carlos Wagner Barbosa Guimaraes as saying Brazilian authorities were investigating whether Dragnea and others had used ill-gotten funds to buy beach properties in the country through third parties.

Asked about the report, Dragnea, who keeps a tight grip on his party and is seen as effectively in charge of Romania’s government, said it was false.

“We talked about this topic in 2017. They (Rise Project) have reheated the soup, but I am not eating it,” said Dragnea, who is barred from becoming Romania’s prime minister by a suspended jail sentence imposed on him in a vote rigging case.

Rise Project, which is a member of the cross-border Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project of investigative journalists, also quoted Barbosa Guimaraes as saying the Brazilian investigation had started after Romanian prosecutors had asked for help in mid-2017.

Dragnea is currently on trial in Romania in an abuse of office case and is also under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded..

Dragnea has denied all charges of wrongdoing, including in the earlier vote rigging case, where he said the verdict was politically motivated.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states. Brussels, which keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

At the start of 2017, attempts by the ruling coalition to weaken anti-corruption legislation triggered Romania’s biggest protests in decades.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones