BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s new Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on Tuesday he would not resign over accusations of plagiarism, dismissing the charges as part of a political plot against him by the country’s president.
British scientific journal Nature reported on Monday it had seen documents showing more than half of Ponta’s 432-page thesis on the workings of the International Criminal Court had been copied from other sources.
Similar accusations of plagiarism have forced several European politicians to step down in recent months, including Hungary’s president, a German defense minister who was tipped as a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ponta’s own nomination as Romanian education minister.
Ponta denied the charges soon after they were published in Nature on Monday and on Tuesday sought to end speculation over his future.
“Have I done something against Romania’s interests as prime minister? Why should I resign? No way,” Ponta told a news conference.
Ponta’s leftist Social Liberal Union (USL) only came to power in May after the previous center-right government, battered by unpopular austerity measures, lost a no confidence vote.
Any fresh uncertainty over the new government’s future could knock Romanian asset prices, already under pressure after the country failed to sell one-year debt this week and with the leu currency close to all time lows.
“The pressure to resign will be big, if it’s proved,” said Guy Burrow, a partner with consultancy Candole in Bucharest. “These days, I don’t think they can ignore it - or it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be.”
Ponta went into further detail about his thesis on Tuesday, and went on the political offensive against President Traian Basescu, who has close links to the now opposition center-right Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL).
“You know very well this is a pretext of a political war between President Basescu and I, a war each of us leads with their own weapons,” Ponta said.
Officials in Basescu’s office declined to comment.
Ponta said his thesis’ bibliography listed the papers he had consulted. He noted the foreword had been written by Ion Diaconu, one of the writers whose work he was accused of plagiarizing.
The prime minister said he was prepared to submit his work to education ministry commission checks, if needed.
“If the commission tells me I wasn’t supposed to list the bibliography at the end but insert it as footnotes, of course I will give up my doctor’s title immediately. I am not mad about titles, I don’t care about this one.”
Ponta’s ruling party did well in local polls in June and are the favorites to win a November parliamentary election. It has pledged to keep Romania’s 5 billion euro ($6.3 billion) International Monetary Fund-led aid deal on track.
He has criticized Basescu - who wielded influence on previous governments despite a largely ceremonial position - for pushing austerity measures. The two have since clashed over who will represent Romania at a European Council meeting this month.
The uncertainty over Ponta’s government increased on Tuesday when the Supreme Court ruled that Culture Minister and Senator Mircea Diaconu could not stay in office because there was a conflict of interest with his continuing role as a director of a state theatre. ($1 = 0.7949 euros)
Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Andrew Heavens