PM Victor Ponta has become the highest ranking Romanian official who has been put under criminal inquiry under corruption-related charges while in office. Ponta was at the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) headquarters on Friday morning. He made no statement on his arriving at the DNA offices and there is no public information about the purpose of his going there.
An hour before arriving at the DNA HQ, Ponta had written on Facebook that it was good that the opposition was submitting a censure motion today, as "in a European democratic country the political battle is carried in the Parliament (not at the DNA or on websites)".
UPDATE 1 Victor Ponta said on Friday he was a suspect in a case related to his activity as a lawyer in 2007-2008 and for conflict of interest over his naming fellow lawyer Dan Sova as minister in his government
UPDATE 2 Asked on his leaving the DNA offices if he would resign, Ponta said: We don't do politics at the DNA, we do politics in Parliament
UPDATE 3 The DNA issued a press release announcing that anti-graft prosecutors ordered a criminal inquiry against PM Ponta for 17 cases of false documents under private signature, complicity to tax evasion, money laundering.
According to the DNA press release, the charges relate to Ponta serving as a lawyer when he served as legal representative of his own law office.
Prosecutors say they have proof that part of the money obtained by a law house, Sova si Asociatii, from two energy complexes, Turceni and Rovinari, last decade was aimed exclusively for the personal use of lawyer Sova Dan-Coman and connected people. Dan Sova would later become a minister in his former law partner Victor Ponta's Social Democratic Government.
Dan Sova left the government last year, before the DNA launched a criminal inquiry against him in the Turceni-Rovinari case. Dan Sova remained a member of the Parliament and this spring the DNA asked for the Senate to allow Senator Sova's arrest twice - and both times the request was rejected by MPs through voting processes that sparked political and media outrage.
According to prosecutors, Victor Ponta issued in 2007-2008, as a lawyer working with Sova's office, a total of 17 invoices amounting to 181,439.98 RON. Prosecutors say the invoices were not based on real activities, as Ponta was not professionally active based on his convention with Sova's office.
Following fiscal checks in 2011, Ponta - prosecutors say - convened with Dan Sova that Sova's office put up activity reports to prove the alleged work done by Ponta during the 16 months of collaboration. Prosecutors say that 16 false documents were created in August 2011 to allegedly prove the Ponta's work as a collaborating criminal lawyer in 2007-2008.
Prosecutors say the 16 documents were edited in a "copy-paste" manner - which reminds the public at large that Ponta was accused of plagiarism related to his PhD thesis in a major scandal that broke just after he became prime minister in 2012.
Prosecutors say Ponta used part of the money received from Sova's law house to buy to luxury apartments in a Bucharest residential complex.
According to the DNA prosecutors, Ponta receive other advantages - including the right to use a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo car - from the law house between 2008-2009.
In the same case, prosecutors accuse Ponta of three cases of conflict of interest related to his position as a prime minister: his naming of Dan Sova as minister in his government in 2012, then as Transport minister in 2014; Ponta's receiving various amounts of money between 2007 and 2008, totalling 181,439.89 RON, based on a fictitious professional legal convention between him and Sova si Asociatii law house; Ponta receiving the right to use the Mitsubishi car leased by Sova si Asociatii.
Prosecutors are now initiating the procedure to notify the House of Deputies about the criminal inquiry against Victor Ponta, elected as a deputy in the Romanian PM, who was serving as prime minister during part of the period when he is accused of conflict of interest.
UPDATE 4 President Iohannis said in a statement on Friday that he calls for Victor Ponta's resignation. Iohannis said it was "an impossible situation for Romania that the prime minister be accused of criminal actions" and that the worst thing for Romania now was a political crisis. He said he informed the prime minister about his call for resignation.
UPDATE 5 For now, PM Ponta said on Facebook on Friday that only the Parliament - who named him as prime minister - can dismiss him as head of government.