The leader of Romania’s ruling left-wing Social Democrat Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, has been sentenced to three and half years in prison by the country’s supreme court, upholding a conviction and jail term for official misconduct in a corruption case.
Dragnea, who is also a speaker of the lower house of parliament, appealed the initial verdict last year.
“The court maintains the ruling from first instance”, the judges announced on Monday, giving Dragnea 24 hours to report to police in order to begin his sentence.
Monday’s sentencing, which is final, comes after a 2018 conviction linked to the employment of two party members at a public agency.
Dragnea is already blocked from being prime minister because of a 2016 conviction for vote rigging.
The court ruling comes after the PSD, the main party in the governing coalition, suffered huge losses in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, falling to second place behind the opposition National Liberal Party.
The Central Electoral Bureau said the PSD got 23.7 percent of the votes, while the National Liberal Party (PNL) got 26.2 percent.
President Klaus Iohannis, a former PNL leader, said the PSD-led coalition had been punished “for the disastrous way they have governed the country”.
The junior member of the coalition, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, gathered just 4.2 percent of the votes, below the five-percent threshold needed in Romania to gain a seat in the European Parliament.
Despite the coalition’s poor showing, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila declared late on Sunday she wouldn’t step down.
Additionally, a non-binding referendum called by President Iohannis seeking to pressure the government into dropping efforts to water down anti-corruption measures won support from 80 percent of voters on Sunday.
‘Storm of hatred’
A grim-faced Dragnea appeared in front of the cameras on Sunday night to say the PSD had faced a “storm of hatred” in the election results.
Centre-right and liberal opponents, by contrast, racked up almost 50 percent between them.
Young people and city-dwellers turned out in force to express their frustration with the government, with turnout nudging 50 percent.
Asked about Monday’s court appearance, Dragnea was his normal defiant self, alluding to dark conspiracies plotted against him and “unimaginable pressure” being exerted on judges to find him guilty.
He also surprised many by saying that he would not challenge incumbent President Iohannis in elections expected this autumn.
Over the past three years, Dragnea and the PSD – the successor party to the communists – had courted voters in poorer and more rural areas of the country with generous promises.
Despite not becoming prime minister, Dragnea wielded considerable influence behind the scenes and toppled two prime ministers in just seven months before nominating Viorica Dancila to the post in January 2018.
Analysts say his focus on curtailing the activities of the country’s anti-corruption agency has lost the PSD many voters.