Romanian prime minister charged with corruption

The Romanian prime minister, Victor Ponta, has been charged with three counts of corruption, plunging the country further into political turmoil.

Ponta, who became prime minister in 2012, is charged with 17 counts of forgery of private documents, complicity in tax evasion and money laundering, according to a statement issued by the country's anti-corruption agency.

The charges date back to 2007, when Ponta was a lawyer, and accuse him of receiving the equivalent of €55,000 from a political ally and MP, Dan Sova.

Ponta is accused of using the illicit funds to purchase two luxury apartments and pay for the use of an SUV. He has appointed Sova as a minister three times since his election as prime minister.

The statement adds that some of Ponta's assets, including shares in a house, apartment and several bank accounts, have been temporarily frozen.

The charges mean Ponta is the first sitting Romanian prime minister to be indicted. He was questioned at the offices of the Direcția Națională Anticorupție (DNA), Romania's anti-corruption body, this morning but declined to comment to journalists.

A spokesman for the DNA also declined to comment on the next stages of the investigation and said no date had been set for a trial.

The charges deepen the ongoing conflict between the country's prime minister and president, Klaus Johannis. After Ponta was named as a suspect by prosecutors on 5 June, Johannis urged him to resign. The pair have not spoken in over a month.

The continuing corruption investigation in Romania has left the country teetering on the brink of a political crisis. Other major political figures who have become involved include former tourism minister Elena Udrea, who came fourth in November's presidential election. Udrea was arrested in February on money laundering charges but was recently released and placed under house arrest.

Former finance minister Darius Vâlcov resigned in March after being investigated by the DNA and was also arrested. He was recently released following three months in prison but remains under investigation.

The DNA has ramped up its activities since Johannis defeated Ponta in November's presidential elections. Ponta previously criticised the DNA as taking Romania "back to the times of Ceausescu or Stalin".

In a post on his Facebook page yesterday, Ponta announced he was resigning as leader of the governing Social Democratic party (PSD) while he was under investigation. He had been president of the party for the past five years.

He only resumed duties as prime minister on 9 July following a month-long absence after he travelled to Turkey for a knee operation. Ponta failed to notify either the president or the Romanian public when he travelled to Istanbul for the operation in mid-June.

Ponta is currently head of a three-party coalition government, led by the centre-left PSD.