Controversial Steaua owner gets suspended jail term

BUCHAREST Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:34pm GMT

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Steaua Bucharest owner Gigi Becali has been handed a suspended three-year prison sentence for illegally detaining three people, a Romanian court said on Monday.

In the early hours of January 27, 2009, police were called to a scuffle when witnesses saw a group of people shove three people into the trunk of a car after blocking traffic.

According to the police report, the three were taken to a house on the outskirts of Bucharest, were detained for three hours and accused of taking a black Mercedes owned by Becali.

Becali, a flamboyant former shepherd, is a well-known figure in the Balkan country because of his reputation for straight talking and charity actions on behalf of the poor and local Orthodox churches.

He won a seat in parliament for the governing leftist Social Liberal Union (USL) in a December election, which prompted criticism from some rights groups because of his outspoken stance on gay rights and minorities. It was unclear if he would retain his seat after the conviction.

The 54-year-old, who also served in the European Parliament from 2009 before resigning to take his seat in the national assembly, said he might move from Romania with his family.

"Romania is no longer a safe place," Becali, on a holiday in Dubai, told local tv channel RTV. "I do not want to see my family crying."

The three-year sentence was suspended for eight years and Becali was ordered to report to the police every month.

Steaua, who won the European Cup in 1986 by beating Barcelona in the final, visit Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League's round of 32 first leg on Thursday.

The Bucharest-based side top the Romanian standings with 47 points from 19 points, 10 points ahead of second-placed FC Astra.

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Ed Osmond)

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