June 24, 2015 / 3:33 PM / 5 years ago

Romania PM's ally probed in frying pans-for-votes bribery case

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s anti-graft prosecutors (DNA) launched a criminal inquiry on Wednesday into a close ally of leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta on suspicion of trying to bribe voters with frying pans.

Sebastian Ghita, a lawmaker from Romania’s ruling coalition, also faces investigation for allegedly trying to bribe Moldovans into backing Ponta in last November’s presidential election, which the prime minister lost to centrist Klaus Iohannis.

Ghita has denied any wrongdoing and has accused the prosecutors of abusing their authority.

They have accused Ghita of raising money unlawfully and of buying frying pans from the black market to offer to “an important number of voters” in 2012 when he was running for a seat in parliament.

Prosecutors also say he paid some 350,000 euros to citizens of Moldova who have Romanian citizenship to vote for Ponta in the 2014 presidential ballot.

Many people in the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova have obtained Romanian citizenship in the past two decades, thereby winning the right to vote in Romanian elections and to travel freely in the European Union.

Moldova is not in the EU, which Romania joined in 2007.

Ponta himself is under investigation in a separate criminal probe for alleged forgery, money laundering and tax evasion. The prime minister is currently recovering in an Istanbul hospital after undergoing surgery for a knee injury.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Gareth Jones

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