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Romanian minister jailed for 5 years over corruption

Romania's High Court has sentenced Transport Minister Relu Fenechiu to five years in jail for corruption. The trial was monitored by the European Commission, which has been pressing Bucharest to clamp down on graft.

Romania's transport minister became the first Cabinet member convicted while in office on Friday, on charges of illegally selling secondhand electrical gear as new equipment. Relu Fenechiu's lawyer said he would appeal the five-year jail sentence.

In reaction, left-wing Prime Minister Victor Ponta removed Fenechiu from office and assumed his post until the appointment of a successor. Ponto had early said he would sack Fenechiu without awaiting the appeal process, which normally delays entry to prison.

Fenechiu had denied the charges and rejected calls to step aside. Anti-corruption prosecutors quoted by Reuters said they planned to seek a harsher sentence.

The court found the 48-year-old guilty of selling old transformers and switches via a firm he controlled between 2002 and 2005 to the state-owned power maintenance service company SISEE Moldova.

Prosecutors said the sale resulted in a loss to the Romanian state of 1.7 million euros ($2.2 million).

Fenechui, a senior member of Romania's Liberal Party, became transport minister last year.

Since entering the European Union in 2007, both Romania and Bulgaria have been closely monitored by the European Commission for alleged lack of progress on tackling graft and organized crime.

Last year, Romania jailed ex-prime minister Adrian Nastase for two years for graft. He was freed after serving less than half the term.

ipj/rc (AFP, Reuter, dpa)