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Romanian Prime Minister Ponta indicted for corruption

Romanian prosecutors have formally indicted Victor Ponta on corruption charges, including money-laundering. Romania's president has called on Ponta to resign, saying the scandal damages the country's image.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta will stand trial after anti-corruption prosecutors formally indicted the Romanian official on Thursday, accusing him of forgery, money-laundering, conflict of interest and tax evasion.

The 42-year-old prime minister will be allowed to stay in office during the length of the trial, according to the anti-corruption prosecutor's office.

Ponta will not enjoy immunity, since the crimes he is accused of took place before he assumed office, between 2007 and 2008 during his time as a member of parliament.

Ponta is the first Romanian head of government to be tried while in office, although it is not his first time being indicted.

Misconduct denied

According to the prosecutors, Ponta forged expense claims amounting to around $45,000 (39,750 euros) during his time at a law firm belonging to political ally and former government minister Dan Sova, using the funds to pay for luxury apartments and an SUV rental.

Ponta also appointed Sova as a minister at least three times during his tenure as prime minister, constituting a conflict of interest, the anti-corruption prosecutor's office said.

However, Ponta has consistently denied the accusations, stating that the prosecutors were releasing incomplete information and "manipulating public opinion."

'Resignation'

Meanwhile, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has upheld his call for Ponta to resign, stating that the corruption scandal has tarnished Romania's image internationally.

"The situation is increasingly problematic for the prime minister of the government and for the PSD [Social Democratic Party]. We must recognize that Romania's image has greatly suffered from this image," Iohannis said on his Facebook page. "My opinion has not changed. The simplest solution is the one I have proposed in June: resignation."

Iohannis has appeared in court on charges of conflict of interest.

Ponta is expected to cling onto power until Romania's 2016 parliamentary election.

The prime minister's case has been sent to Romania's top court, which will set a date for the trial.

ls/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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