Dubbed Romania's most powerful politician, the ruling PSD party leader has been found guilty of abuse of office. Romania has struggled against a concerted campaign to change the country's anti-corruption laws.
Liviu Dragnea, considered Romania's most influential politician, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on Thursday over a fake jobs scandal.
Romania's top court found Dragnea, who leads the ruling left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), guilty of keeping two women on the payroll of a child protection state agency, although they both worked for the PSD.
Analysts say the court's decision will likely weaken his ability to influence national politics along with Prime Minister Viorica Dancila's government. But the court allowed Dragnea to wait for his appeal before jailing him.
This isn't the first time Dragnea has been convicted. He has been unable to serve as prime minister over a vote-rigging conviction, in which he received a two-year suspended sentence.
Undermining anti-corruption drive
Earlier this week, the PSD pushed through controversial changes to Romanian law in a move that undermines the fight against corruption in the EU country. Thousands of Romanians took to the streets to protest the changes.
Last year, changes to the country's anti-corruption laws triggered the largest protests in Romania since the ouster of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. For fear of further backlash, the government repealed the legislation shortly afterward.
The European Commission and the US have criticized reforms to Romania's penal code, saying it risked the country backsliding in its fight against high-level corruption.
On Thursday, the Commission told the AFP news agency that it is "following closely and with concern the ongoing developments in Romania."
ls/ng (Reuters, AFP)