The United States on Sept. 5 banned Liviu Dragnea, the jailed former leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD), from entering the country because of involvement in “significant corruption.”
Dragnea, who is also the former speaker of Romania’s lower house of parliament, had been found guilty of keeping two women on the payroll of a state agency for child protection for years, even though they were working for his party.
“Today’s action sends a strong signal that the United States is committed to fighting corruption and supporting the rule of law in Romania,” the State Department said in a statement. The action also applies to his two children, Valentin and Alexandra.
U.S. law provides that in cases when the secretary of state has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members can be deemed ineligible for entry to the United States.
Romania’s Supreme Court upheld Dragnea’s conviction and 3 1/2-year prison sentence in May after he appealed the initial verdict last year.
The 56-year-old is ineligible to be prime minister due to a conviction for vote-rigging, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence in 2016. Currently, he is also under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects.
Dragnea’s Social Democrats came to power in late 2016 but faced sharp criticism from the European Union and the United States because of concerns related to interference with judicial independence and changes to anti-graft legislation.
On May 13, the European Commission announced legal action against Romania unless it reversed measures that undermine the independence of its courts and the fight against corruption. The executive commission has repeatedly said that laws introduced by the ruling PSD have reversed decades of reforms.
While Dragnea is in prison, his protegee, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, is leading the PSD and will face President Klaus Iohannis in the first round of Romania’s presidential election, scheduled for Nov. 10.
Barr Met With Romanian Officials
In June, U.S. Attorney General William Barr traveled to Bucharest, Romania, to attend the EU–U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial during the Romanian presidency of the EU.
During his visit, Barr met with Iohannis, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, and Minister of Justice Ana Birchall.
“The Department of Justice has worked closely with Ana Birchall and views her as a vital and trusted partner in the fight against corruption. Her leadership comes at a vital time for Romania, where controversies have raised questions about Romania’s commitment to rule of law values and have diminished public trust and caused increasing concern in the international community,” according to a Department of Justice statement.
On Aug. 26, Barr invited Birchall to meet with him in Washington this month.
The same day, U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland wrote on his official Twitter account that it was “great to see” the Justice Department working with Iohannis and Birchall on strengthening the rule of law in the country.
After meeting with Birchall on Sept. 4, Sondland wrote on Twitter, “Talked to one of our great US partners in anti-corruption about a continued focus on the #ruleoflaw in Romania.”