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Romania prime minister indicted in corruption investigation
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Romania prime minister indicted in corruption investigation

In this photo taken on July 10, 2015, Romanian Premier Victor Ponta walks with the aid of crutches in Bucharest, Romania. Ponta announced Sunday, July 12, 2015, that he resigned as head of Romania's ruling Social Democracy party for the duration of a probe launched last month by the country's anti-corruption prosecutor's office into allegations that include tax evasion and money laundering. (Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax via AP) ROMANIA OUT

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian prosecutors indicted Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Monday as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation and seized his assets, increasing pressure on him to resign.

Prosecutors said Ponta has been indicted on charges including tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008. At the time, Ponta was a lawmaker. He denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutors also said in a statement Monday that they temporarily froze Ponta’s personal assets which include shares in a house, an apartment and several bank accounts. He sold two apartments in May for 150,000 euros ($170,000) and also sold a car.

Ponta, who took office in 2012, is the first sitting Romania prime minister to be indicted and have his assets seized.

Prosecutors said the probe, which has no time limit, is ongoing and the prosecutor in charge of the case will decide whether the case is sent to trial.

The accusations against Ponta include forging expense claims worth at least 181,000 lei ($45,000) from the law firm of political ally Dan Sova. Prosecutors say he pretended he did work as a lawyer to justify getting money from the law firm. The funds were used to pay for two luxury apartments and the use of an SUV. Prosecutors say that after Ponta became prime minister in May 2012, he appointed Sova a minister three times.

Ponta, 42, who is recovering from a knee operation, was questioned at the offices of anti-corruption prosecutors on Monday morning. He walked up the steps on crutches into the building and he emerged about 30 minutes later, but declined to respond to prosecutors’ questions, citing his right to remain silent.

Ponta has immunity for some of the charges, including the conflict of interest accusation. But he doesn’t have immunity for the tax evasion and money laundering charges. He can’t be arrested without Parliament’s approval, the prosecutors’ office said.

Parties in the ruling coalition met Monday afternoon after the indictment and expressed their continued support for the prime minister. Ponta said “I am the prime minister of this coalition and I am presenting myself in a disciplined way.”

He declined to respond to questions over whether he would resign after opposition parties again called on him to quit Monday.

On June 5, prosecutors identified Ponta as a suspect in a corruption investigation, which has thrown Romania into a political crisis. President Klaus Iohannis has urged Ponta to resign, but the prime minister has refused so far. Ponta said he hasn’t spoken with the president since June 5. Iohannis, who is on an official visit to Spain, said he would continue to have an institutional relationship with Ponta and that he maintained the position he had on June 5, when he asked Ponta to resign.

The situation has also caused tensions within Ponta’s party, the biggest in Romania.

Ponta resigned as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party on Sunday, saying he wanted to prove his innocence.

Close ally Liviu Dragnea called that move a “mistake” on Monday, urging him not to quit as prime minister.

Ponta survived a vote to lift his immunity and a no-confidence vote in June. He then went to Istanbul for his knee operation on June 15 and stayed for more than three weeks. He resumed his duties as prime minister on July 9.

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