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Romania: Former ruling party leader gets early jail release

July 15, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Monday, April 15, 2019 file photo, Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania's ruling Social Democratic party, leaves escorted by police officers after a court hearing in Bucharest, Romania. Liviu Dragnea, a former leader of Romania's Social Democratic Party who was sentenced to 3 ½ years in jail for corruption in 2019 will be released early, a court ruled Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)
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FILE - In this Monday, April 15, 2019 file photo, Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania's ruling Social Democratic party, leaves escorted by police officers after a court hearing in Bucharest, Romania. Liviu Dragnea, a former leader of Romania's Social Democratic Party who was sentenced to 3 ½ years in jail for corruption in 2019 will be released early, a court ruled Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file)

BUCHAREST (AP) — A former leader of Romania’s Social Democratic Party who was sentenced to 3 ½ years in jail for corruption in 2019 will be released early, a court ruled Thursday.

Liviu Dragnea, who was convicted by the Supreme Court in May 2019 for official misconduct, was considered Romania’s most powerful politician at the time of his sentencing.

According to prosecutors, Dragnea intervened to keep two people employed by his party on the payroll of a family welfare agency while he was a government official between 2008 to 2010. The women admitted receiving salaries from the public agency while working for the party.

Dragnea, who has served almost two years and two months of his total sentence, appealed Thursday to judges at a Bucharest district court saying that his good behavior during his jail term warranted his early release.

“I carried the punishment with decency and dignity,” Dragnea told the judges. “I went to work every day I was allowed to. I participated in all the courses I was allowed to, I never missed a day.”

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The court said Thursday that the decision to allow his conditional release is final. An earlier request in April had been rejected.

Under Dragnea’s leadership in 2017, the then-ruling PSD Party pushed to amend justice laws that prompted some of the biggest anti-government protests in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989.

Dragnea, who contracted COVID-19 while in jail last year and had complained about his treatment during his detention, was blocked from being Romania’s prime minister due to a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging.

After Dragnea was sentenced in 2019, hundreds of Romanians took to the streets of Romania’s capital to celebrate.