September 27, 2014 / 7:44 PM / in 3 years

Romania seeks probe into ex-ministers in school software deal

A shadow of a man using his mobile phone is cast near Microsoft logo at the 2014 Computex exhibition in Taipei June 4, 2014.Pichi Chuang

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's anti-corruption prosecutor's office, or DNA, is seeking to launch a criminal inquiry against nine ex-government ministers suspected of money laundering, abuse of office and bribery related to Microsoft (MSFT.O) educational licenses from 2004 to 2009.

Some officials backed the closing of a 2004 leasing contract for licenses and its extension to educational Microsoft products for schools in terms that were onerous for the state, the DNA said in a statement.

"They (the ministers) determined the closing of the frame contract in onerous terms for the state budget, making possible the embezzling of a 47 percent Microsoft discount ...and the payment of commissions to involved persons," it said.

The prosecutor's statement made no suggestion that Microsoft, as a company, was involved in the contract.

“Microsoft is cooperating fully with DNA’s investigation," said a company spokeswoman from its headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

The European Union has raised concerns about a failure to tackle rampant high-level graft in Romania and Bulgaria, its two poorest members, which have been kept outside the passport-free Schengen Zone since their 2007 entry.

Romania ranks only behind Greece and Bulgaria in terms of corruption in the 28-nation EU, according to Transparency International, and the European Commission has its justice system under special monitoring.

The DNA said there were clues that officials had asked and received sums of money to influence other persons to favour a local arm of Fujitsu Siemens. Another local firm, Siveco is also suspected of being favoured.

It said it had asked parliament and the country's president to endorse the start of inquiries into three former education ministers, four former IT society and communication ministers, one ex-finance minister and a former government secretary.

Under Romanian law, deputies and senators cannot be prosecuted unless their immunity is lifted by a vote in parliament. In the case of ex-government officials who are not current MPs, a green light is required by the country's president.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Additional reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Jason Neely and Peter Cooney

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