BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s parliament blocked a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Tuesday, prompting renewed criticism of the European Union member state’s commitment to fighting high-level corruption.
Ponta has rejected calls by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to resign after prosecutors named him last Friday in an inquiry into forgery, money-laundering, tax evasion and conflict of interest.
Lawmakers voted 231 to 120 to preserve Ponta’s immunity.
Romania is seen as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and its justice system is under special monitoring, though its prosecutors have won praise from the EU executive, while parliament has a patchy record of approving such requests.
“I regret to see that parliament has turned into a shield for Victor Ponta suspected of penal deeds ... His resignation is the only way to end the current situation,” Iohannis said.
Ponta said earlier on Tuesday his leftist government would survive a vote of no-confidence called by the centrist opposition for June 12 and this would end a week-long political crisis and prepare the country for talks with the International Monetary Fund.
“Any allegations of wrongdoing by government officials should be fully investigated without interference, and the law should be applied equally to everyone,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
Ponta has denied wrongdoing and his office said the accusations had previously been put forward by political enemies and “meticulously dismantled” through clear proof and documents.
“I will present all evidence, because I haven’t had any possibility up to now to do it, and I am absolutely sure that I am innocent,” Ponta said.
Ponta said talks with the IMF and the European Commission to review Romania’s 4-billion-euro precautionary aid deal would go ahead on schedule late this month or in early July.
His government’s planned tax cuts will be at the center of the talks. Ponta said the tax cut plan was expected to clear parliament by the end of June.
Negotiations have become increasingly strained, and both the IMF and European Commission have warned that Romania’s tax plans could endanger its fiscal targets.
Editing by Janet Lawrence