June 26, 2015 / 4:17 PM / 2 years ago

Romanian PM's prolonged absence worries allies, foes scoff

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s announcement that he will be out of the country for a month for medical treatment has prompted feverish speculation about his reasons and concern among some of his supporters about his political future.

Ponta, 42, checked into a luxury Istanbul hospital for treatment on a knee injury a few days after anti-corruption prosecutors named him as a suspect in a forgery and money laundering investigation.

From his hospital room, Ponta, who denies the prosecutors’ allegations, said his absence had nothing to do with the investigation. He said he needs surgery and then a period of recovery at the hospital.

But some Romanians have found the circumstances of his absence odd, especially the fact he did not inform President Klaus Johannis, a political rival, in advance, and that he will be away for so long for a medical condition that is not life-threatening.

“I told him as a good old friend he must find a way to pursue his recovery in this country (Romania),” said Liviu Dragnea, the political coordinator of Ponta’s Social Democrat party and one of his closest allies.

“Any additional day is not to his advantage or ours as a party, nor (is it good) for the government or for the country’s stability,” said Dragnea, who was handed a one-year suspended jail sentence last month for electoral fraud.

Ponta has said he suffered a minor leg injury last month while playing basketball in Romania. He checked into the Istanbul hospital after attending a sports event in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.

His opponents alleged that his treatment was a ruse to get him out of Romania to a non-European Union country from where extradition could be complicated. He missed a June 15 hearing at the prosecutor’s office in his criminal investigation.

Ponta has dismissed such accusations as “imbecility”. He has posted online extensive records of his medical treatment as well as messages from the hospital.

He said he needed up to one month to recover at the Medipol hospital facility in Istanbul, including physiotherapy and medical checks. He has temporarily delegated his powers to Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea.

An official in Ponta’s party told Reuters it would hold a series of meetings early next week to discuss its strategy while Ponta is away.

“We want him home as soon as possible. He’s the leader,” said the official, who did not want to be identified.

Many ordinary Romanians posting on social media reacted with scorn to the idea that the prime minister could absent himself for so long and they scoffed at his explanations.

“Everybody expects you home soon, especially the prosecutors,” a user called Dragan Edi said in a post on Ponta’s Facebook page.

Editing by Gareth Jones

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