Romania politicians, officials held in graft probe

Thirty people including high-ranking politicians and customs officials have been indicted for smuggling non-EU goods through the Romanian harbour of Constanta, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Constanta is the main Romanian port on the Black Sea and an entry for Asian goods into the European Union.

Several businessmen and brokers from China, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria were also among those indicted, according to anti-graft prosecutors.

On Monday, a top official from the Romanian ministry of Internal Affairs, Laurentiu Mironescu, was sacked after being arrested on corruption allegations in connection to the case.

A senator from the ruling Democrat-Liberal party (PDL), Mircea Banias, has been indicted by the prosecutors as well as the commander of the naval forces from the border police Constanta.

They are accused of taking part in a vast "corruption network" that allowed counterfeit or illegal goods to pass through the EU border in Constanta harbour.

The naval forces commander is accused of receiving goods from China in exchange for confidential information.

Since January Romania has been carrying out the biggest clean-up operation of its customs and border police in years. Romania's customs chief Radu Marginean was sacked in February and dozens of border officials have been arrested at border crossings with Moldova, Ukraine and Serbia and indicted for receiving thousands of euros in bribes from cigarette smugglers.

The Balkan nation had hoped to join the visa-free Schengen area in March but countries such as France and Germany blocked its entry, stressing that Bucharest must make more progress in the fight against corruption.

Romania still hopes to join the Schengen zone this year.

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