Romania top court postpones ex-PM trial to October 24

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BUCHAREST, Sep 19 (Reuters) Romania's top court postponed until October. 24 a landmark corruption trial against former prime minister Adrian Nastase, as he was abroad on business and unable to attend hearings, court officials said today.

Nastase, who ran a leftist cabinet between 2000 and 2004, faces charges of granting a state job in return for help in covering up fraud. A hearing had been set for today.

This case, and an earlier one, in which he is accused of blackmail and taking bribes worth 2 million dollar, are seen as a litmus test of the European Union newcomer's ability to conduct high-profile trials effectively.

The politician has denied all charges but lost his post as parliamentary speaker and executive president of the opposition Social Democrat Party last year as a result of the accusations.

''The Supreme Court postponed proceedings, as Nastase is in Israel on official business ... The lawyer of a second defendant in the case was ill and could not attend,'' a court clerk said.

Prosecutors have said Nastase had promoted an official to the top of the state agency combating money-laundering in an effort to stop an investigation into a bank account worth 400,000 dollar belonging to his wife.

The other case against Nastase is mired in court proceedings after the Constitutional Court ruled in July that it was built on discriminatory legislation regarding former cabinet ministers. It did not halt the trial.

Based on the court's ruling, prosecutors must be authorised by the president to launch criminal inquiries against acting as well as former cabinet members.

The Supreme Court is expected to enforce the constitutional watchdog's decision in Nastase's first case on October 11, when it may decide to close the case entirely or send it back to prosecutors.

The European Union, which is monitoring Bucharest's progress in reforms since it joined the bloc in January, has said Romania must step up the fight against widespread fraud.

The Bucharest government has repeatedly said it is working hard to combat corruption, but Transparency International ranks Romania as the EU's most graft-prone country.

REUTERS SG PM1616

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