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Ex Romanian minister to appear before extradition judges in Bulgaria after fleeing 6-year sentence

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By Kit Gillet
In this Monday, Feb. 9, 2015 file photo, Elena Udrea touches her nose after delivering a speech in parliament pleading with fellow lawmakers not to approve her arrest.
In this Monday, Feb. 9, 2015 file photo, Elena Udrea touches her nose after delivering a speech in parliament pleading with fellow lawmakers not to approve her arrest.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, file

Elena Udrea, a former Romanian tourism minister, is set to appear before judges today in Bulgaria after fleeing her home country hours before an appeal against a six-year prison sentence was rejected.

Udrea, 48, a past presidential candidate and close political ally of Traian Basescu, Romania’s president from 2004 to 2014, was sentenced by a Romanian court to six years in prison in June 2018, but the verdict was suspended due to issues with the formation of the five-judge panel.

On Thursday, Romania’s High Court of Cassation issued a final verdict, upholding the 72-month jail sentence for bribery and abuse of office. However, Udrea had already left the country, crossing the border into Bulgaria that morning. A European arrest warrant was issued in her name.

According to media reports, Udrea was finally apprehended in Kulata, a village near the Bulgarian border with Greece.

In a statement on Friday, Romania’s Minister of Justice, Catalin Predoiu, said that Udrea was in the custody of the Bulgarian authorities and would be presented to the court, with Romania seeking her extradition. “It is our responsibility to support this process upon request,” he added.

Udrea was brought before a courtroom in the Bulgarian town of Blagoevgrad later that day, but left without making a statement, since no authorised translator was on hand. The hearing was postponed until today.

Udrea, a once powerful political figure in Romania, was charged in 2015 with accepting bribes and abuse of office, dating from her time as regional development and tourism minister between 2009 and 2012.

She fled the country before the verdict was issued, returning in 2019 after more than a year on the run from the Romanian justice system in Costa Rica, where her request for political asylum was rejected.

Two other individuals, the former chairman of the Romanian Boxing Federation and a local businessman, were sentenced to prison terms on Thursday, in relation to the case, with other defendants handed suspended sentences.

Udrea was also sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2021 for corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion, related to Romania's 2009 presidential election, with the final verdict still awaiting its appeal process.