Romania transport minister gets five-year jail term for graft

A Romanian court on Friday sentenced Transport Minister Relu Fenechiu to five years in prison for graft, making him the country's first acting minister ordered to serve time.

Fenechiu, 48, was found guilty of selling second-hand electrical equipment to a state company at the price of new equipment between 2002 and 2005. Prosecutors said the state lost 1.7 million euros ($2.2 million) in the deal.

Fenechiu has always insisted on his innocence and rejected calls to step down.

But hours after the verdict Prime Minister Victor Ponta told journalists that Fenechiu had called him and made it clear that "he did not want to carry on as minister.".

"So I have informed president Traian Basescu that Fenechiu had been removed from office," he added.

Before the judgment on Friday, Ponta said he was hoping Fenechiu would get an acquittal.

Fenechiu's lawyer said his client would appeal the verdict.

In keeping with Romanian legislation, he will not go to prison until the appeal has been heard.

Fenechiu's brother was also sentenced to five years over the same business deal.

The trial was monitored by the European Commission, which has repeatedly called on Romanian ministers to step down if they are under investigation for wrongdoing.