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Victor-Viorel Ponta (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈviktor ˈponta]; born 20 September 1972) is a Romanian jurist and politician who has served as Prime Minister of Romania since May 2012. A member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its leader since 2010, as well as joint leader of the Social Liberal Union, he has been a member of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies for Gorj County since 2004. In the Emil Boc cabinet, he was Minister-Delegate for Relations with Parliament from 2008 to 2009.
Early career, election to parliament and ministerial post
He was born in Bucharest, completing secondary studies in 1991 at the city's Ion Neculce High School. In 1995, he graduated from the University of Bucharest's Law faculty. He received a degree from the Carol I National Defence University in 2002, and in 2003 received a doctorate in Criminal Law from the University of Bucharest and a master's degree in Political Management from the Social Democratic Institute. He has written several books in his field, including one on the International Criminal Court, the subject of his doctoral thesis. Between 1996 and 1998, and since 2002, he has taught Criminal Law at the Romanian-American University. From 1995 to 1998, Ponta worked as a prosecutor handling cases at the Sector 1 courthouse. From 1998 to 2001, he was a prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Justice in the anti-corruption division, in particular dealing with economic and financial crimes. From 2000 to 2001, he coordinated the Bureau for Combating Money Laundering.
From 2001 to 2004, Ponta held the rank of Secretary of State as head of the government's Control Department. In 2006, a civil servant at the Ministry of Education (who was in an ongoing feud with Ponta) charged that Ponta, while holding this office, covered up corrupt activities undertaken by former minister Hildegard Puwak, who was cleared of wrongdoing in a report issued by Ponta. Additionally, he helped uncover cases of fraudulent use of Phare funds. In 2001 he also joined the supervisory council of the Authority for State Assets Recovery, and that year he was part of a special committee investigating penal infractions committed by members of the government. In March 2004, he became Minister-Delegate for Control of International Grant Programmes Implementation and for Monitoring the Application of the Acquis Communautaire. A PSD member by 2002, he was from July to November of that year head of the Interim National Council of the Social Democratic Youth (TSD). That October, he became a member of the PSD's national council, and joined its executive bureau the following month, when he also became president of the TSD, remaining as such for four years. In 2005, he became a vice president of Ecosy, while he has been a vice president of the PSD since December 2006. At the 2004 election, Ponta won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, where he served as both secretary and vice president of its permanent bureau; he was re-elected in 2008. That December, he became a minister in the incoming Boc cabinet.
Upon winning confirmation, Ponta pledged to reduce the number of emergency ordinances issued by the government and to assist Parliament in exercising control over the cabinet. Among his activities was to help steer a new civil and penal code through Parliament. Among the more controversial provisions in these codes that Ponta defended (both as minister and as head of the parliamentary committee drafting the legislation) were one presuming that any defensive act done at night at home would be considered legitimate self-defence; and one banning therapeutic abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy, which received sharp criticism from several NGOs. Ponta, nicknamed "Little Titulescu", has been known to criticise both members of his own party, commenting that Sector 5 Mayor Marian Vanghelie (known for his gaffes) "is such a philosopher that not even I can understand him"; and of the PD-L, remarking, after the two parties had entered a governing coalition, that his Gorj County parliamentary colleagues are "parrots, liars and dimwits". Together with his PSD colleagues, Ponta resigned from the cabinet on 1 October 2009, in protest at the dismissal of vice prime minister and Interior Minister Dan Nica.
Social Democratic leadership
In February 2010, he was elected PSD president at a party congress, defeating incumbent Mircea Geoană, who had narrowly lost a bid to become President of Romania several months earlier. The feud between Geoană and Ponta continued beyond the latter's election as party leader; for instance, six months later, Ponta alleged that "moguls" such as Sorin Ovidiu Vântu had total control over PSD decision-making during Geoană's tenure, a charge the latter denied and attributed to a hidden desire of Ponta's to see him ejected from the post of Senate President. In November 2011, Ponta led a successful effort to remove Geoană both from the PSD and from the Senate leadership.
In February 2011, he and Crin Antonescu, head of the National Liberal Party (PNL), formed the Social Liberal Union (USL), a political alliance in opposition to the governing Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L). In August 2012, he was elected a vice president of the Socialist International.
As Prime Minister
In April 2012, after the government of Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu fell due to the passage of a motion of no confidence, President Traian Băsescu designated Ponta as Prime Minister. His cabinet, including ministers from the PSD, the PNL, independents and one from the Conservative Party, received parliamentary approval the following month, and Ponta thus became prime minister.
In the opening weeks of his mandate, Ponta became involved in several controversies. His government transferred oversight of the Romanian Cultural Institute from the Presidency to the Parliament, claiming this would increase transparency. However, the move drew criticism from its head, Horia-Roman Patapievici, as well as from other artists and cultural figures who feared the institute would become politicized. His steps to change the leadership of Romanian Television provoked dissension from many of the broadcaster's employees, who charged the government with "destroying" public television. He pushed through a new electoral law establishing a first-past-the-post voting system, but this was rejected by the Constitutional Court. A dispute with Băsescu arose over who would represent Romania at the European Council, with the court ruling in the latter's favor, although Ponta attended the subsequent council nevertheless.
Beginning in July 2012, Ponta found himself at the heart of a political crisis. This culminated in Băsescu's suspension from office by Parliament, an action strongly promoted by Ponta, and which triggered an unsuccessful referendum on impeaching Băsescu.
A month into his term as premier, an article published in Nature reported that an anonymous source had charged Ponta with plagiarizing over half his doctoral thesis, claims that were later reiterated by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Ponta admitted that the referencing system used by his thesis did not provide clear attribution of its sources, but rejected the allegations of plagiarism. Dumitru Diaconu, a law professor and author supposedly plagiarised by Ponta's thesis, and who also authored a foreword for the published edition of the thesis, declared he was not aware of plagiarism and did not intend to pursue the accusations. A session of a committee charged with validating academic titles analyzed the thesis and decided with a unanimous vote of members present that Ponta had committed copy and paste plagiarism, subsequently requesting the withdrawal of Ponta's doctoral title. In response, the interim Education Minister contested the committee's jurisdiction and dismissed the findings, citing the lack of a quorum. The minister had already signed an order reorganizing the committee the previous day, but, due to technical reasons, the order came into effect during the very session analyzing the thesis.
Another committee, subordinated to the Education Ministry, later found that Ponta did not commit plagiarism. A third committee, convoked by the University of Bucharest and consisting of ten members, each from a different department, unanimously found that Ponta had indeed deliberately plagiarized at least a third of his thesis. Ponta replied that the committee was an "ad-hoc" one designed especially for him, and that the decision was a "political" one. Until the controversy began and his official curriculum vitae was modified, he claimed in the document to have received a master's degree in International Criminal Law from the University of Catania in 2000. That institution's rector replied to an enquiry by stating an internal verification had revealed Ponta was never at the University of Catania. In turn, Ponta stated that he took a course there and received a diploma.
Ponta and his first wife Roxana (a high school sweetheart) have one son; they divorced in 2006. That October, in China, he quietly wed Daciana Sârbu, a future Member of the European Parliament and the daughter of Ponta's Boc cabinet colleague Ilie Sârbu. The couple's relationship had become serious in 2004, after Ponta's son was born; they had a daughter in March 2008 and married in a Romanian Orthodox ceremony in the church in Bucharest's Grădina Icoanei that June.
Ponta is the winner of the 1989 youth national championship in basketball, where he played for CSA Steaua București (Basketball); and of the 2008 Dacia Logan Cup, where he was a co-pilot. He was made a knight of the National Order for Faithful Service in 2002, and in 2004 received the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.
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- (Romanian) Romulus Georgescu, Ioana Oancea, Ramona Dragomir and Alina Brebenel, "Avem un nou Guvern. Cabinetul Ponta a trecut de Parlament" ("We Have a New Government. Ponta Cabinet Approved by Parliament"), Adevărul, 7 May 2012; accessed 7 May 2012
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- (Romanian) Mariana Bechir, "Ponta: Băsescu mi-a reproşat că nu l-am informat că voi lua ICR" ("Ponta: Băsescu Chided Me for Not Informing Him I Would Take over the ICR"), Adevărul, 14 June 2012; accessed 28 June 2012
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- (Romanian) "Traian Băsescu a fost suspendat. Antonescu le cere românilor şi instituţiilor să-şi desfăşoare activitatea normal" ("Traian Băsescu Suspended. Antonescu Asks Romanians and Institutions to Undertake Normal Activity"), Adevărul, 6 July 2012; accessed 5 August 2012
- (Romanian) "Ponta: Referendum conform CCR. Jumătate din populaţie trebuie să meargă la vot pentru ca referendumul să fie valid" ("Ponta: Referendum According to Constitutional Court. Half the People Must Vote for Referendum to be Valid"), Evenimentul Zilei, 12 July 2012; accessed 5 August 2012
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- (Romanian) "Autorul uneia din cărţile pe care le-ar fi plagiat Ponta spune că nu va sesiza Consiliul Naţional de Etică" )"Author of One of the Books Allegedly Plagiarized by Ponta Will Not Notify the National Ethics Council"), România Liberă, 19 June 2012; accessed 28 June 2012
- (Romanian) Maria Apostol, Mariana Bechir, Raluca Sofronie, "Consiliul care a verificat teza de doctorat a premierului Ponta: Este un plagiat de tip copy paste" ("Committee That Verified Ponta's Doctoral Thesis: It Is Copy-Paste Plagiarism"), Adevărul, 29 June 2012; accessed 29 June 2012
- (Romanian) Raluca Sofronie, "Comisia din subordinea lui Ponta a decis: nu a plagiat" ("Committee Subordinate to Ponta Decides: He Did Not Plagiarize"), Adevărul, 19 July 2012; accessed 19 July 2012
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- (Romanian) Cristina Olivia Moldovan, "Comisia de Etică a decis: Victor Ponta a plagiat în lucrarea de doctorat" ("Ethics Committee Rules: Victor Ponta Plagiarized in Doctorate"), Evenimentul Zilei, 20 July 2012; accessed 20 July 2012
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- (Romanian) "Victor Ponta şi Daciana Sârbu, nunta social-democrată a anului" ("Victor Ponta and Daciana Sârbu, Social Democratic Wedding of the Year"), Ziua, 21 June 2008; accessed 22 June 2009
- "Daciana Sârbu şi Victor Ponta sunt părinţi" ("Daciana Sârbu and Victor Ponta Are Parents"), Ziua, 25 March 2009; accessed 22 June 2009
- (Romanian) "Ei sunt cei 33 de europarlamentari aleşi de români" ("They Are the 33 MEPs Elected by Romanians"), Evenimentul Zilei, 9 June 2009; accessed 22 June 2009
- (Romanian) "Victor Ponta va concura la raliul organizat la Târgu Mureş" ("Victor Ponta to Compete in Rally Held at Târgu Mureş"), România Liberă, 3 June 2010; accessed 29 June 2012