Academic panel says Romanian PM plagiarized

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By ALISON MUTLER, Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Defying an order to disband, an academic panel ruled Friday that Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized large sections of his doctoral thesis and called for him to be stripped of his Ph.D. The announcement adds to the political tensions in this Eastern European nation, where the president and prime minister are jockeying for power.

The 39-year-old Ponta had earlier said he would resign if found guilty of plagiarism following a recent article in Nature that alleged that he lifted passages of his thesis. He declined to comment on the ruling.

Just hours before the decision was announced, the education minister — a Ponta ally — had tried to dissolve the panel, saying he wanted it to have more members. But the panel members apparently ignored the order to disband.

Marius Andruh, who heads the 21-member National Council for Attesting Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates, said it had determined 85 of the 307 pages it assessed had been copied without proper attribution.

The subject of Ponta's thesis was the International Criminal Court. The prime minister has conceded that he credited sources in the bibliography but not always in footnotes. Ponta also insists that the charges are politically orchestrated by his rival, Romanian President Traian Basescu.

It was unclear whether the council members had political affiliations. But chairman Andruh was one of the Romanian academics who publicly accused Ponta of plagiarism in the Nature article. The publication said its plagiarism allegations were based on documents from an anonymous whistle-blower.

Education Minister Liviu Pop, who tried to disband the panel, claimed that the ruling was politically motivated and invalid because eight of the 21 members were absent.

Ponta was attending a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday. Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are endemic in Romania, a country of 19 million.

After communism fell in 1989 and Romania pursued free market reforms, a large number of private universities and institutes opened, offering what some say were spurious academic qualifications.

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