Romanian deputy premier accused of corruption charges losts support of his party, resigns

George Copos, minister for business issues, has been under investigation on charges that his company sold overpriced commercial spaces to the lottery since January. He has denied the charges.

But Copos' position in the government, the only minister under investigation, was becoming increasingly untenable because of the corruption probe. Romania is under pressure to root out corruption by the European Union in order to join the bloc in 2007, the AP reports.

On Wednesday, Copos lost support from the leader of Conservative Party Dan Voiculescu, who said he would welcome Copos' resignation. "From our point of view a slimmer government with less ministers is better." There are three deputy prime ministers in the government including Copos.

Announcing his resignation at a government meeting early Thursday, Copos said he resigned because tax proposals for business that he recommended were not accepted in a new government tax bill.

Copos' position was also difficult because of a bill in Parliament that would ban former communist officials from holding officials position. He headed a youth organization in the communist era. The bill has passed the Senate and needs to pass the Chamber of Deputies.

Copos owns hotels, stores, factories and the soccer team Rapid Bucharest. He made his fortune in the 1990s, and his assets are estimated to be worth more than US$230 million (Ђ190 million) by business magazine Capital. Prosecutors have also named the lottery's director, Nicolae Cristea, as a suspect in the investigation.