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Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase (C) arrives at Rahova prison after he was sentenced by Rmania's top court to four years in jail for taking bribes, in Bucharest, January 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mediafax/Liviu Adascalitei


BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A Romanian court ordered former prime minister Adrian Nastase be released on parole on Thursday after serving the required third of a 4-1/2-year sentence for corruption.

The 64-year-old was sent to prison in Bucharest in January for taking bribes, the highest profile of several convictions made in the impoverished country, which is under pressure from the European Union to crack down on high-level crime.

Prisoners over 60 years old in Romania can be released for good behaviour after serving just a third of any sentence shorter than 10 years, and Nastase had served time for a previous graft conviction before his latest stint in jail, which was taken into consideration by judges, the court said.

Nastase is the only premier to have been put behind bars in the Black Sea state since the collapse of communism and the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989.

The EU has repeatedly raised concerns about a failure to jail high-profile criminals in Romania and Bulgaria, the bloc's two poorest members which have been barred from the passport-free Schengen zone over the issue since their 2007 entry.

Nastase's case dates back to 2006 when prosecutors charged him and his wife with taking 630,000 euros ($860,000) in bribes.

He was accused of using his position in 2002-2004 to obtain gifts from an official at a government building works watchdog in return for helping that woman keep her job.

Nastase and his wife were also accused of illegally importing building materials and household goods from China to furnish their houses in Bucharest as well as a holiday home.

The leftist politician, a mentor to incumbent prime minister Victor Ponta, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said the cases against him are politically motivated.

He shot himself in June 2012 when police came to take him away to start his first sentence. He was not seriously injured.

Emerging from the Jilava prison gates immediately after his release, Nastase told reporters: "The trials I've been through over the past years have strengthened me. I need some time ... first, I want to stay with my family."

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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