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Social Democrat Party leader Liviu Dragnea gestures after leaving the Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, November 21, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS


BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Anti-corruption prosecutors on Tuesday froze personal assets belonging to the leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrat Party, Liviu Dragnea, as part of a graft investigation.

They launched an inquiry into Dragnea, who is also the speaker of the lower house of parliament, on Nov. 13 on suspicion of forming a "criminal group" to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded.

Dragnea, who is currently on trial in a separate abuse of office case, denies any wrongdoing.

"Prosecutors imposed precautionary measures on movable and immovable property ... worth 127.5 million lei ($32.25 million)...," the prosecutors' office DNA said in a statement.

Opposition parties have called on Dragnea to resign as parliamentary speaker pending the investigation.

Prosecutors have said they suspect him of forming "an organised criminal group" that included civil servants and businessmen in 2001, and say there are suspicions that the group is still active.

The investigation focuses on road construction firm Tel Drum SA, formerly controlled by the county council of the southern Teleorman region, a body that Dragnea headed until 2012, prosecutors said.

Dragnea and eight other people had allegedly conspired to privatise the company through intermediaries, so that it came under "the influence and control of the suspect Liviu Dragnea," the prosecutors said.

Dragnea was convicted in a vote-rigging case in 2016 for which he received a suspended jail sentence.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union's most corrupt states. Brussels, which keeps Romania's justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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