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, but he issued no immediate response to the ruling. Just hours before the decision was announced, the education minister had dissolved 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 pages 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 the charges are politically orchestrated by his rival, Romanian President Traian Basescu.
Education Minister Liviu Pop, a Ponta ally, dissolved the council earlier Friday, saying he wanted the panel to have a larger membership. He claimed that the ruling issued later was politically motivated and added that it was not valid, because eight of the 21 members were absent.
Ponta was attending a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday. He is the latest high-profile European politician to be embroiled in accusations about plagiarism. Former Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and ex-German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg both resigned after facing similar claims.
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. Cheating starts early in Romania and is widely acknowledged as common in schools. Teachers are known to accept bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to students who copy during exams.
There have been widespread reports about cheating in university finals. Medical colleges have been accused of selling exam papers and questions in advance to students, eroding trust in doctors.