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Bucharest Mayor Arrested on Bribery Charges

Police officers escort the handcuffed mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu from his house in Ciolpani, Romania, Sept. 6, 2015.

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation against the capital Bucharest's mayor on suspicion of taking bribes, they said on Sunday, the latest in a string of high-profile cases in the European Union state.

Romania is one of the EU's most corrupt states and subsequently one of its least developed, but a crackdown on high-level corruption has earned prosecutors praise from Brussels and from foreign investors.

Prosecutors said that Sorin Oprescu was part of a group of civil servants working in Bucharest public administration who granted public works contracts to companies in exchange for receiving some of the earnings back as bribes.

"Companies kept between 30 and 33 percent of the gross profit, and the rest was given as bribes to employees of the Bucharest mayor, with 10 percent of the contracts' value requested by the accused Sorin Oprescu," prosecutors said in a statement.

His lawyer was quoted as denying any wrongdoing on behalf of his client.

Oprescu, a 63-year-old doctor who is serving a second term as mayor, was caught receiving a 25,000 euro ($28,000) bribe, a first installment out of a total of 60,000 euros he had allegedly demanded from unnamed people who became informants for prosecutors, the statement said.

Prosecutors said they took Oprescu into custody for 24 hours late on Saturday and will ask a court to extend the arrest warrant for 30 days pending the investigation.

A large number of the corruption cases uncovered in recent years have shown mayors, city councillors, lawmakers and ministers favouring certain companies for public works deals, and demanding a percentage of the contracts as bribes.

In Bucharest alone, mayor of the city's's fifth district, Marian Vanghelie, and mayor of the first district, Andrei Chiliman, were placed under investigation earlier this year for taking bribes totaling tens of millions of euros.