Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania's ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison by the Supreme Court on charges of inciting others to abuse of office.
Under Romanian law, the sentence handed down on June 21 is preliminary, and Dragnea will not be incarcerated before an appeal is decided.
Dragnea has been the party's key decision maker since it won a 2016 election, despite being barred from leading the government due to a previous suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud.
In the latest case, Dragnea, who also serves as speaker of the lower house, was convicted of keeping two women on a state agency payroll in 2006-13 even though they were employed by his political party.
He denied the charges. Nine other people have been convicted in the same case.
A new criminal conviction could weaken his grip on the PSD and its 5-month-old government.
The ruling comes as thousands of Romanians have protested against alleged corruption within the PSD and the government.
The demonstrations came in response to lawmakers' approval on June 18 of an easing of criminal justice laws that critics say will set back efforts to prosecute corruption.
Some of the protesters targeted Dragnea’s office, saying he would benefit from the legislation.