Page last updated at 23:31 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 00:31 UK

Romanian judges bar populist MEP

Gigi Becali after his election win
Mr Becali is famous for owning Romania's biggest football club

One of Romania's most flamboyant politicians has been barred from taking his seat in the European Parliament because he is facing a police inquiry.

Gigi Becali, a former shepherd who made a fortune in land deals, is accused of attacking thieves who stole his car.

Judges upheld a travel ban imposed on him while the case is investigated.

He says he intends to travel to Brussels to begin his five-year term anyway, and has challenged the Romanian authorities to arrest him there.

Public sympathy

Mr Becali - a devout Christian who owns Romania's biggest football club Steaua Bucharest - got into trouble with the police earlier this year when a group thieves stole his car and demanded a ransom for its return.

He initially paid the ransom, but the thieves claim they were then trapped, roughed up and dumped outside Bucharest by Mr Becali's men.

The thieves took their complaint to the police, and Mr Becali was arrested.

He announced his candidacy for the European Parliament from his prison cell - though he has since been freed.

Mr Becali - who is sometimes described as a Robin Hood figure in Romania - said he would travel to Brussels regardless of the judge's ruling.

The BBC's Eastern and Central Europe correspondent, Nick Thorpe, says many Romanians see him as a victim of crime rather than a perpetrator.

Sympathy about the case undoubtedly helped him to win a seat in Brussels for the nationalist Greater Romania Party, our correspondent says.

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