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Billionaires on our money

Years 1989-2006 will remain in history books as the “wild capitalism” era. Which is not to say that as of January 1, 2007 (the almost certain date of our EU accession) swindles will no longer be possible – they are reported in EU member states, too – but their occurrence will drastically fall compared to current rates.

One of the media undertakings most harmful to the Romanian capitalism – it’s quite interesting that the entire Romanian political class refuses to use the phrase – is the famous “Top 300 Capital”, otherwise a successful initiative, but which does nothing but grant prominence and some legitimacy to “paper billionaires.” The mass media thus portray and elaborate on a number of “business people” whose professional careers, unlike their personal lives, are largely obscure, such as Irinel Columbeanu, on thriving businessmen with huge debts to the State Budget such as the Micula brothers, or people who got rich at the expense of one customer alone: the State.

Capitalism has a negative image

All these years, the concept of capitalism and wealth has been discredited. The Romanian business community is rather accustomed to doing business with the State or taking advantage of a quasi-monopoly, which is why “capitalists” hardly have a good public image. Few companies can boast success while not getting “a little help” from the State.

Common people see a criminal misdeed behind each accrued wealth. While they struggle with petty wages, inflation and surging taxes, they see people get moneyed overnight; they see sneering wealth, crushing opulence originating not necessarily in hard and honest work, but most of the times in privatisation swindles, fishy businesses with the State, or in “making the most” of political and administrative offices gained through party membership.

A major part was played by media, which has constantly publicised “business people” regardless of their category, with characters like Gigi Becali or Irinel Columbeanu depicted as “businessmen.”

An equally important part was played by Justice taking no steps against blatant theft, as it was the case with Bancorex, Caritas, SAFI, FNI, where culprits walked unpunished.

Under these circumstances, SMEs, the driving force of development in any healthy economy, are unable to grow healthily and carry on the model of big-sized companies.

The State, a deliberate stooge

Recipes for getting rich at the State’s expense are quite simple:

With political support, generous contracts with the State are seized, on which taxpayers are charged ten times as much as prices bid in fair tenders. A case in point: replacement of kerbs in the Capital, although in 90 per cent of the cases this is not necessary. The same with the asphalting, again with Bucharest topping the charts with its asphalting downtown boulevards which need no such thing.

Equipment is being procured which may or may not be needed, and which lays unused for years, to reach wear and obsolescence dates.

Purchase of under-assessed State-owned assets. The recipe for this case: a manager (“one of us”) purposely bankrupts a State-owned company, which accrues substantial debts; for payment of these debts, the company sells (under-appraised) assets to “businessmen” who have been “considerate” with the right people.

Real estate deals

Real estate deals are the most common method to get rich, as they are quite easy to pull, with the mayors’ hardly “philanthropic” help. Cases extensively covered by central media include the one involving Braşov County’s Maori Zinger, with the complicity of the Braşov municipality, and the “Movilă legacy,” seized by Constanţa Mayor Radu Mazăre’s inner circle.

Land scams in Braşov

Both central media (e.g. Adevărul, more than once, Curierul Naţional or Evenimentul Zilei) and local publications described the mechanism that enabled Israeli businessman Maori Zinger to take “possession” of an enviable estate. Last year he made it into the Top 300 worked out by “Capital” magazine, with wealth put at over EUR 200 million.

Zinger’s debut is reported in 2002, with “General Matei” (involved in a bribery affair whose central character was Mafia-tied Ricardo Orlandino) as his adviser. Maori Zinger covertly financed a local daily, although on Trade Registry papers the investor was the wife of the so-called General Matei, who had been arrested over the Orlandino affair. The collapse of Romradiatoare, whose shareholder structure included Mircea Lucescu, gave Zinger an opportunity to expand operations. Through a company named Tivina SRL, he took part in the bid organised by the Directorate for Public Finances. Although Romradiatoare SA had applied for a debt spread scheme under Ordinance no. 26, it lost the land to SC Tivina SRL. Coach Lucescu came out defeated, after having invested EUR 300,000 in Romradiatoare. Another dodgy deal: under a resolution issued by local authorities, Zinger gets a lease on a plot of land in Bartolomeu neighbourhood, via Tivina SRL. A quite profitable deal, since the land was leased for an annual USD 0.5 / square metre.

All the “transactions” that followed the lease agreement involve people tied to the incumbent Braşov Mayor: wife, sister-in-law, campaign sponsors. Worth mentioning is that Scripcaru, in his capacity as local councillor, deputy mayor and then mayor, signed many of these documents. Both on behalf of the administration, and of the lessee.

Successive sale-purchase contracts between the lessee and sub-lessees were then concluded in notary public offices, to contract out the municipality’s land. The coveted plot is located at the Braşov city exit towards Bran, an area with substantial commercial potential. The plot is spice up today with a mall and a cinema multiplex. According to our data, DEPCOM, the company owned by the Mayor’s wife, paid DIP&GIP about ROL 1.5 billion and cashed from Atlanta House over ROL 80 billion, within a year … Profits exceed EUR 2 million.

The Movilă heritage

The Movilă heritage was extensively covered by Academia Caţavencu, Adevărul and Cotidianul. For years, Mrs. Alina Movila Buzescu, heir of one Jules Movila, claimed restitution of a building and a 98.66-ha plot in Constanţa County. Thousands of such applications have gone unanswered by the City Hall ever since the Christian Democrats were in power. In this case however, on December 11, 2001, coming to the City Hall is Georgica Giurgiucanu, who files a restitution application on behalf of Mrs. Buzescu. An analysis is then carried out by the Constanta City Hall, with a view to identifying a solution to compensate the applicant. The analysis concludes that “the plot subject to restitution claim is fully occupied by housing units, shopping space, alleys, industrial buildings and other owners.” Under these circumstances, the claim filed by Alina Movila Buzescu is denied. The City Hall says the building cannot be returned in kind, and adds that ownership rights have been leased in the meantime to Georgica Giurgiucanu (Mayor Mazăre’s confidante), Mariuta Maria, Cristian Borcea (Dinamo football club executive) and SC “Habitat si Ambient” SA. Mazare’s resolution also sets the value of the claimed building at EUR 3,592,450, in exchange for which the mayoralty offers another 36 plots of land located in Mamaia resort, peninsula area, the Fun Fair, IC Bratianu Blvd, Lapusneanu Blvd and the greenhouse area in the Palazu Mare neighbourhood.

The plots assigned as compensation have areas ranging from 135 sq.m. (a tract of land in the archaeological site in the peninsula area, put at EUR 17,000) and 72,800 sq.m. (a parcel in northern Mamaia, put at EUR 1,800,000). Worth noting is that procedures were only stepped up after the actual owner signed a contract transferring the rights in litigation to the group of “collectors” headed by Georgica Giurgiucanu. This must be also why Radu Mazăre so lavishly signed the compensation documents. In fact, large-scale projects have already been launched on some of these plots. This is the case with a parcel on Lapusneanu Blvd, where the Giurgiucanu gang has already got the green light for construction of a ground-plus-six floor building, with shopping and residential space. The area in question is rated as central location.

by Cezar DOBRE

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 38
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