87475 11/29/2006 16:03 06BUCHAREST1797 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN 06BUCHAREST1653|06BUCHAREST1694|06BUCHAREST1747 VZCZCXRO1579 OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #1797/01 3331603 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 291603Z NOV 06 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5645 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 001797
STATE FOR EUR/NCE - MPEKALA; L/EUR - POLSON; CA/OCS/ACS/EUR - SSCHMIERER STATE PASS TREASURY FOR LUKAS KOHLER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/29/2016 TAGS: ENRG, PGOV, KCOR, CACS, ECON, PREL, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA - ENERGY SCANDAL UNFURLING, AMCIT HELD ON "ECONOMIC ESPIONAGE" CHARGES
REF: A. BUCHAREST 1747 B. BUCHAREST 1694 C. BUCHAREST 1653
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Mark Taplin for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).
1. (U) SUMMARY. An unfolding energy-related scandal is causing turmoil among Romania's political and economic elites, with allegations of corruption and influence peddling hitting two government ministers, among others. The accusations come with the approach of winter and amid political attacks on Romania's largest energy company, Petrom, majority-owned by Austria's OMV. One American citizen is among those embroiled in investigations, and has been taken into custody (at least temporarily) and barred from leaving the country. END SUMMARY.
Approach of Winter Prompts Energy Angst
2. (C) Energy independence and Romania's perceived vulnerability vis-a-vis Russian oil and gas interests have been constant topics in Romania in the past months, and are a central component to the GOR's National Security Strategy. As winter approaches, along with the need to provide natural gas for heating to millions of low income Romanians, President Basescu and the GOR are seeking solutions and applying pressure to counter the looming prospect of higher energy prices in the coming months.
3. (C) In the most dramatic gesture to date, Romanian President Traian Basescu convened a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council (CSAT), Romania's equivalent of the National Security Council, on November 22 to address energy security, including the question of the legality of recent energy privatizations. The most important privatization under scrutiny is the OMV (Austrian petroleum and gas company) acquisition of a 51% stake in Petrom in 2003. Petrom and OMV have been the main target of Basescu's frustration as energy prices continue to mount in Romania, with Basescu asserting that the state was disadvantaged in the sale. Among other decisions, the CSAT concluded that energy privatization contracts, currently considered state proprietary information, should be unclassified. The press reported on November 29 that all major foreign companies, including OMV, had assented to this demand. Basescu, a vocal critic of Gazprom and Russian energy policy, commented that he would like more information about OMV's ownership structure. He stated publicly that he fears OMV's 51 percent stock float is vulnerable to purchase by Russian energy firms. OMV dismissed these concerns, stating that any stockholder that accumulated more than five percent of shares would have to be notified to the Vienna Stock Exchange.
Charges Fly in Privatization Scandals
4. (U) Shortly after the CSAT met and announced its decisions, accusations emerged against current Minister of Economy and Commerce Ian-Codrut Seres and current Minister of Communications and Information Technology Zsolt Nagy alleging both illegally rendered insider information on state privatizations to outside parties. Both Seres and Nagy were linked to Bulgarian Stamen STANCEV, described in the Romanian media as a Bucharest-based consultant who has advised several international firms involved in the privatization process. Press reports have linked Stancev to controversial business ventures Alro Slatina (owned by the Russian-controlled Marco Group) and Rosia Montana and to Glencore Ltd., controlled by Marc Rich.
5. (U) A press release from prosecutors in the Office for Criminality and Terrorism Investigation (DIICOT) accused Stancev of leading a criminal ring that received state secrets regarding privatizations concluded under both the
SIPDIS current and previous governments. This included a consultancy contract for Petrom's privatization, in which Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) bested Bank of America in 2002. Other individuals named in the DIICOT press release include: Mihai Dorinel MUCEA, deputy director of the Office of State Ownership and Privatization in Industry (OPSPI) under Minister Seres; Mihai Radu DONCIU, counselor to
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Minister Nagy responsible for privatizations; Mircea Calin FLORE, CSFB local representative; Robert Marius NEAGOE, OPSPI legal director; Oral MUSTAFA, international consultant, Turkish citizen; Michal SUSAK, executive director of PPF Investments; and Vadim Don BENYATOV, CSFB Europe banker, American citizen. Mucea, who survived the 2004 government transition, was the primary author of Petrom's privatization, and sat on OMV/Petrom's Board of Directors until suspended in the wake of last week's accusations.
6. (U) Authorities announced that Stancev's apartment contained documents related to the recent privatization of Bucharest's electrical utility, Electrica Muntenia Sud, the privatization strategy for Romania's thermal-energy complexes, the recent sale of state-owned Transgaz's shares in Romexterra Bank to Czech private equity firm PPF, and the privatization of Radiocomunicatii (communications company). Documents related to the Credit Suisse consulting contract allegedly included correspondence between the U.S. Embassy and the MEC.
7. (U) Both Seres and Nagy, representatives from the two smaller parties within the ruling coalition, have denied wrongdoing, though they both admitted to having met with Stancev. Seres and Nagy have fought back, saying the accusations are politically motivated. Prime Minister Tariceanu, who has just returned from knee surgery in Paris, has not commented publicly on the charges so far.
Economy Minister on the Hot Seat
8. (C)The energy sector has been in turmoil, particularly with the rise in global energy costs and increased pressure on the GOR to allow for full market pricing of its indigenous natural gas. While the GOR regulates the captive consumer market (individual households and small businesses), OMV/Petrom has exercised its right to sell natural gas on the open market despite government objections. Under EU and IMF pressure, the GOR has reluctantly agreed to liberalize the market for large consumers, which represent 75 percent. In October, a relatively low demand month, OMV/Petrom forced the issue by withholding production from regional distributors, compelling them to agree to higher prices than the GOR had sought to impose.
9. (C) According to industry sources, after extensive negotiations between Petrom and the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC), the MEC agreed to back off its demand that Petrom adhere to the regulated price for all sales, on condition that Petrom would offer a fixed amount of gas at concessionary prices to low-income consumers. However, ten minutes before the scheduled announcement, Seres received a call from government regulators stating that the deal was illegal. According to industry sources, Seres was caught completely by surprise and alleged that domestic industry interests were behind the action.
10. (C) In his own counterattack, Minister Seres held a surprise Sunday press conference on November 19, to air allegations that his family was being followed and that he was under constant pressure from all elements of the government, including from his own party (Conservative Party ) PC), to cut special deals for vested interests. Seres also announced at the press conference that he had suspended the directors of the national gas distribution company (Romgaz) and the national electricity distribution company (Transelectrica) because of ongoing criminal investigations into their actions. Seres announced that several contracts with energy trading firms would be revoked and state-owned firms would be required to sell energy on the newly-created electricity trading boards. Several of the affected firms, including Grivco, are controlled or connected to the PC's oligarchic party president, Dan Voiculescu.
11. (C) According to a well-placed government source, Seres no longer has political support, either from within the government or his own party. Accusations surfacing the week of November 27 corroborate this assertion, as information contained in prosecutorial documents appeared in the top Romanian daily Jurnalul National, owned by Voiculescu. Despite owing his position to the Voiculescu machine, some
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analysts believe that Seres, who is 37 and a past manager at Grivco, has attempted to carve out a more independent stance within the PC along with other young party members. Seres also has cultivated closer ties with President Basescu, and accompanied him on state visits to Washington and Baku to discuss energy issues. Basescu and Voiculescu have a well-established mutual dislike, with Basescu accusing Voiculescu, a former Securitate officer, of being a fifth-column within the ruling coalition.
Amcit is Targeted in Investigation
12. (C) In connection with the case centered around the Bulgarian consultant Stancev, an Amcit bank official named Vadim Benyatov from Credit Suisse First Boston's European division is also facing charges. According to Romanian prosecutors and contacts from the domestic intelligence service, Benyatov and others have been under investigation (including through phone surveillance) since April. Law enforcement officials claim that Benyatov definitely knew about the unauthorized passing of the terms of reference for privatization tenders. The lead prosecutor candidly acknowledged to Legatt that he has gone to Basescu to seek permission to charge the Minister of Economy himself. Romanian prosecutors placed Benyatov in preventive detention for 24 hours on November 29, and the Consul General is currently attending a hearing on Benyatov's case.
13. (C) The core of the case is the allegation that Stancev, who prosecutors characterize as a direct employee of Benyatov and Credit Suisse, conspired with officials of the two Ministries to pass confidential information on the terms of reference for privatization tenders. This type of information under Romanian law is considered in the same category as state secrets, hence the "economic espionage" charge. Romanian prosecutors also informally suggested that Benyatov and his alleged associates may have violated U.S. law as well, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
14. (C) COMMENT. It is difficult for Embassy at this juncture to make a judgment about the accuracy or sustainability of the charges against the prosecution targets, including CSFB's Benyatov. We note, however, that the energy sector has traditionally been one of the most highly manipulated and corruption-prone sectors in the Romanian economy. Vested Romanian business interests have long sought to control the local energy resources in a manner that would benefit the many dinosaur industries (including chemical and fertilizer plants) that are only competitive due to cheap energy.
15. (C) What seems clear is that President Basescu has jumped on another populist bandwagon that will resonate among the Romanian voters. Rumors, replayed by Basescu himself, have circulated that the two largest Romanian energy firms, OMV/Petrom and Rompetrol, are considering selling significant assets to Russian energy firms. Both Basescu and Tariceanu have indicated in private meetings with U.S. officials that they are concerned about this possibility. Post will closely monitor the case in the days and weeks ahead, both to make sure that a criminal investigation involving at least one Amcit is handled in a legal and transparent fashion, and in order to gauge whether the motives behind the case are driven more by law enforcement or political considerations. END COMMENT. TAUBMAN