All the Prime Minister’s Men. Victor Ponta and the Microsoft Affair

One of the witnesses cited by the DNA in the Microsoft case mentions Victor Ponta’s name, however, the prosecutors maintain an element of suspense on questions concerning the Prime Minister’ willingness to give course to certain demands received when he was Chief of the Prime Minister’s Control Body, during the Năstase Government. Aside from these mentions, there are numerous connections between Victor Ponta and the persons that the DNA press release describes as intermediaries (brokers) of bribes worth millions of dollars.

In various moments of his career, we keep finding Victor Ponta near Nicolae Dumitru – Niro, near Khalil Abi Chahine, near Dorin Cocoș and Remus Truică – all mentioned as brokers in the DNA press release. Please follow carefully the mentions concerning the firm and project called Central Residential Park and you will understand, in the end, why this detail is extremely important.

Victor Ponta, Nicolae Dumitru, (also called Niro) and the family apartments

Nicolae Dumitru, ranked in Capital Magazine’s Top 300 2013 edition with a fortune estimated at 240 million euro, has recently joined politics, leading the National Union the Progress of Romania (UNPR) political party. He is one of the recipients of the bribes in the Microsoft case. Quote from the DNA press release:

“Therefore, from the Fujitsu Siemens Computers account, a sum of approximately 20.000.000 USD was transferred into the accounts of the firm called Profinet. From the accounts of the firm Profinet […] payments have been made towards Slytherin Marketing Ltd, and from here onwards towards the following firms/persons: Running Total Group Ltd. – firm controlled by Nicolae Dumitru, circa 7.500.000 USD, Nero Invest – the amount of 450.000 USD”.

The firm Running Total Group Ltd. is an offshore from the British Virgin Islands, which we can also find from the 4th of August 2006 to the 28th of January 2008 as a shareholder of Central Residential Park SA, a luxury neighbourhood block of flats built in the Bucharest city centre, neighbouring the headquarters of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police (IGPR), the communications centre of the Romanian Information Services (SRI) (the place from where all of Romania’s wiretaps are managed), a military unit and the State Circus.

In Central Residential Park, the neighbourhood built by Nicolae Dumitru, the Ponta-Sârbu family has three luxury apartments, one bought by Daciana Sârbu in 2007 (when the offshore Running Total Group was still part of Central Park’s shareholders), one bought by Ilie Sârbu in 2009 (from the company belonging to Nicolae Dumitru) and one bought by Victor Ponta in 2012 (from Sthemko Holding Inc., a company that was owned by an offshore from Panama with hidden shareholders just a few months before the apartment was sold to the Social Democratic Party (PSD) president, which means that its previous owner could have been anyone).

Khalil Abi Chahine and his role in Central Residential Park

In the DNA press release also talks about the implication of the firm Menedil, controlled by a businessman from Lebanon, unknown to the Romanian public. Here’s what the prosecutors had to say:

“Therefore, from the Fujitsu Siemens Computers account, a sum of approximately 20.000.000 USD was paid into the accounts of the firm Profinet. From the accounts of the firm Profinet […] payments have been made towards Slytherin Marketing Ltd, and from here onwards towards the following firms/persons: Menedil Associated SA – firm controlled by Khalil Abi Chahine, circa 1.250.000 USD”.

The Meneldil firm is an offshore from the Virgin Islands with hidden shareholders (having the same address as Total Running Group Ltd- P.O. Box 958, Pasea Estate, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands). Meneldil is also a stakeholder in other Romanian companies, having Canadian citizen of Lebanese origin Khalil Abi Chahine as representative. From the 11th of March 2005 to the 4th of August 2006, Meneldil Associated SA was listed as a stakeholder in Central Residential Park SA, the company that developed the luxury neighbourhood where the Ponta-Sârbu family lives.

More so, in February 2009, the Daciana Sârbu-Victor Ponta couple attended Khalil Abi Chahine’s wedding, at the Hilton Hotel in Bucharest. The same Khalil Abi Chahine whose name appears in the DNA press release as being an intermediary in the Microsoft case bribes circuit. Ponta’s connection with Chahine dates back to at least 2004-2005 when both of them held a 1% stake in FC Național.

What was FC Național: a football club, a business club, networking club?

The story of the stakeholders/associates of FC Național is a unique one. In the Football Club Național 2000 SA association we find, besides Ponta and Khalil Abi Chahine, Mircea Ursache. Ursache was director-general of the Bureau of Tourism and Tranzactions (BTT) until 1997, he was also a councillor for the president of Bancorex between 1998 and 1999. The firm SIECO SRL, where Victor Ponta was shareholder and administrator, in Bancorex’s last years of existence, has executed works for the bank. In 2013, Mircea Ursache was named vice-president of the Authority for Financial Supervision (ASF) by the Parliament still controlled by the Social-Liberal Union (USL) political coalition (lead by Ponta and Crin Antonescu).

Among FC Național’s stakeholders we also find Bartolomeu Finiș, whose wife, Carmen Finiș, was a shareholder at Domino Impex ‘94, the firm that gained control over more than 6.000 square meters in Herăstrău Park by using a controversial property rights document emitted by BTT, signed in the year 2000 by the Minister for Youth and Sport, Crin Antonescu. Crin Antonescu’s old friend, Dan Radu Rușanu, through the firm Dana Management SRL was auditor at Domino Impex ‘94. Years later, PSD president, Victor Ponta, welcomed Dan Radu Rușanu at the head of the ASF (Finiș’s auditor, the FC National associate of football fan Ponta). More so, Ponta accepted as Minister of Finance Dan Radu Rușanu’s godson, Daniel Chițoiu. Daniel Chițoiu was also an auditor in one of the firms that belonged to the Chahine family, Silva Carpat Prodimpex, from 1999 to 2003. Bartolomeu Finiș is, at the same time, also a confidante of the Bittner-Petrache-Cocoș group (persons named by the DNA in the Microsoft case), being associated with the first two in Dobrovin SA.

Among the members of the FC Național Bucharest Association Board of Directors we can also find Florin Georgescu, who, during Ponta’s first cabinet, served as vice-premier and Minister of Finance. Florin Georgescu also shows up among Dorin Cocoș’s associates in the Romanian Investment Group S.A. (GRI), a group that also had Alexandru Bittner among its shareholders. Similarly, the ASF’s first vice-president, Daniel Dăianu, was also a member in FC Național Bucharest Association Board of Directors. Daniel Dăianu’s brother, Dorin, was also an associate of Nicolae Dumitru (NIRO) in the firm Mid Invest.

Practically, FC Național SA (and the FC Național Association, the football group has repeatedly changed its juridical status) has reunited politicians and businessmen that shared more than a passion for football. The spider web is almost suffocating and nearly impossible to follow: associates, godsons, godfathers, business partners and political allies.

Godfather Gabriel Oprea

Let us return to the Central Residential Park project. In March 2004, when Nicolae Dumitru purchased from the state Moara Dâmbovița S.A. and demolished the buildings that inhibited the construction of a new real estate ensemble (demolishing authorization 489/25V from 24.05.2004), Ioan Rus was Minister of the Interior and vice-premier in the Năstase Government. Because the demolishing operations of the Moara Dâmbovița ruins took place on a huge perimeter located just behind the central headquarters of the Romanian Police, but also near SRI’s Centre for Advanced Technologies and near another military unit operated by the information services, the law says that certain “special notices” were needed from the institutions with a role in national security (SRI, IGPR, Armed Forces General Staff). This is the reason why there is a low probability that Minister of Internal Affairs Ioan Rus was unaware of the existing information concerning the project that wants to eliminate buildings occupying a perimeter that stretches over a few hectares right next to IGPR. What is certain is that in December 2006, Ioan Rus also signed an acquisition contract for one of the luxury apartments built by NIRO behind IGPR. Twice a minister in the Ponta Governments, Ioan Rus spoke to me, at the 2013 PSD Congress, about his links with Nicolae Dumitru: “I have no idea. I haven’t seen NIRO in my entire life. Gabi Oprea told me once. I was party vice-president and he said that if Năstase wins the elections maybe I’d need to reside in Bucharest; I should buy an apartment in Bucharest. After that I said that I’m never coming to Bucharest ever again, and I gave it”.

During the dialogue I had with Ioan Rus, I pointed out the fact that Adrian Năstase no longer had any elections to win after December 2006, the time when the former minister of Interior bought his apartment from NIRO. At this remark, Ioan Rus adjusted his declaration: “I don’t know what I thought then and who told me”, justifying his confusion by saying that it’s been years since that moment and he forgot many things since then. Vice-premier Gabriel Oprea, mentioned by Ioan Rus in the conversation he had with me during the 2013 PSD Congress, told me on a stern tone that he does not know anything about Central Residential Park. Even though vice-premier Gabriel Oprea doesn’t admit to anything, the transactions through which the 431 luxury apartments of the neighbourhood behind IGPR were transferred by the developer show that this was done at the bureau of public notary Nicoleta Bucur. In the early 2000s, Nicoleta Bucur was a member of PSD’s Sector 2 organization; later on she transferred to PSD Ilfov, where, during the time when the President of PSD Ilfov was Gabriel Oprea, Nicoleta Bucur held the position of head of the women’s organization. Nicoleta Bucur, a member of their political entourage, is said to be close to vice-premier Gabriel Oprea, but also close to Neculai Onțanu, the Mayor of Sector 2, the area where NIRO&Co built Central Park.

Regardless, a lot of things are known about Gabriel Oprea. For example, among other things, he is the godfather of one of Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s children (here). Similarly, according to Hotnews, which cites an article from the newspaper Național, Gabriel Oprea also was godfather at Nicolae Dumitru’s wedding. The same Gabriel Oprea is the president of UNPR, the party in which Nicolae Dumitru was also a member. Before the elections of December 2012, Niro was aiming to run for a seat in Parliament. His name, however, was taken off the party list, Ponta declaring at the time: “There is no Niro on the list of candidates! […] No Niro”. We don’t know the reasons why Ponta didn’t agree with Gabriel Oprea’s proposal to place one of the most influential Romanian businessmen on the list. Is it possible that Ponta felt (or knew) that Niro was about to go down?

It is interesting, anyway, that in Victor Ponta’s declarations of wealth since the year 2008, he omitted to list the apartment bought by his wife from Nicolae Dumitru. This is why the press made no correlations between this detail from Daciana and Victor Ponta’s fortune until 2013, a year after Ponta was named Prime Minister.

Because we’re still talking about godfathers, let us note the fact that Niro is the wedding godfather of Khalil Abi Chahine.

From football to motorsport. With Niro and Remus Truică

It’s possible that Victor Ponta, Daciana Sârbu and Ilie Sârbu bought the apartments from Niro by accident. However, Victor Ponta the racing car co-pilot, was part of a team sponsored for two consecutive seasons (2010-2011) by the whiskey firm Jack Daniel’s, receiving around 20.000 euro/year per teammate for technical assistance concerning the race car’s equipment. The Romanian headquarters of the American company that makes Jack Daniel’s (Brown-Forman Worldwide LLC Wilmington, Bucharest Branch) operated in Niro’s office building at the address: Nerva Traian Street, no. 184-186, Sector 2. In 2004, at the same address a “secondary headquarters” was opened for the firm BDG Import, Jack Daniel’s distributor in Romania, whose shareholders are Pepe Berciu and Ioan Biriș (Virgil Măgureanu’s son in law, former SRI boss).

In August 2012, OK Magazine wrote about the event concerning the launch of the Facebook page “Finlandia Explore Midnight”, which took place at a select location: Nikki Beach in Saint Tropez. The organizers of the social event were Finlandia Vodka Romania and Fratelli Social EventsAt this event, among the guests there were the former patrons of FC Național, Gino Iorgulescu and his wife (Victor Ponta’s associate at FC Național 2000 SA) and the couples Silvana and Petru Berciu along with Anca and Ion Biriș  (the distributors of Jack Daniel’s). Berciu and Biriș are Remus Truică’s business partners at the Loft and El Capitan clubs (administered via Romconsulting Restserv SRL). Remus Truică is mentioned in the bribery network discovered via the Microsoft case. More so, Romconsulting Restserv SRL’s administrator was Clejeneanu Dan Cristian, a business partner of the controversial Petrică Paraschiv, (vice-president of National Housing Authority [ANL] in the Democratic Liberal Party [PDL]-PSD Government), founder of the firm TIPART, a printing house that, after Mircea Geoana lost the presidential election, was involved in the transfer of debts worth 1,8 million lei from PSD towards the Cypriot offshore Ocean Zone Energy.

We must also remember that Truică and Ponta were colleagues in the Năstase Government, one of them being the head of the PM’s Control Body, the other being the chief of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. Two trustworthy positions offered by Adrian Năstase.

The Ministry of the Environment, a perfect fit for the people at Central Residential Park

On the 2nd of March 2013, Anne Jugănaru (Adrian Severin’s counsellor at the European Parliament) was named State Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment. On 23.04.2008, Central Residential Park SA bought the firm Amcor Com Impex SRL from Mihai Răducu Jugănaru, Anne Rose Marie Jugănaru’s husband. In the firm purchased by Central Residential Park SA, Anne Jugănaru was also an associate along with her husband until July 2005. Slightly after the firm Amcor Com Impex SRL was taken over by NIRO, for a while, the administrator was Răducan Anca Daniela (the same person who held the position of administrator at the firm New Global Investments SRL, founded by the trio Udrea-Cocoș-NIRO). More so, the headquarters of the firm founded by the Jugănaru family is now at Ștefan cel Mare Road, no. 13A, which is also the headquarters of Central Residental Park SA.

Another administrator at Central Residential Park SA was Clitemnestra Volschi. She was associated with a certain Radu Popa at the firm Quality ‘98 SRL. A month after the First Ponta Cabinet was sworn in (June 2012), Radu Popa was named by PM Victor Ponta chief of the Administrative Fund for the Environment.

The lawyer of Dorin Cocoș’s firms

There is little to add here. Simply put, Victor Ponta worked during 2005-2006 for Dorin Cocoș (whose name, appears in the DNA press release as one of the bribe recipients in the Microsoft case). Looking at the database of the Official Monitor (part IV) during the 2001-2011 interval, I found out that the name of Victor Ponta’s law firm appears 11 times. Among these 11 mentions, nine refer to the business group built around Dorin Cocoș. Expressed in percentages, this means that 81% of the Official Monitor’s mentions of Victor Ponta’s law firms are tied to Dorin Cocoș & Co:

– 25 April 2005: the firm Telemedica S.A., which had Dorin Cocoș among its associates at the time (with a 29% stake) along with a few of his traditional partners, modifies the constitutive act through Victor Ponta’s law firm. Elena Udrea was leading the presidential chancellery.

– 25 April 2005: The same day, the firm Sanipharm SRL, who had Mioara Radu (partner of the couple Udrea-Cocoș, member of PDL and councillor at the Capital’s City Hall during Traian Băsescu’s mandate) among its shareholders – extends its number of shareholders, among which other associates of Dorin Cocoș. This modification is made through a «cession contract signed though Victor Ponta’s law firm”.

– 21 December 2005 (30 august 2006, respectively): The firm International Clinical Diagnostic Centre (CDCI), modifies its shareholder structure and adds a new activity domain through two addenda which mention: “redacted and edited by the lawyer Victor Ponta”. One of the patrons of CDCI at the time was Anca Dinu, Dorin Cocoș’s sister (with 70% stake).

– 13 February 2006: Sanipharm SRL opens a workstation within the Faculty of Chemistry – according to an addendum “redacted and edited by the lawyer Victor Ponta, owner of the Ponta Victor Viorel law firm”.

– 13 February 2006: At the same time, the Clinic of Complex Interdepartmental Diagnostic SRL, lead also by Mioara Radu, opens a workstation within the Institute of Legal Medicine “Mina Minovici” – move attested by the addendum “redacted and edited by the lawyer Victor Ponta”. Afterwards, on 5 November 2006, Dorin Cocoș takes over 90% of this firm also through a “cession contract signed at the Victor Ponta Law firm”.

– 3 November 2006: There are changes among the stakeholders of Telemedica SA. Spiridon Cristu (old associate of Cocoș and former administrator of the Department for Administration of the State Heritage and Protocol) gives 32% of his stock towards Dorin Cocoș. The operation is legally done through “a cession contract signed at the Victor Ponta law firm”.

– 7 November 2006: At the headquarters of the firm “Center for Testing the Work Force SA” a “cession contract attested by the lawyer Victor Ponta” is signed through which multiple associates give up their stock. Among those who ceded we can find Victor Cocoș (the father of Dorin Cocoș – editor’s note)

– 11 December 2006: The firm Medcomplex SRL, owned by Dorin Cocoș (with a 90% stake), modifies its leadership structure via a “cession contract signed through the Victor Ponta law firm”. The document can be accessed HERE. More so, a banal Google search shows that Medcomplex SRL (belonging to Dorin Cocoș) has the same phone number as the accounting firm Exfin 2000, founded by Victor Ponta’s mother. Medcomplex also shows up in Elena Udrea’s wealth declaration, at the time when she was a minister in the Boc Government. This way, the Udrea-Cocoș family has gained dividends worth of 2,53 million lei from this company.

In total, Victor Ponta has delivered barrister services for six companies held by Dorin Cocoș, Victor Cocoș (Dorin’s father) and by Anca Dinu (Dorin’s sister). These six firms’ addenda were all modified either directly by the “lawyer Victor Ponta”, or through the “Victor Viorel Ponta Law firm”.

Interestingly, in the case of PM Victor Ponta, no one forced him to put his name on the firms belonging to Dorin Cocoș (especially since one of these companies during the Năstase Government committed fiscal abuses on Romanians who wanted to leave and work abroad, having the state force them pay incentives to Cocoș’s firm). Nevertheless, Mr. Ponta wanted it to be publicly known that Dorin Cocoș signed his contracts through his office. Simply put, even if he redacted addenda for other companies, he no longer put his name on them.

”Adrian Năstase’s youngsters”

Seven years ago the private relationships between Victor Ponta and the Udrea-Cocoș family were signalled by reporters of the Gândul newspaper and by the paparazzi of VIP magazine. On the 11th of September 2006, at the EuroHotels Restaurant belonging to Dorin Cocoș, near the Arc of Triumph, the couples Daciana Sârbu-Victor Ponta and Elena Udrea-Dorin Cocoș were seen dining together. This happened two days after Elena Udrea participated at the TSD (Social Democratic Youth) summer school, organized by Victor Ponta – TSD’s leader at the time. However, according to an interview given by Victor Ponta to VIP magazine, he denied having a friendship with Udrea-Cocoș. From that interview:

Reporter VIP: Elena Udrea and her husband, Dorin Cocoș attended your wedding, as well as Irina’s baptism. In the end, were you friends?

Victor Ponta: No, we weren’t friends…. 

Victor Ponta: As I said, we know each other – me, Gabi Oprea, George Maior, Eugen Bejinariu; we were all on the same team, state secretaries in Adrian Năstase’s young guard. We couldn’t know that, after a while, people’s roads break apart, but this doesn’t make me regret that we knew each other. You were asking earlier why Elena Udrea attended my wedding and my daughter’s baptism. For this exact reason: because Miss Udrea’s husband was part of that group of youngsters built by Adrian Năstase. I am the only one that stayed on the path we all started as a team.”

Years later, in January 2012, during the street protests, the firm belonging to Iulian Herțanu, Victor Ponta’s brother in law (Grossmann Engineering Group) was securing the richest state contract in its entire history. The bid was won in tandem with “Euroconstruct Trading ’98” – a company belonging to old friends and business partners of Dorin Cocoș: Dan Besciu and Sorin Vulpescu. All three were associates in West Tour ’98 SRL, and Cocoș and Besciu – in the House of Private Pensions Concordia Romania and in the Romanian Investment Group (link here).

Central Residential Park and Dorin Cocoș

We mentioned earlier how the broker of a 1,25 million euro bribe in the Microsoft case, Khalil Ani Chahine, is both a friend and an associate of Victor Ponta. Even more, the two interact with the same interest groups that are implicated in multiple controversial business dealings over the past 15 years.

Therefore, the Crângași Market in the Capital was “lent” for 25 years by the Local Council of Sector 6 City Hall, presided by Cristian Poteraș (PDL), to the firm Zenith Business Group SRL, which was a proxy for the firms controlled by Dorin Cocoș, by the Creștin brothers and Central Residential Park SA (where Ponta lives).

Right after it got Crângași Market, Zenith Business Group SRL subcontracted the Market’s modernization works to the firm All Plan Construction, held by Aureliana Poteraș (wife of Sector 6 Mayor). More so, the National Investments Company, under the direct authority of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, lead by Dorin Cocoș’s wife (Minister Elena Udrea), also gave a state contract to the firm owned by Poteraș’s wife and the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration wanted to give this firm a second public contract, but the press signalled the problem and then Aurelia Poteraș immediately gave away the stock she had in All Plan Construction to some unknown characters: Puiu Bogdan Călin and Anca Dragoman. In the data from the Trade Register we can find both Anca Dragoman, and Puiu Bogdan Călin involved in the firm Headquarters Center SRL, along with… Khalil Abi Chahine.

Moreover, both Anca Dragoman, and Puiu Bogdan Călin were found to be working for the Rosia Montana Gold Coproration in the early 2000s, along with Gabriel Dumitrașcu. Former director of RMGC Gabriel Dumitrașcu, was appointed by PM Victor Ponta as chief of the Office for State Shares and Privatisations in Industry – OPSPI) whose duty was to negotiate with the state company Rompetrol. The negotiation ended in January 2014, with Rompetrol being absolved of its obligation to pay approximately half a billion dollars it owed to the Romanian state. We point out the fact that the publicity firm Herțanu Projects SRL, owned by Victor Ponta’s mother and brother in law, had contracts with Rompetrol both under Dinu Patriciu, and KazMunaiGaz.

More so, in 2012, Abi Chahine bought from Meneldil Associated SA, the social parts that the offshore from the Virgin Islands held in EEI Imobiliara, one of the shareholders at Central Residential Park Two, along with the Creștin brothers and the Cocoș group.

To close the circle, we come back to the Crângași Market, given by Cristian Poteraș (PDL) to Zenith Business Group SRL, controlled by the Cocoș-Creștin-Niro group. We also found that the Centre for International Clinical Diagnostic (CDCI), the firm for which Victor Ponta worked as a lawyer from 2005 to 2006, is a member of Zenith Business Group SRL’s shareholder group.

An ending. Or a beginning?

And now, the cherry on top (for now, at least): the information from the DNA press release shows that the payments were done (at least) in two stages, some during the Năstase Government (to Running Total and Menedil) and others in 2009 (to ESSIM Partners and DD Land Oil from Cyprus, and Dinu Pescariu respectively). What does this mean? Both Menedil, and Running Total are stakeholders of Central Residential Park SA. If the two offshores received bribes during the Năstase Government (before 2004), we can conclude that the blocks of flats from Central Residential Park were built with the money from the Microsoft Affair. The fact that Daciana Sârbu, Victor Ponta, Ilie Sârbu, Ioan Rus, Dan Andronic and many others now own apartments in a neighbourhood built with bribe money has a brand new significance. And it might also be possible that everything you read above, including the Microsoft Deal itself, represents just the tip of the iceberg. The beginning and not the end of the investigation.

***

Text documented with the help of lawyer Alberto Kurtyan (who won in court the right to have free access to the data present in the Official Journal) and that given by investigation journalists at Rise Project. Editing: Mihai Goțiu


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