Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Romania prosecutors seek inquiry against ex-minister

The general prosecutor asked Romania's president to agree to a criminal inquiry against the former privatisation agency head.
The general prosecutor on Monday asked Romania's president to agree to a criminal inquiry against the former privatisation agency head who is suspected of abusing his position while overseeing high-profile asset sales.
Romania, facing a full-year European Commission assessment in July, is under pressure from Brussels to prove it is serious about fighting graft and speeding up top-level investigations.
Ovidiu Musetescu, 53, oversaw the privatisation of aluminium smelter Alro and aluminium rolling mill Alprom as head of the privatisation agency known as APAPS.

Prosecutors said they have evidence the state-owned stakes in the two firms were undervalued, the sale process was uncompetitive and there was a lack of transparency.

"We request approval for a criminal investigation ... against the former chief of APAPS for deliberately setting an undervalued (price) level for assets during the privatisation of Alro and Alprom," the prosecuting office said in a statement.

Musetescu, who headed APAPS from 2001-2003, was not immediately available to comment.

In late 2001, the then leftist government of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase approved the long-awaited sale strategy for Alro, one of Europe's biggest smelters, whose privatisation was a key condition for a $300 million World Bank loan.

A consortium led by U.S. metals trader Marco gained control of Alro in 2002 in a $73 million deal.

Later that year, the same consortium paid around $14 million to buy the state's majority stake in neighbouring Alprom, whose chief raw materials supplier is Alro.

Alro and Alprom are now owned by Dutch aluminium producer Vimetco.

Reuters

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