Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bloomberg: Romania Agrees With IMF and EU on EU4 Bln Precautionary Loan

By Irina Savu - Jul 31, 2013

Romania reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union on a 4 billion-euro ($5.3 billion) precautionary loan, its third deal in five years.

The government requested a 24-month standby arrangement with the IMF and balance-of-payment assistance from the EU, Andrea Schaechter, the IMF mission chief to Romania, told reporters in Bucharest today at the end of a two-week visit. The country, the EU’s second-poorest member, doesn’t plan to draw on the money, she said.

The accord, equally split between the IMF and the EU, will be Romania’s third consecutive package and the smallest since 2009, when the country won a 20 billion-euro bailout from the lenders. It will serve as an anchor against potential spillover into financial markets from the easing of global stimulus by the world’s central banks.

“We agreed on 4 billion euros, less than the previous 5 billion, to show an improvement,” Prime Minister Victor Ponta told reporters in Bucharest today. “We won’t use the money, it’s just a buffer we can count on in extraordinary circumstances, like a financial crisis in Europe or worldwide.”

The government will focus on overhauling the health-care system to cut costs with hospitals by increasing reliance on family doctors, ambulatory and private-care services, Schaechter said. The other main goal of the accord will be to clean up state-owned transport and energy companies and press ahead with plans to sell them, she said.
‘Uncertain Environment

“The environment is uncertain and difficult, with the euro area going through a recession, and we’ve seen that capital flows have become more volatile to emerging markets, including Romania,” Schaechter said. “So a precautionary accord with the EU and Washington-based IMF can help Romania to stay on course with reforms and macroeconomic policies and serve as a buffer against external shocks.”

The leu weakened 0.3 percent to 4.4057 per euro by 1:21 p.m. in Bucharest today, falling for a second day. The leu is the best-performing currency in eastern Europe so far this year with a 0.9 percent gain against the euro.

The IMF expects the Romanian economy to expand about 2 percent this year and 2.25 percent next year, helped by growing exports and recovering domestic demand in 2014, Schaechter said. Inflation is expected to slow before the end of the year to within the central bank’s target band of 2.5 percent, plus or minus 1 percentage point, as food-price growth eases.

Romania’s government raised its economic-growth forecast for this year, citing a pickup in export demand, and said the pace of the expansion may surpass that estimate if domestic consumption rebounds.

Schaechter said the new deal needs approval from the IMF’s board of directors and the EU before coming into effect. The IMF’s board usually meets to discuss a new loan two months after a staff-level agreement has been reached, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania recovers ancient gold coins, jewels

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — Romania recovered gold coins and silver jewels dating back to the first century BC that were stolen from the site of Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of the ancient Dacian people, the national history museum said Tuesday.

"The recovery of five coins and 14 pieces of jewellery is the crowning of more than two years of efforts made by prosecutors, policemen and by Romanian and German experts," the museum said in a statement.

The coins, from the era of king Koson (1st century BC), were stolen from Sarmizegetusa between 2004 and 2007, museum director Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu told AFP.

He said that both the coins and the jewels were recovered from a German auction house.

Since 2007, Romania has recovered 13 golden Dacian bracelets and more than 500 gold coins plundered from archaeological sites.

The Dacians, an Indo-European people conquered by the Romans in the first century AD, are the ancestors of the Romanians.

A man charged with "complicity to the theft of cultural goods" was arrested Monday, prosecutors said.

The suspect, Horia-Camil Radu, had been indicted in 2008 but fled Romania before the trial began.

In 2010 he was arrested by British authorities while he was heading to Germany where he planned to sell 160 Dacian, Byzantine and Roman gold coins.

Tests conducted by British Museum experts showed that 145 of the coins were part of a Dacian treasure stolen from Sarmizsegetusa, an UNESCO heritage site.

The coins are to be sent back to Romania soon, prosecutors said.

Friday, July 26, 2013

“Bucharest not Budapest”: Romanian campaign aims to put an end to the confusion

Euronews

Romania is taking action to put an end to the confusion between its capital city and Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

The two capital cities have long been the cause of bewilderment, embarrassing the likes of Michael Jackson, Iron Maiden, Lenny Kravitz, Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica, to name but a few.

“Yes, Iron Maiden started their Bucharest concert with a loud “Hello, Budapest”. Yes, there is a 5 minute YouTube video with Ozzy Osbourne struggling to get the difference between Bucharest and Budapest. Yes, the list can go on. But the truth is that every Romanian knows a story about someone mistaking Bucharest for Budapest. And even the funny moments hurt the Romanian ego a little bit,” stated Catalin Dobre, Executive Creative Director of McCann, Bucharest.

The confusion reached new heights in 2012, when 400 Athletic Bilbao fans flew to Budapest, rather than Bucharest, for the Europa League final, unintentionally sparing themselves the heartbreak of a 3-0 defeat.

After decades of quietly brushing off the ignorance of celebrities and regular travellers alike, Bucharest has decided to put a stop to the confusion on the eve of Iron Maiden’s return to the city.

Rom Autentic, a traditional Romanian chocolate manufacturer has launched a campaign in association with McCann Bucharest and MRM Romania, which aims to end the confusion between the two capital cities once and for all.

The campaign, “Bucharest not Budapest” invites supporters to join their website, where they will find a “free anti-confusion tour”, it also provides a video manifesto, giving examples of the confusion, as well as a gallery of mistakes and opportunities for people to share their own stories. Nir Refuah, Chief Creative Officer MRMRomania outlines the campaign and shares the despair of the people of Bucharest:

“Bucharest people are sick and tired of people mistaking Bucharest with Budapest! Therefore we recruited all media channels, digital and offline, in order to end the confusion. The campaign includes online banners, a dynamic website, browser add-ons, billboards and outdoor, PR and social media activations. We hope that when this campaign ends, the world will know – it’s Bucharest, not Budapest!!”

Hungary has also joined in the campaign, placing billboards in the vicinity of Ferenc Liszt International Airport.

ROM Autentic, the masterminds behind the push, are no strangers to high-profile ad campaigns. In 2011, they won nine Lions at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival with “American Rom”, and in 2012 they won three Lions for their “Romanians are Smart” campaign, credited as being paramount to changing the way in which Romania is perceived throughout the world.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The New Yorker: How to catch an art thief when the evidence has been torched

July 24, 2013
By Betsy Morais

Stolen art is tough to get rid of. A collector doesn’t want to invest in a painting that will be turned over to the authorities. In the mid-nineties, outside Philadelphia, three crooks broke into the country home of William Penn and snagged around fifty artifacts; when the theft made the papers, they threw the art in plastic bags and dumped them into the Delaware River. Three years ago, five paintings were stolen from the Musée d’Art Moderne, in Paris, and the burglar decided to stash them in a dumpster. Just his luck: the bin was picked up by a trash compactor, which munched thoughtlessly on Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani, with Braque and Léger for dessert.

Last October, seven works of art were swiped from the Kunsthal museum, in Rotterdam: Picasso and Matisse, again, plus two Monets, a Gauguin, a Meyer de Haan, and a Lucian Freud. The entry set off an alarm, but when police arrived at the scene, the culprit had already vanished. This past January, investigators arrested a Romanian man named Radu Dogaru on charges of carrying out the heist.

His mother, Olga Dogaru, was understandably upset. She began to think of things that other mothers of art thieves have considered in the name of protecting their sons. In 2001, Mireille Breitwieser, the mother of the notorious French art thief Stéphane Breitwieser, dispensed with her son’s stolen goods by tossing them in the Rhine-Rhône canal, chopping them up into pieces, and incinerating a few items. In February, Olga Dogaru told the police that she had put the evidence of her son’s crime in the stove, and set it aflame.

One month later, forensic specialists collected the ashes from her house. Romanian scientists began sifting through charred refuse from Olga Dogaru’s stove using optical and electronic microscopy—a “screening process, essentially,” to recover tiny particles of debris, said Tom Tague, a chemist at Bruker Optics and a member of the advisory board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There has been such an awakening in the art community to use this kind of analysis,” which has existed since 1990 or so, he explained.

Upon arrival at a crime scene, if investigators were to find nothing more than black ash, analyzing any of it would be impossible. “But fortunately, that’s never really the case,” Tague said. “If things are charred, then you can typically identify which artist would have generated the art.”

It’s a delicate process. The eye can only see something as small as seventy-five microns, or about the width of a strand of hair. “You’re looking for particles much smaller than that,” Tague said. “So it’s tedious, really tedious. And you don’t want to disturb a crime scene. So it could take weeks or months just to recover the particles.” Even just two or three microns of dust could be the key to identifying the signature of Picasso.

“From a forensic standpoint, for evidence, you’re going to be looking for specific components of a painting,” said Robert Wittman, who joined the F.B.I. in 1988 and helped start the bureau’s Art Crime Team. Wittman says he has recovered three hundred million dollars worth of art in his career, which he describes in a book, “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.” He told me, “In an oven, you’re going to be looking for things like metal, fasteners, nails, trace elements of the paints. There were some early paints that had lead in them. There was toxic yellow paint that French Impressionists used that had arsenic in it, and arsenic is a compound that doesn’t break down in a fire.” Dr. Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the director of Romania’s National History Museum, said that analysts found “small fragments of painting primer, the remains of canvas, the remains of paint,” as well as copper and steel nails,according to the Associated Press. He told me by e-mail that they also found “fragments of painting with imprints of the canvas.” Gheorghe Niculescu, the head of the team from Romania’s National Research Investigation Center in Physics and Chemistry, told Reuters that they uncovered “Prussian Blue, a paint pigment discovered around 1715 and used on a large scale by painters from around 1750.”

After sorting out the relevant particles, the Romanian team used X-ray-fluorescence and X-ray-diffraction techniques to identify which elements the fragments contained. This isn’t ideal for organic materials, but it’s a common first step for forensic analysis, Tague said, and “it could work reasonably well because many of the pigments are inorganic-based.”

“You can visually see what is there,” he went on, “but you don’t know what it is without doing spectroscopy.” Infrared and Raman microspectroscopy, which study the way molecules interact with light, are used for the purpose of authentication. By collecting both the infrared and Raman spectrums of a painting, an analyst can compare the molecules of the evidence to original works from the same period. “No two molecules interact with light the same way, so it’s really specific,” Tague said. “These are common tools in every art institute and forensics lab.”

On Monday, Olga Dogaru appeared before the court in Romania, alongside her son, and told a panel of three judges that, actually, she did not burn the art. According to the New York Times, she testified that it had all been a lie: “I believed that what I said before was the best thing at the moment, that this was the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, Niculescu, of the Romanian investigative team, assured Reuters that they had “gathered overwhelming evidence that three (of the seven) paintings were destroyed by fire.” But he could not say which of the stolen paintings they had identified, or how he could be certain that these were the works lifted from the Kunsthal museum, which declined to comment on the police investigation. The forensic scientists are continuing to complete their report, and the Dogarus’ trial is set for next month. “Our task was to establish if the ash samples provided by the public prosecutor [contained] traces of substances and implements used to make paintings—for example, nails used to fix the canvas on chassis, substances used to prepare the painting primes, and pigments used by professional painters to prepare the oil colors,” Oberlander-Tarnoveanu told me. “So far, we were not asked to do authentications.” The museum confirmed to me that “the expertise just aims to establish if remains which may originate from nineteenth-to-twentieth-century paintings were identified in the investigated material.”

“Science has become very much more sensitive and confident,” said Wittman. Given the forensic findings from the ash so far, “it doesn’t make sense that it would have those trace materials” if Dogaru had not burned the art.

Tague predicts that the team will use spectroscopy going forward. Otherwise, using only the methods they have tried so far, “they’re guessing.”

“Oh, it’s always possible it came from something else,” Wittman added, on the faint hope that the paintings and drawings could still be hidden away intact. “And let’s pray it did. I hope and pray it was a lie.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NYT: Romanian Denies Burning Stolen Art

By ANDREW HIGGINS
Published: July 22, 2013

BUCHAREST, Romania — Olga Dogaru, the Romanian woman who told investigators that she had incinerated seven works of art by Matisse, Picasso and other modern masters in an effort to protect her son, denied in court on Monday that she had burned the works.

Standing alongside her son, Radu, 29, who has admitted stealing the paintings in October from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Mrs. Dogaru, 50, told a panel of three judges that her earlier account of destroying the works in a stove at her house in the tiny village of Carcaliu was untrue. “I did not burn them,” she said in a soft voice.

Alarm swept the art world last week when it appeared that the theft in the Netherlands had ended with a spasm of wanton destruction in a remote corner of Romania. The head of Romania’s National History Museum, Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, described the supposed burning as a “barbarian crime against humanity.”

The artworks — paintings and drawings signed by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan — were stolen from the Kunsthal in a brazen nighttime robbery led, according to prosecutors, by Mrs. Dogaru’s son, who was arrested in Romania in January. Mrs. Dogaru told investigators in May that months earlier, in February, she had shoved the stolen artworks into a stove used to heat a sauna at her family home and then set them alight, in a desperate attempt to destroy evidence and save her son from going to jail. News of her account circulated widely last week, along with reports that forensic scientists had found trace evidence to support it.

In the hearing on Monday, though, she said she had made it all up. “I believed that what I said before was the best thing at the moment, that this was the right thing to do,” Mrs. Dogaru said in court, dressed in a blue T-shirt and baggy white pants. When she was asked what had become of the stolen art, she stuttered and then denied that any burning of artwork had occurred.

The purpose of the hearing on Monday was to review a defense lawyer’s request that Mrs. Dogaru, who was arrested in March, and her son be released from detention while awaiting the start of their trial, scheduled for next month. A lawyer for another defendant in the case, Eugen Darie, also requested the release of her client. Prosecutors opposed the requests.

Mrs. Dogaru’s son, who wore a tight black T-shirt and bluejeans, stood silently throughout the proceedings, flexing his biceps as defense lawyers and a state prosecutor argued.

Radu Catalin Dancu, Mrs. Dogaru’s lawyer, said after the hearing that his client had invented the story about burning the artworks “to protect her son and under pressure from prosecutors.” He said it was unclear what had become of the stolen works. “We might never find out what happened to the paintings,” he said.

The most serious charge against Mrs. Dogaru arose from her earlier claim to have destroyed the artworks, which are valued at tens of millions of dollars. Under Romanian law, the crime of “destruction with very serious consequences,” one of three charges against Mrs. Dogaru, carries a sentence of 3 to 10 years — far longer than the punishment for her two other alleged crimes, “supporting a criminal group” and “assisting criminals.”

Relatives and friends in the village of Carcaliu have long insisted that Mrs. Dogaru invented the incineration story, but fears that it might be true were bolstered last week when the National History Museum in Bucharest announced that forensic scientists had found ash material consistent with burned paintings, including copper tacks and pigments used by artists of the relevant periods.

Mr. Dancu, the lawyer, challenged the findings and said he had not seen a final report by the forensic scientists. He added that he wanted the ash to be sent to the Louvre in Paris for further analysis by experts with better equipment and more experience in artwork. Of his client’s earlier story, he said bluntly: “She was lying. What she said before was 100 percent untrue.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Former jail keeps raw memory of Communist repression in Romania

Agence France-Presse
July 21, 2013

Sixty years ago, as the Iron Curtain sealed off Eastern Europe, Teodor Stanca was among millions sentenced to jail, death or forced labour for opposing Communist rule.

Today, as survivors of this dark page of history are getting older and fewer, 80-year-old Stanca says he hopes a Romanian jail-turned-museum will remind future generations that "freedom needs eternal vigilance".

"The Sighet Memorial for the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance", as the museum is known, is the first of its kind in Europe.

More than one million people have visited the memorial in the northern town of Sighetu Marmatiei, which was founded 20 years ago on the site of one of the most notorious political prisons in Romania.

About 200 politicians, priests and intellectuals were held there in secret between 1950 and 1955, when the Communist terror reached its peak in Romania. Fifty-four of them died.

The former jail "prevents people from forgetting those who sacrificed their lives to defend democracy," Stanca, a retired engineer, told AFP at an exhibition dedicated to the student movement he led in 1956 to call for more freedom.

The museum includes a research centre, a memorial to those who resisted and summer schools where young people meet with former political prisoners and historians from around the world.

"We want to inform foreigners and Romanians themselves about the sufferings endured by people living under totalitarian Communist regimes from the end of the Second World War until 1989," poet Ana Blandiana, who founded the museum with her husband, told AFP.

Blandiana's books were banned under Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's last Communist dictator, who was toppled and executed in 1989.

In Sighet, each cell shows a different aspect of the brutal repression of Communist rule, from the massive surveillance by the Securitate secret police to torture.

Detailed accounts of forced labour remind visitors that tens of thousands of Romanians had to work like slaves building a canal towards the Black Sea.

"Since 1993, even before the archives were opened, we recorded thousands of hours of testimonies from survivors," Blandiana said.

The extent of the suffering had largely been hidden.

"There are two different memories in Europe," said Stephane Courtois, a French historian who edited the bestseller "The Black Book of Communism".

"In the West, we had a glorious memory of Communism -- the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front, anti-fascism, resistance to Nazism. Here it was the exact opposite. People talk only of terror, torture, misery," he told AFP.

Stalinist purges in the former Soviet Union and Communist repression in Eastern Europe claimed millions of lives in the 20th century, according to historians.

In Romania alone, more than 600,000 people were sentenced and jailed between 1945 and 1989 for political reasons.

Stanca was one of them.

"In the jail, we suffered from hunger, we did not get any medical assistance, we were continuously humiliated," he said.

He was then sent to a labour camp to erect dikes along the Danube river.

"I think only the pyramids were built with such inhumane physical work," he added.

But despite the grim conditions, detainees tried to resist.

"We fabricated paper to write poems by mixing dust we scratched from the walls, a bit of soap and water. If we were caught it meant seven days in the 'black room'," or punishment cell, he said.

Verses were transmitted using Morse code from one cell to the next.

When he was on the verge of dying, his fellow inmates forced bread into his mouth and saved him, he said.

The museum also dedicates several rooms to repression and resistance movements in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

"In Romania, we discovered that more than 200 revolts of farmers took place against forced collectivisation but had remained unknown to the public," said Blandiana.

"Understanding what took place -- the repression we felt for about 50 years -- you can understand the hangover from this period of totalitarianism in Romania, and why the country still struggles to establish the rule of law and a solid democracy," she added.

The task has not been easy in a country where former Communists and informants still hold key positions in public life.

"This memorial is very important, not only because of the past but for the future," said former Czech political prisoner Petruska Suskova.

"The danger of totalitarian regimes has not disappeared."

Romanian miners stay underground in coal price protest

Fri Jul 19, 2013

(Reuters) - About 1,100 miners refused to leave the underground tunnels at three old coal mines in Romania's mountainous Jiu valley on Friday to protest a state holding company's refusal to honour an agreement on price.

Last year, Romania decided to close the valley's state-owned hard coal mines of Petrila, Paroseni and Uricani in stages by 2018, and merge its remaining four viable mines with two coal-fired power producers to create integrated holding Hunedoara.

The European Union backed the government plan to spend about 1.2 billion lei ($354.3 million) to close the three mines, part of wider reform plans for the outdated, largely state-owned power sector in its second-poorest member.

But Hunedoara refused to receive hard coal from the three mines at the price agreed with the EU under the mine closure programme, the economyministry said on Friday.

Miners refused to leave the tunnels on Thursday, and have demanded that leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta join them in Jiu valley to help solve the problem.

"People say they will not leave the underground until the terms of the 2018 closure programme are guaranteed," union leader Laszlo Domokos was quoted by state news agency Agerpres as saying. "Otherwise, the protest ... will continue and they are not ruling out going on hunger strike."

Economy ministry officials were negotiating with the miners on Friday.

Miners' unions were a potent political force in the early 1990s, when the state-owned industry employed almost half a million people, but their influence has withered under a series of largescale layoffs that have fuelled unemployment, poverty and environmental degradation in Jiu valley.

Coal powers more than 40 percent of Romania's power plants, but most of it is lignite, which is softer than hard coal and is dug in open pits. ($1 = 3.3869 Romanian lei) (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Luiza Ilie and Elizabeth Piper)

Friday, July 19, 2013

NYT: Romanian’s Tale Has Art World Fearing the Worst

By LIZ ALDERMAN
Published: July 18, 2013

PARIS — To Olga Dogaru, a lifelong resident of the tiny Romanian village of Carcaliu, the strangely beautiful artworks her son had brought home in a suitcase four months earlier had become a curse.

No matter, she said, that the works — seven in all — were signed by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan. Her son had just been arrested on suspicion of orchestrating the art robbery of the century: stealing masterpieces in a brazen October-night theft from theKunsthal museum in Rotterdam.

But if the paintings and drawings no longer existed, Radu Dogaru, her son, could be free from prosecution, she reasoned. So Mrs. Dogaru told the police that on a freezing night in February, she placed all seven works — which included Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London”; Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; and Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head” — in a wood-burning stove used to heat saunas and incinerated them.

Mrs. Dogaru’s confession could be pure invention, and the works could be discovered hidden away somewhere. But this week, after examining ashes from her oven, forensic scientists at Romania’s National History Museum appeared on the verge of confirming the art world’s worst fears: her tale may be true.

In total, the works were valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, but for curators and art lovers, their loss would be irreplaceable.

“Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that a huge and horrible crime happened, and the masterpieces were destroyed,” Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the director of the National History Museum, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. If so, he added, it would be “a barbarian crime against humanity.”

How Picassos, Matisses, Monets and other precious masterpieces may have met a fiery fate in a remote Romanian village, population 3,400, is something the police are still trying to understand. The theft has turned into a compelling and convoluted mystery that underscores the intrigues of the international criminal networks lured by high-priced art and the enormous difficulties involved in storing, selling or otherwise disposing of well-known works after they have been stolen.

As in so many such mesmerizing capers, including an estimated $350 million worth ofdiamonds stolen from the Brussels airport recently, the theft itself is often easier than the fencing. It is a quandary, along with the lengths a mother might go to protect her son, that could help explain Mrs. Dogaru’s desperate actions, if she did what she says she did.

Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu declined to say whether it had been established that the ash found in Mrs. Dogaru’s oven, which the police turned over to his investigative team, was in fact the burned remains of the stolen canvases. “That is for legal authorities to determine,” he said.

But he said his team had discovered material that classical French, Dutch, Spanish and other European artists typically used to prepare canvases for oil painting, as well as the “remains of colors, like red, yellow, green, blue, gray.” The pigments included cinnabar, chromium green and lazurite — a blue-green copper compound — as well as tin-lead yellow, which artists stopped using after the 19th century because of toxicity. In addition, copper nails and tacks made by blacksmiths before the Industrial Revolution and used to tack canvas down were found in the debris. Such items would be nearly impossible to fake, he said.

It would be harder to verify if two other works that were stolen, by Picasso and Matisse, were burned, Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said. More delicate than the other five works, the two were done in pastels and colored ink on paper. “Unfortunately, it’s impossible to assess those remains,” he said, “because the burned paper was basically turned into pure carbon.”

The stolen works were part of a collection amassed by a Dutch investor, Willem Cordia, that had been exhibited for only a week at the Kunsthal. The police say three men, led by Mr. Dogaru, 28, broke in through an emergency exit and snatched the seven works from the wall in just under two minutes. Mr. Dogaru was arrested in late January in Carcaliu.

The other stolen works were Monet’s “Charing Cross Bridge, London,” painted in 1901; Matisse’s “Reading Girl in White and Yellow” from 1919; and de Haan’s “Self-Portrait” from 1890; and Freud’s 2002 “Woman With Eyes Closed.”

On Thursday, Gabriela Chiru, a spokeswoman for the Romanian public prosecutor, said the authorities were still investigating Mrs. Dogaru’s claims and were waiting to examine the findings produced by the museum’s forensics team. The investigation was expected to take months to complete.

In the absence of more definitive news, Dutch newspapers and some art dealers have speculated that the plunder might have been a contract job orchestrated by underworld figures, with the thieves picking their targets well ahead of time.

What is clear is that the thieves appeared to have been familiar with the security system at the Kunsthal. Shortly after 3 a.m. on Oct. 16, they deactivated it for a few minutes, then broke the lock on an emergency door without triggering alarms, the Dutch police said. The museum’s camera system showed two men entering and leaving in less than 96 seconds, carrying unusually wide backpacks stuffed with the works.

Little is known about what followed, although the Dutch police have said that the works appeared to have been taken directly to a home in Rotterdam.

At some point after that, the Romanian police said, the works made their way to Carcaliu, which Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the national museum director, described as “a remote and poor village.”

In late January, the Romanian police raided the homes of Mr. Dogaru and several relatives and acquaintances. Jeichien de Graaff, a spokeswoman for the Rotterdam public prosecutor’s office, said Mr. Dogaru and several other men had been under investigation on other unspecified charges, “and then the Romanian authorities discovered they might be involved in the art theft in Rotterdam.”

Referring to the Dogarus, Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said, “It seems they were not very honest, because apparently a lot of members of the family had a long judicial history.”

Mr. Dogaru’s arrest appeared to have spurred his mother into action. In her statement to the police, Mrs. Dogaru said she panicked when she realized the works would be used as evidence against her son. With officers combing the village, she told the authorities that she had looked frantically for places to hide the works, which were all in a large plastic bag.

She hid them in various places, including her sister’s home and her garden. Then, she said, she buried them at the village cemetery. But that did not end her anxiety, she told the police.

Fearful that the works could still be discovered, “an idea sprang into my mind,” she told the police, that if they were not found, there would be no evidence against her son and his friends.

In her statement, Mrs. Dogaru said she lighted a fire in the stove and went to the cemetery to get the works. “I put the whole package with the seven paintings, without even opening it, into the stove, and then placed over them some wood and my plastic slippers and waited for them to fully burn,” she said. “The next day I cleaned the stove, took out the ash and placed it in the garden, in a wheelbarrow.”

If her story is true, “then it has extinguished the last remaining glimmer of hope we had that the paintings might be returned,” said Mariette Maaskant, a spokeswoman for the Kunsthal. “We’ve been profoundly distressed by the theft, and the probability of the works being burned only emphasizes the futility of the act.”

Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said he was trying to stay positive, though his team’s findings looked grim.

“I am holding out hope until the last moment,” he said, “because, you know, we need to keep at least some hope alive.”

George Calin contributed reporting from Bucharest, Romania, and Georgi Kantchev from Paris.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

AFP: Romania seeks new round of IMF cure

Romania is seeking a new deal with the IMF following the austerity prescription that shocked the economy back into health, the country's Finance Minister Daniel Chitoiu said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with AFP.

A fresh accord with the International Monetary Fund, Romania's third since 2009, "will give confidence to foreign investors and international creditors," Chitoiu said on the eve of negotiations with the Washington-based organisation.

Romania, unlike many of its fellow EU states, has benefited from a dose of austerity and privatisation stemming from IMF agreements in 2009 and 2011, the minister said.

"These agreements brought numerous benefits," he added, emphasising economic stability and the restructuring of chronically debt-ridden state enterprises that had been put back on course by the reforms demanded by the fund.

In the grip of recession in 2009, Romania was given a 20 billion euro (26 billion dollar) loan from the EU and IMF on the condition the government cut public sector salaries by 25 percent and raised VAT to 24 percent.

And in 2011, an IMF line of credit worth five billion euros went untouched, even as Bucharest reduced its budget deficit, which should fall to 2.1 percent of GDP this year.

Although the amount has yet to be decided, Chitoiu doesn't believe his government will need to use it.

"What we're interested in is continuing structural reforms that limit losses and stimulate growth," he added.

Romania was looking forward to GDP growth of 2.1-2.2 percent in 2013, he said, well above the 1.6 percent projected at the beginning of the year, on the condition that the farming sector performed as expected after a poor harvest in 2012 due to drought.

Visiting Bucharest on Tuesday, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde praised Eastern Europe for its "courage" in addressing economic crises since 2008, stressing that "the worst is most likely behind" it.

First-quarter average growth in Eastern Europe was positive in the first four months of the year, with top performers Latvia growing 1.4 percent and Lithuania 1.3 percent.

By contrast, the economy of the European Union as a whole shrank by 0.1 percent.

For Romania's finance minister, the greatest spur to growth this year will be the 20 billion euros in funds pledged by the EU.

Just 15 percent of the sum has been used by Bucharest, partly because local authorities have failed to fulfil requirements that are a condition of the loan.

The minister emphasised that Romania would seek to continue its privatisation programme, which has included freight rail and energy companies.

His next focus is a 10 percent selloff of Nuclearelectrica, the company in charge of a nuclear power station in Cernavoda, in the southeast of the country.

This should be followed by the sale of a 15 percent stake in natural gas producer Romgaz.

Romania: Museum checks if paintings burned

By ALISON MUTLER
July 16, 2013

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands, an official said Tuesday.

Prosecutor spokeswoman Gabriela Chiru told The Associated Press that Romania’s National History Museum is examining the ashes found in the stove of Olga Dogaru. She is the mother of Radu Dogaru, one of three Romanian suspects charged with stealing the paintings from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal gallery in a brazen daytime heist.

It was the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction.

Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.

Chiru indicated that authorities did not necessarily believe Dogaru’s account. She said it could take months for the results of the tests to be known.

Thieves broke in Oct. 16 through a rear emergency exit at the gallery in the Netherlands, grabbed the paintings off the wall and fled, all within two minutes.

Police who arrived less than five minutes after the break-in triggered an alarm found nothing but empty spaces on the walls, broken hanging wires and tire tracks in grass behind the gallery.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 ‘‘Harlequin Head"; Claude Monet’s 1901 ‘‘Waterloo Bridge, London’’ and ‘‘Charing Cross Bridge, London"; Henri Matisse’s 1919 ‘‘Reading Girl in White and Yellow"; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 ‘‘Girl in Front of Open Window"; Meyer de Haan’s ‘‘Self-Portrait,’’ around 1890; and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work ‘‘Woman with Eyes Closed.’’

Radu Dogaru, the alleged ringleader, as well as the two other suspects remain in custody as investigators seek the paintings and other evidence.

The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan. Willem Cordia died in 2011.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Romania moves to punish gulag guards

By ALISON MUTLER Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Guards slammed doors on prisoners' fingers, beat them on the soles of their feet and burned them with cigarettes. They served rotten meat and forced inmates to eat excrement as punishment. In extremes of heat and cold, they made their victims haul crushing loads until they collapsed.

After decades of denial, chilling details are emerging about the torment guards inflicted upon political prisoners in Romanian communist-era gulags, as part of a first small step toward holding them to account. The names of 35 guards—now in their 80s or 90s—are to be handed to authorities starting next week for possible prosecution by a government institution tasked with investigating communist-era crimes, The Associated has learned.

Pictures of deportees and prisoners are on display, in Bucharest, Romania, on May 9, 2013, at the opening of a permanent memorial exhibition for the victims of the communist regime persecutions.

The perpetrators of communist-era crimes have long been shielded by Romania's establishment, whose ranks are filled with members of the former Securitate secret police. But the movement to expose Romanian gulag guards has a powerful champion in the Liberal Party, which is now part of the governing coalition. Members of the party were targeted by the Communists in their crackdown on all perceived dissent after it came to power in 1946.

Of Romania's 617,000 political prisoners, 120,000 died in the gulags. The inmates included politicians, priests, peasants, writers, diplomats and children as young as 11. Most survivors died before seeing any chance of justice.

Those still alive—about 2,800 in all—now see a glimmer of hope as the Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism and the Memory of the Romanian Exile begins probing allegations against the 35 guards on the list, as well as other communist-era crimes.

The institute was founded by Liberal Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu in 2006. It's only since the party returned to government as a junior coalition partner last year that the institute has begun probing crimes committed in the 1950s and '60s—the darkest period of Romanian communism—aided by a Liberal-led interior ministry that has provided names and addresses. Like other former Warsaw Pact countries, Romania got rid of its top level communists during the 1989 revolution, but less than a handful were punished after former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed.

The institute's executive director says that has to change.

"Those who produced so much suffering and terror have to pay and even if they are 80 and 90," said Andrei Muraru. "They are not absolved of responsibility."

In the gulags, inmates frequently starved to death; many also died from lack of medical care. Punishments included eating excrement, long stretches of solitary confinement and carrying heavy weights to the point of collapse.

"It would be good for the ones who are alive to go on trial, so history will mark them down as criminals," said Caius Mutiu, 79, a former detainee who testified to the institute.

Mutiu spent eight years in five prisons for taking part in a protest supporting the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary. He said that a guard once threatened to shoot him after he collapsed from hard labor. He spent two weeks in isolation, sleeping on a damp, concrete floor. The diet was cabbage, potatoes and barley soup.

"I counted 14 grains of barley, it was basically hot water," he recalls. He saw people die of starvation. "Their bodies swelled up before they died."

Former detainee Emilian Mihailescu, an architect, said a Romanian diplomat in his cell died when a boil on his neck became infected. "Medicine didn't really exist," he said.

One of the Romanian prison guards who will be publicly named this month is Ion Ficior, dubbed by inmates ''a human beast."

"Ficior beat us every day with a wooden stick," said former prisoner Ianos Mokar, adding that the guard terrorized inmates by "jumping over us on his white mare."

In an interview with the AP, an unrepentant Ficior denied he had beaten anyone. The 85-year-old said he tried to ensure that inmates got full rations by ordering kitchen workers to get the most out of potatoes by peeling as thinly as possible.

He claims all the political prisoners under his command at the Periprava labor camp were militiamen known as Legionnaires who supported the Nazis during World War II. Historians say most prisoners were simply people who had fallen afoul of the Communist regime.

They "deserved to stay in prison to feel what their crimes were like," Ficior said. "Crimes against innocent people shot in the streets—that's what the Legionnaires did with the Jews."

He said the responsibility for the political prison system lay with Romania's Communist leaders. "The great blame lies with those who gave the orders," he said. "They are to blame."

Marius Oprea, the first head of the institute, says Romania has been reluctant to deal with its past because so many members of the old guard have remained in power since 1989.

"Do you think Romania's leaders want to punish their parents?" he told AP. "The Communist Party may no longer exist, but we still have Communists. The Securitate may be dead, but we still have former Securitate agents."

AFP: Romania to start talks on new IMF, EU deal

Romania will open talks on a new financing from the International Monetary Fund and the EU, an IMF official said Thursday, just weeks after a previous loan facility lapsed.

"An IMF mission will visit Bucharest from July 17 to 31 to conduct discussions on a successor programme with Romania," the IMF representative in Bucharest Guillermo Tolosa said.

"It will discuss with the Romanian authorities recent economic developments and priorities for economic reforms," it added.

Centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta last week said his government planned to negotiate a new agreement with the IMF and the EU in a bid to bolster investor confidence in the economy.

No amount of money was mentioned but authorities said they planned to draw upon the credit line only in case of emergency.

In 2009 when it was in the grips of severe recession, Romania concluded a 20-billion-euro bailout deal with the IMF and the EU, in exchange for strict austerity measures.

In March 2011 it signed a new, 5.0-billion euro precautionary-type agreement, which the IMF last month said was concluded successfully.

The Balkan country has notably kept the public deficit under control and escaped the EU's excessive deficit procedure.

It also sold stakes in major energy companies and moved to privatise its freight rail, although the tender was contested.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bloomberg News: Romania to Cut Main Rate First Time in 16 Months on CPI Outlook

Romania will probably cut its main interest rate, the European Union’s second-highest, for the first time in more than a year as the central bank sees inflation slowing to within its target in the second half.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei will trim the benchmark rate today to a record-low 5 percent from 5.25 percent, according to 11 of 16 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Five predict the bank will leave the rate unchanged. The decision will be announced after 11 a.m. in Bucharest, with Governor Mugur Isarescu to brief reporters later in the day.

Policy makers, who last cut rates in March 2012, would join central banks across eastern Europe in seeking to bolster economic growth even as signs of a pullback in U.S. monetary stimulus dent asset prices. Isarescu signaled in May that he’d deliver several reductions this year as inflation eases.

“We doubt the recent market tension has convinced the central bank to postpone the easing cycle because we haven’t seen signs of strong foreign-exchange interventions over the past weeks, a departure from the very active style of previous years,” Vlad Muscalu, a Bucharest-based economist at ING Bank Romania, said before the rate announcement. “We judged this as expressing a commitment for a soft-rates environment.”

The leu weakened for a second day June 28, falling as much as 0.2 percent to 4.4670 against the euro, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency has lost 0.3 percent this year as investor concern that the U.S. Federal Reserve will reduce its bond-buying program ended a domestic debt rally.
Inflation Pinch

Romania halted a rate-cutting cycle more than a year ago as a drought stoked food prices and utility bills rose following a pledge to the International Monetary Fund to free energy prices. Its main rate is second only to Croatia within the EU after the Adriatic nation became the trading bloc’s 28th member today.

The country’s May inflation rate was unchanged from a year earlier at 5.3 percent, National Statistics Institute data show. Price growth will return to the central bank’s 1.5 percent-3.5 percent target range by year-end, policy makers predict.

“Inflation in May remains well above the target, but we think it will decline sharply in the third quarter on lower food inflation due to base effects,” Barclays Plc economist Daniel Hewitt said in a note before the decision. “The National Bank has signaled a willingness to begin cutting rates in the third quarter, even before reported inflation numbers have declined.”

Romania would join Poland and Hungary in lowering borrowing costs to boost growth. Poland cut its benchmark to a record 2.75 percent June 5 as the economy grapples with its worst slowdown in four years. Hungary reduced its main rate to a record 4.25 percent on June 25 in an 11th straight quarter-point cut.

Romanian gross domestic product advanced 2.2 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter, accelerating from a 1.1 percent pace in the previous three months. GDP growth this year may exceed the government’s 1.6 percent forecast because of a a better harvest, Isarescu said in May.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net