Economic

Off-SHOR Airport via Russia (II)

The airport came under the management of „Avia Invest” based on some official reports falsified by the previous leadership of this institution. In 2013, Petru Jardan, current manager, was director of the Airport.

Foto: Ziarul Național
Author: Mariana Rață, Stela Mihailovici
18/12/2015 9838

To ensure incomes estimated at over one billion Euros to the company „Avia Invest”, managed by the current mayor of Orhei Ilan Shor, the main suspect in the case on the theft of billion from the financial-banking system of the Republic of Moldova, the Government does not want to annul an airport fee which the National Anticorruption Center (CNA) reported that it was perceived illegally.

From the central rostrum of Parliament, the CNA director suggests that money stolen from BEM is laundered at the Airport, but the officials from the Center who investigate the case wait for answers from Russia.  Meanwhile, millions obtained from the activity of the Chisinau International Airport (AIC) are absorbed by satellite companies of “Avia Invest “under the guise of works or services or sponsorship. A report of the Financial Inspection writes that one of the beneficiaries is "Nobil Club", a company controlled by Vlad Plahotniuc.

Business estimated at 26, 6 billion lei

In the conditions of the contractual provision to make investments estimated at 244 million Euros (about 5, 2 billion lei) for a period of 13 years in airport modernization, „Avia Invest” will gain incomes of 26, 6 billion lei or by 5 times more in a period of 49 years. This is shown by a calculi based on the incomes registered in 2014 by „Avia Invest” (544 million lei), according to the report of Financial Inspection.

We did not take into account the increase in passenger traffic and aviation taxes. When signing the contract with "Avia Invest ', the Government committed itself not to reduce the aeronautical fees for the whole period of the leasing agreement, and these fees might increase.

Abusive fee

„Avia Invest” got incomes worth 952 million lei from collecting these fees between November 2013- September, current year. One third of this sum is from “the modernization fee” of 9 Euros paid by each passenger.

This tariff was introduced in 2009 after the Chisinau International Airport (AIC) has received two loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the modernization of airport infrastructure. Even if the loan was returned, the modernization fee was kept and was included abusively in the leasing agreement of the Airport. 

In 2014, “Avia Invest” got a profit worth 140 million lei from collecting this fee. If the traffic of passengers is unchanged in the next half of century , until 2062, the fee, which CNA warns that it is perceived illegally, will bring to the company incomes estimated at over 6,8 billion lei, by 1,6 billion lei more than the sum which „Avia Invest” should invest in AIC.

Ping-pong with billions  

In a formal request addressed to the Ministry of Transport and Road Infrastructure, we requested explanation why the modernization fee is not annulled one year after the termination of the agreement with EBRD and EIB (30 October 2014). The ministry declined to give us a clear answer, stating only that the institution did not participate in the negotiation of the clauses of the leasing agreement of AIC.

On August 24, 2015, in a letter addressed by the National Anticorruption Center to the then Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet, director of CNA Viorel Chetraru warned that “Avia Invest" has no right to collect money. This money should be redirected to incomes and later on used as own investment contribution to the modernization of the airport. CNA requested urgent cancellation of this fee. Subsequently, the same recommendation was made in the secret monitoring report of AIC leasing.

Minister of Transportation and Road Infrastructure, Iurie Chirinciuc could not say if requests were made to exclude the modernization fee from the leasing agreement. „I do not know if the introduction of this fee in the agreement is legal. The prosecution and other relevant structures should say it. I did not read the agreement with BERD and BEI to see the term provided for application of this fee. The representative of the Ministry in the monitoring commission of leasing spoke about it and the Ministry of Economy will further decide”, said Chirinciuc.

Donations for the hotel „Nobil”

Huge incomes obtained from „Avia Invest” enabled it to make generous donations worth over 11 million lei. The beneficiaries are institutions close to Ilan Shor. The list of the companies that benefited from donations on behalf of the assignee of the Airport is SRL „Nobil-Club”, company close to the name of the first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), Vlad Plahotniuc.

Officially, the company is founded by Otiv Prime Hospitality B.V., an off-shore that is owner of the hotel „Codru” in Chisinau and of the well-known night-club „Drive”. Teodor Barsa is manager of the company „Nobil-Club” and general director of the hotel „Nobil” in Chisinau. The company benefited from a donation worth 71, 2 thousands lei on behalf of „Avia Invest”. Barsa denies the fact that the company which his manages gets any donations from „Avia Invest”. „It is absurd. We are not an orphanage to get donations. It is true that we provided hotel services to „Avia Invest”. Perhaps, they included them at the chapter „expenditures of representation”, which comprise sponsorship”, said the manager of „Nobil-Club”. Manager of „Avia Invest”, Petru Jardan denied that he had sponsored the company „Nobil-Club”.

15 mln. for Shor’s football club

The biggest donations were made for the „Milsami Orhei” football club of Ilan Shor.  Since 2013 until present, the football team was sponsored by „Avia Invest” with a sum of 10,5 million lei and in 2014 based on 4 agreements signed between „Milsami” and the transferee company of AIC, the football club received a free interest loan estimated at 5 million lei for one year.

The sum of 10 million lei, offered previously, reached initially the accounts of the football club as free interest loans. But, later on, „Avia Invest” signed an agreement on annulling the refund, which it regarded as assistance for the football club. Petru Jardan, director of the Chisinau International Airport is the deputy chairman of FC „Milsami” and his wife Alexandra Jardan is head-accountant of the Football Club.

Who else „Avia Invest”sponsors?

Monastery  „Nasterea Maicii Domnului” from village Curchi, district Orhei (500 thousands lei), Association of Sport Press (264,4 thousands lei), Public Association „Lautar” (107,3 thousands lei), led by singer Pavel Parfeni and the Trade Unions of air transportation workers (200 thousands lei) benefited from financial assistance on behalf of “Avia Invest”.

Also, AIC made some donations for the Moldova Tennis Federation (17 thousands lei), led by Marina Tauber, whose name is registered in the report „Kroll” on the theft from the Moldovan banking system. This tennis woman is accused of having purchased a stake in „Unibank”, which was managed later on by Ilan Shor, and used a dubious bank loan.

Leasing generates monopoly

Another illegality of „Avia Invest” is that shortly after it leased the AIC; it blocked the access of some companies to the airport infrastructure, with the intent to monopolize some sectors. The handling services were firstly monopolized.  In April 2014, the state enterprise „Aeroport Handling” was privatized. It was managed by „Air Clasica”, which is part of Shor’s holding.

On September 10, current year, the Competition Council (CC) announced about the application of a fine worth 5 million lei to the company „Avia Invest” for „abuse of dominant position” to the enterprise „MGH Ground Handling” (MGH).

„Avia Invest” requested termination of the leasing agreements for spaces rented by MGH at the airport on the pretext starting modernization works. The company requested other space to develop its activity, but the request was ignored. MGH complained with this abuse at CC, state officials and embassies of Romania and European Union in Chisinau.

 

Blackmailed competitors

In a complaint filed at the CC, that came into the possession of Ziarul NATIONAL, MGH wrote that „Avia Invest” stole the most important clients based on blackmail.

"Several airlines serviced by MGH received letters from the airport concessionaire and they were informed that MGH has not prolonged tenancy agreements and there was danger of failing to fulfill its obligations to its customers. Subsequently, "Avia Invest" refused to approve the flight schedules or slots for client companies of MGH, it required payment in advance or did not extend their contracts for airport services, trying to determine them to become clients of "Aeroport Handling". Operators which have not resisted to pressures have terminated contracts with MGH, and the latter owns just a 5% share on the market of aircraft ground handling, compared to 35% as it had previously", reads the complaint lodged by the company.

The decision of the CC was appealed to court by "Avia Invest", that requires complete annulment of the decision.

Manager of "MGH Ground Handling" Anatoli Bzovii declined to comment, stating only that the company has initiated a separate lawsuit, demanding completion of CC decision. MGH is of the opinion that the fine should be at least doubled and “Avia Invest" must be obliged to extend lease contracts for places used in the process of activity.

Valentina Novac, president of the Association "Center for promotion of intellectual property and competition", previously head of the Directorate of Anticartel at the Competition Council, argues that the CC decision did not have any impact, on the ground that the authority did not ask "Avia Invest" to stop the infringement registered by the Council. "In this case, it is clear that there is an economic concentration and abuses that led to the monopolization of the market. But CC found that "Avia Invest" is guilty of refusing prolongation of lease agreements, the market situation remained serious", said the expert.

Camouflage for monopoly

Though it has stolen all clients, „Avia Invest” was interested to buy the company „MGH Ground Handling”. According to some sources, the offer was launched in May current year, but it was rejected by MGH. In response, „Avia Invest” introduced at the beginning of May another company „Ground Avia Partner” on the handling services market of the Airport.

According to the data of the State Registration Chamber, the company was founded on April 3 2015 by „Eximservice Broker”. It is curious that fact that this company has its legal addresses on str. Zimbrului 10 A, where „Aviaconsulting” is registered, we have wrote about it in the first part of this investigation that it is affiliated to Ilan Shor (first manager of the company is the current manager from „Klassika Asigurari” and got advance payment worth 262 million lei for delivering bitumen to the Airport.

CNA knew about the existence of the monopoly as of the beginning of the year.  In a letter sent in spring to the former PM Chiril Gaburici, Viorel Chetraru informed that „Avia Invest” created near AIC a holding managing almost all airport infrastructure.

Head of the Anticorruption described then how the concessionaire of the airport monopolized the market of handling services and revealed that it plans to extend up to two thousand square meters the network of “Duty-Free" store, which belongs to Ilan Shor, from the account of investments that will be made in the airport. Currently, several deposits of the airport are used to store goods of the store "Duty -Free".

Penal investments

Photo: Zimbrului str. 10 A

Actions of abuse of "Avia Invest" to the MGH are described in an ordinance of CNA to start prosecution and was issued on July 8 2015. Anti-corruption officers investigate other actions related to the activity of "Avia Invest". In an official response, CNA informs that all actions of the prosecution are performed under one case, started on May 13, 2015, on abuse of office committed by the decision- makers of "Avia Invest". So far, no person has the status of a suspect.

Also, the Service of preventing and combating money laundering in the CNA is to establish the origin of the five million euros that were paid by Russian companies to "Avia Invest". "One of the variants is that these funds come from money taken from problematic banks managed by Ilan Shor", shows an informative note, issued in August by Viorel Chetraru.

On December 2, during parliamentary hearings,  Chetraru kept his position. "A part of the money from the banks returned to the country, including to the airport. The Special Committee investigating this case will tell us clearly who are the direct beneficiaries of this money", said Chetraru.

Waiting for answers from Russia

Under the criminal case, there were conducted a number of surveys, inspections, hearings and there were sent rogatory commissions in different countries. "There have been made inquiries to Russian authorities, but so far we have not received any reply",  CNA has informed us recently.

Interpellations were done through the international system " Secure Web EGMONT", that is used to exchanging financial information to check suspicious transactions in investigations initiated by departments for combating money laundering and terrorism financing. CNA does not disclose the information obtained for having "restricted financial intelligence".

Also, CNA investigated another case initiated 2 years ago and comprises the persons who managed the state enterprise Chisinau International Airport.  The officials showed erroneous information in the financial report for the Government to determine the authority to lease the airport.  At that time, director of the institution was Petru Jardan, deputy chairman of FC „Milsami” and current manager of „Avia Invest”.

Investigators determined that a sum of 14, 9 million Euros obtained from the modernization fee, was kept in secret. The money was kept in two savings accounts; one was opened at “Unibank", with a balance of 1.3 million". There are reasonable suspicions that money was fraudulently used for companies affiliated to Ilan Shor", Chetraru informed the former PM Gaburici.

***

According to the secret report of the committee assessing the leasing agreement of Chisinau International Airport, in the event of termination of the contract with "Avia Invest", the state will be obliged to pay to the company an investment amounting to 46.34 million Euros, plus damages and lost revenues. Their value was not assessed.

„Habarovski Aeroport” got back the investment in „Avia Invest”

Though apparently the involvement in the business of AIC lease cost the Russian company „UK Komax”, that manages „Habarovski Aeroport”, 2,5 million dollars, the initial sum invested in the social capital of „Avia Invest”, later on, the company that keeps just 5% of shares in the Moldovan company recovered its investment good and hard.  The company sold 45% of its shares in „Avia Invest” to the British off-shore „TB TEAM Management” and got shares worth 250 thousand dollars. At the beginning of last year, on January 1, 2014, before the transaction with the off-shore, „Avia Invest” purchased from „UK Komax” „consultancy services in the field of airport activity development” estimated at 334, 2 thousand dollars. Nothing is known about these services purchased one month after „Avia Invest” took over AIC.

Valeriu Triboi, deputy minister of Economy and president of the monitoring Commission of the Airport leasing:

„I cannot tell my view on the provisions of the leasing agreement of the Airport. The lawyers should do it. As for the annulment of the modernization fee estimated at 9 euros, I need additional information. You can send me a request on my behalf and I will answer exactly. Now, I can tell you that the fee is for Airport modernization and once "Avia Invest" assumed obligations for modernization, I think the fee must be kept.”

Vladimir Cebotari, Minister of Justice and president of the Commission on assessing the leasing agreement of the Airport:

„Following the assessment, the Commission made more than 20 proposals of amending some provisions from the leasing agreement. Which are they; I abstain from telling until the report of the Commission is made public. We debated on the aspect of airport fees, where the state omitted something. The proposals will be negotiated with „Avia Invest” and amendments will be performed in the agreement. State representatives have to argue, through the prism of legal framework, why the concessionaire should accept a certain norm with a certain formulation and not to reject it. We must be convincing. I do not know how long the talks last; it depends on the negotiators and empowered institutions. The Commission has not proposed a deadline, but came up with an assessment of the agreement and with a prescription".

Petru Jardan, manager of „Avia Invest”: „I will not go into polemics with anyone”.

Mr. Jardan, „Avia Invest” made donations worth 15 million lei to the football club of Ilan Shor…

Why not? We decided to back this social project. What is the problem? Also, I am deputy-chairman of the club and I decided to back it. Except this, we back the Association of Sport Press and other projects. It is the decision of each economic unit to direct a part of his money in social projects. I believe that everyone should do it.

How do you comment on accusations of having created a monopoly at handling services?

It is a decision that has been challenged in the court. We wait for the verdict of the court. We do not agree and we presented the reasons and we wait for the decisions. There are serious allegations made against us, but whatever the court's decision, we will comply. The company "Aviaconsulting" received over 200 million lei in advance for bitumen which it did not yet delivered. Our investigations showed that the company had connection to Ilan Shor. How do you explain this? I heard about this company. We have a general contractor. The general contractor chooses directly the sub-contractors. I do not know about Shor’s holding. I can tell you just about "Avia Invest".

How do you comment the allegations of CNA director, Viorel Chetraru, that the Chisinau International Airport spends stolen money from the Moldovan banking system?

(sighs…) It is very easy to check. If we start polemics with everyone who says something about „Avia Invest”, we will deal just with polemics, stories and declarations. We have an agreement, we fulfill the set commitments and we show what we have done.  The declarations of one person or another, of an official…they have the right to make declarations and there are relevant structures to check the information.

I do not want to go into polemics with anyone.  We can declare just one thing: Money used at Airport modernization comes from 2 sources– money brought by the investor in the Russian Federation, loans and money gained from the activity of „Avia Invest”. As a manager, I do not know about money from banks used in the modernization of the Airport.

The loan from Russia is doubtful. 24 million dollars at just 3% rate…How could you get such a credit?

If the rate is high, this is not good, if the rate is low, this is not good either. How to do to be to everyone's liking? We have partners who are ready to support us.

This investigation is carried out within the Project „Shining a Light on Corruption in Moldova” carried out by the Center for investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the financial support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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