The Press House without Press
In the building located in the center of Chișinău that used to be the premises of the journalistic profession, today only each fourth tenant is a media outlet while the rest are business operators having no connection to the press.
The Press House is used as premises for companies that provide different kind of services – from legal and notary services and business consulting to tourism, trade and public catering. There is even a dentist’s office located here. This institution could rather be called a business center than the house of free press.
The Press House, a company managed by the State Chancery of the Government since 1994 is used as premises (leased in space) by 171 legal entities. Only 27% of them are media companies – 44 periodicals and two news agencies. The media outlets that rent one or more offices include the weeklies Ziarul de Gardă, Ziarul Național, Florile Dalbe, Făclia, the magazines VIP Magazin, Odoraș, Urma Ta, Russian language publication such as Şans, Kommersant Info, Expert Novostei or specialized publications – Legea şi viaţa, Tainele sănătăţii, Business Liga. The press agency IPN also has its premises here.
Media outlets rent 1,454 square meters of the total of 9,926.8 square meters, which is the total area of the building. The other 127 legal entities occupy an area of nearly 2.5 times higher – 3,704 square meters. These include about 100 business companies, four foundations, 20 lawyers (including an associated legal office), and a notary.
Spaces of nearly 2,353 square meters have been assigned for economic management or privatization gradually between 1998 and 2004. According to the Land Registry data, in 1998, 1,676 square meters became the property of the State Company State Information Agency Moldpres, that subsequently rented out space to the Young Talent Association of Moldova “VIMIS” and to Rock Platinum SRL (the Albion club).
Two years later, based on a sale and purchase agreement, other 299.6 square meters of the Press House are assigned into the property of Compania-Dekart SRL that deals with the development of information protection software. Then the space becomes the property of the mixed company “COM DH”. At present, 106 square meters of this area have been rented out to Pegas for five years under an agreement signed in 2013.
In 2002, several rooms in the Press House, with the total area of 308.1 square meters, from the state ownership are transferred into the economic management of Cartea-Chişinău SA, after a decision has been issued on the formation of the real estate by division into spaces. In 2004, other 70.4 square meters are transferred into the management of Moldpres Agency through a Government decision. In the same year, the building is set as collateral with Banca de Economii, under a mortgage contract in the amount of MDL 290,000 for a two year term.
At present, several tens of offices with the area of nearly 2,080 square meters are free and awaiting their tenants.
Profit of over one million lei in 2014
The rent for business operators differs from year to year. In 2015, they pay 11 euros per square meter. The contracts are renewed each year.
In 2014, the biggest revenues to the treasury of the Press House were brought by the night club ”Sargon” (Ninevia SRL) – nearly 1.5 million lei (circa 118,000 lei per month, for circa 850 square meters on the first floor); the two ”Gălbenuş” cafeterias (Vijelios SRL) – over 1.5 million lei (nearly 120,000 lei monthly for 719 square meters, including basement and warehouses); the bagel shop ”La Mămuca” (Alexandra Stropşa SRL) – nearly 35,000 lei monthly for a space of 122 square meters; the grocery store ”Pegas” (Pegas SRL) – 16,622 lei monthly for 54 square meters; the night club ”Albion” (Rock Platinum SRL) – 12,286 lei per month for 78.8 square meters. The foundation Logistic-Media that occupies over 168 square meters on the third floor has brought revenues of 137,400 lei to the Press House.
The media outlets pay a much smaller tariff – in 2014 it accounted for circa 68 lei per square meter. The rate in this case is calculated according to the Law on the State Budget for the respective year, using a special formula. According to the data provided by the accounting office of the Press House, the periodicals last year paid between 500 lei and a little beyond 6,000 lei per month.
”We do not select. If someone wants the space and it is available, we rent it out. The price sometimes can be negotiated but absolutely every document goes through the State Chancery. The lease agreement does not have value without its stamp,” specifies Andrei Urmaş, administrator of the Press House since 2013.
Last year, from the leasing of space, the company made a profit of 1,077,121 lei (almost double compared to 2008), of which exactly half arrived into the state budget. The biggest revenues were registered in 2011 – over two million lei, and subsequently they started to fall. Andrei Urmaş says that profits do not increase by themselves and that one works hard for this: “If you want to grow, you must offer something attractive, you must have what to offer to the business company.” There are problems in this regard. The building has not been overhauled since it was built. Therefore, the administrator explains, he started repairing the roof immediately after having taken his position. The hall on the ground floor followed. ”We are now renovating the offices, to the extent possible, and we want to continue at the same pace in the next years,” the manager adds.
“Let them come, it’s their house”
Asked why so little press was in the building, Andrei Urmaș says that “he cannot influence the number of newsroom in the Press House, because each of them chooses where to have their premises.” He also says that if only press was in the building, the money from the leasing of space would suffice only for paying salaries to the staff of the Press House and the state taxes. And this is because of the small rent guaranteed by law for media outlets.
“The other day, a representative of the magazine Agricultura Moldovei (Moldova’s Agriculture) came to my office and admitted he did not have money for rent and that he rather worked from home. We further remain open for everyone, we can even have 100 newsrooms here. They know that this is their house. Until recently, the name of the institution was even mentioned on the façade and people were making a fuss about it. We have put the letters on the wall and have installed lamps. “You are welcome! It is your house!” Andrei Urmaş continues. He specifies that no discussions have ever been held about renaming the company and that there is no intention to alienate it: “When you touch something that may hurt journalists, suspicions arise. Even when we started renovating the hall, some of the journalists asked us if we wanted to sell the building, although it had not been entered in the list of premises liable to privatization.”
Move the cursor in the picture to see how the Press House has changed in 30 years
From the house of thee journalistic profession to a source of fat revenues
The building at the junction of Puşkin and 31 August 1989 Streets was erected between 1964 and 1967 and was commissioned in 1972, righteously becoming the house for all the media outlets of that time. The land reserved for the construction included also the House of the Union of Journalists (on the side between Puşkin and Vlaicu Pârcălab Streets), later on demolished. The President of the Union of Journalists of Moldova (UJM) Valeriu Saharneanu recalls that in the past newsrooms did not even fit all in the building but that the situation started changing in 1991.
“When the property of the Communist Party was divided, the Press House and the publishing house Universul had to be assigned to someone. The Union of Journalists was the most active one back then but Gheorghe Danu [radio journalist, president of the UJM at that time, editor’s note] was against and thus the timeliness was missed. The Association Fotojurnalistul existed at that time and Danu associated with them and gave to it 51% of the building. The director of Fotojurnalistul promised to manage the complex in the interest of the Union but the two entities became distant and the alienation of the premises started,” Saharneanu recounts.
The Union of Journalists appealed to court but, Valeriu Saharneanu says, “in the communists times it was impossible to find justice and so, the union remained “on the street”. The numerous attempts taken during the years to assign the building to the journalistic profession for management failed.
“It is source of income for consumables in the Government”
In 1997, during the Ion Ciubuc Government, the Concern “Presa” is established – “the managing body of the complex for publishing and printing the periodical press and for assuring official information in the country’s territory.” Having its premises in the Press House, the concern had among its tasks to provide national and external media with “objective and truthful information about the state policy, current political, economic and social events from country and outside,” publish the Official Gazette and other periodicals. In 2001, the Government led by Vasile Tarlev issued a decision by which the “Presa” Concern was liquidated “in order to optimize the work of the periodical press” and the Universul Publishing House, the “Casa Presei” Complex and the State Agency “Moldpres” carry out their activities as distinct legal entities in the subordination of the State Chancery.
“Since about 1994, then Andrei Sangheli was prime minister, the Press House turned into a building to rent out space. Starting with 2009, I have been appealing to all prime ministers – Filat, Leancă, Gaburici, and I am getting ready to go speak with Streleţ – to support the press, because a democratic state with press is unimaginable. But they don’t understand; it’s convenient to them to have revenues from the Press House for consumables in the Government,” the head of the Union of Journalists adds. He is mad at all company directors for being obedient to the instructions given from above and not caring about the media: “They have no idea about the press, they sell space.”
In July 2013, the Union of Journalists launched an appeal for having the management right over the Casa Presei complex retroceded, arguing that Moldova was the only country of the former soviet space hat did not have a building for the journalistic guild. But the campaign was not successful.
Press House vs. Press Condition
Alina Radu, director of the weekly Ziarul de Gardă that has its premises in the Press House says that the problem of lack of space for newsroom does not exist anymore. Many media outlets simply do not want to move here probably because they choose expensive buildings.
“The subject was topical about eight or ten years ago, when independent press was not accepted to the Press House. Today the press has place here but it chooses separate and luxurious buildings. The big problem now is not the Press House but the press condition,” the journalist thinks. According to her, the independent press has remained in the building – poorer but good outlets such as IPN Ziarul de Gardă; several magazines for children, and some publications that are not coming out anymore Curierul Agricol, Moldoveanca etc. “I think we do need the Press House but only those media outlet that have remained here,” Alina Radu claims.
The journalist says that in the past five years positive changes have happened in the building, for instance, the toilets on all floors have been repaired “which should have been normality but was not for many years.” She admits she wishes the rent was lower “Anyway, the fee for the press is lower than that for trade companies. The subject is subtle: what kind of press should enjoy special conditions? Because Comunistul, Stejarul or Soluţia are also called newspapers but they receive money from their parties. Unfortunately or fortunately, they have their own premises and do not amass in the Press House,” Alina Radu notes.
Former directors, involved in laundering of millions
In 2012, a criminal case for defrauding the institution by millions of lei was started against three former directors and the accountant of the State Company “Casa Presei”. According to the case file materials, Anatolie Dubrovschi, appointed as director in 2006, allegedly granted illegal material aids of over 900,000 lei to the company’s staff for three years (2008–2010). Moreover, in the same period he awarded prizes of 81,000 and 86,000 lei to himself and to the chief accountant of the institution Dina Timofti, respectively.
Nicolae Lungu who came to the position of director after Dubrovschi (February–April 2010) in just two months would have managed to bring damages to the state by more than 119,000 lei, nearly 60,000 lei of which were granted to the staff as material aid, over 25,000 lei – prizes to themselves, and 35.000 de lei – for the accountant. The third director Gheorghe Iuteş (April-December 2010), contrary to the law, granted to the staff aids of over 480,000 lei. He took nearly 13,000 lei as prizes for himself and gave over 20,000 lei to the accountant. In total, the damages he allegedly caused can be estimated at nearly half a million lei.
Dina Timofti, chief-accountant, had been accused of being accomplice, alleged to have executed the illegal orders given by her superiors. Thus, the total damage that is said to have been caused by her and the three former directors is estimated at over 1.7 million lei.
On 31 January 2014, the Centru District Court acquitted the four “on the grounds that the act of the defendants does not gather the elements of a crime.” Disagreeing with the sentence, the prosecutor appealed the judgment and requested a punishment of six years of imprisonment. He argued that the sentence of the first instance court had been “adversely made and reasoned” and hid the illegal actions of the defendants.
On 20 October 2014, the Chişinău Court of Appeal finds guilty the persons in the case. Anatolie Dubrovschi, Gheorghe Iuteş and Nicolae Lungu were convicted to five years if imprisonment each, with suspension for up to three years. Dina Timofti was established a punishment of four years with suspension for up to two years. The defendants filed a second appeal and on 6 August inst., the Criminal College of the Supreme Court of Justice decided to quash completely the judgment of the Chişinău Court of Appeal and to have the case retried. Hence, the case was tried once again but by a different panel of judges.
In 2013, the Court of Account held an audit at all the institutions subordinated to the State Chancery. The report reveals that in 2012, the representatives of the State Company “Casa Presei” committed many infringements when letting out spaces, and namely, that in 21 cases, the areas established in the rent agreement did not correspond with the data from the geometric plan. “Tax people have been here recently and found some infringements in the accounting, but not serious ones, for which I have been personally fined by 2.000 lei,” Andrei Urmaş specifies.
This investigation has been produced under the campaign “Journalists for Transparency in Public Funds Management”, carried out by the Center for investigative Journalism with the support of the US Embassy to the Republic of Moldova.
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