Backstage Purchases of Ambulances: Criminal Cases, Non-compliances and Political Affiliations
During the years the ambulance park which requires 450 units had been occasionally supplied with cars in a limited number. In 2018 after years of neglect 69 new ambulances, purchased with public money, arrived in Moldova. A company that proposed Russian ambulances, Gaz Sobol model won the tender organized by the National Center for Emergency Medical Assistance. Also in 2018, other 36 ambulances were purchased with public money. The authorities promised that this is just the beginning and that the healing of the health system will continue with the purchase of an additional 170 new ambulances thanks to an European loan. Anticorruption prosecutors are now investigating the correctness of the procurement procedures and the execution of the concluded contracts while the 170 ambulances, promised by the authorities last year, have not arrived to Moldova yet.
ZdG analyzed dozens of documents and discussed with the people, directly or indirectly involved in the purchase of ambulances during the last two years, as well as in their subsequent operation.
We found healthcare system employees who are afraid to talk openly about the quality of the ambulances they have received, about suspicious tenders, as well as political affiliations of the companies that have delivered ambulances or are in charge of their maintenance.
The patients in villages use Russian ambulances
On December 2017, the public tender for the purchase of the ambulances took place. The contracting authority, the National Center for Emergency Medical Assistance (CNAMUP), designated Autoritate Grup, an unknown company with the legal address in the village of Coșnița in Dubăsari district, winner of the bid. The purchase value was around €2.3 million (44.99 million lei).
On March 2018, CNAMUP signed with the Group Authority the increase of the contract value by more than 300,000 euros (6.74 million lei), for the supply of an additional number of ambulances. Thus, the total value of the contract reached around €2.7 million (51.74 million lei), and for this money, Authority Group was to deliver, within five months from the signing of the contract, 69 Russian ambulances, model Gaz Sobol. The unit price was 36,000 euros, at December 2017 exchange rate, when the auction took place.
The first 10 Russian ambulances arrived in Chișinău in April 2018, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection (MSMPS) announced then that by the end of May, 59 more ambulances will arrive. In fact, the last 12 ambulances arrived at the emergency care centers only on September 24, as Autoritate Grup delayed their delivery by a few months.
Boris Gîlca, former State Secretary General at the Ministry of Health, said that, because of the delay, he requested the termination of the contract for the purchase of ambulances Gaz Sobol.
“According to the contract with the supplier company, those 69 Sobol type ambulances of Russian production, were to arrive in Moldova by May 15, 2018. This did not happen. We requested explanations from CNAMUP, and they gave evasive answers.
Subsequently, on July 4, 2018, by an official letter addressed to the CNAMUP management, I requested the immediate termination of the contract with the supplier company, including the collection of the penalty of about 130,000 euros (2.5 million lei), according to the legal provisions of that contract.
That letter, of July 4, created a great stirring among some people involved in that defective auction. As a result, the next day, on July 5, the minister issued another letter that annulled my previous letter, mentioning that the ministry would monitor the correct and full delivery of ambulances, according to the contract,” said Boris Gîlca.
An old soviet ambulance instead of a new one
One of the 69 Russian ambulances was assigned to the Emergency Medical Assistance Point (PAMU) in Bobeica, Hâncești district, which attends to the inhabitants of several villages in the area.
ZdG went to Cărpineni and Bobeica in October to see how the medical services were improved with the arrival of the new ambulances, but there was only a rusty ambulance, produced in the late 1990s instead.
The employees of the Emergency Point avoided talking openly to the camera about the problems with the new ambulance without the permission of the superiors. However, when not filmed by the camera, they affirmed that the ambulance received in the summer of 2018 broke down a few months later and since then it was in Chișinău to be repaired. In the meantime, patients were transported with an ambulance designed far back in the Soviet period, whose period of operation expired long ago.
ZdG asked Vasile Cucu, the representative of the company that delivered the ambulances, about the case from Bobeica. Initially, he denied that the ambulance would be broken, but later he told ZdG that he needed to be documented additionally. Instead, he accused the drivers of not operating the transport unit properly.
In fact, it is several months since the ambulance from Bobeica has been at the car service that ensures their maintenance during the warranty period. The employees there told us that the ambulance had a serious engine failure and that the repair lasted so long because of the cumbersome procedures for importing a new engine. On November 6, when we visited the car service, the employees there told us that the repair work was nearly finished and that, in a few days, the ambulance would reach again the patients in the Hâncești district.
ZdG also asked the employees from PAMU Cărpineni about the reliability of the Russian ambulances received last summer. They initially refused to talk to us in front of the video camera, but later admitted that technical malfunctions are common.
CNAMUP director and a deputy director, detained in the ambulance case
The dubious quality of ambulances of Russian production is not the only problem since their acquisition. Recently, the auction organized by CNAMUP has come to the attention of the anticorruption prosecutors. Former Democrat deputy Boris Golovin, CNAMUP director, and Oleg Barbă, one of his deputy directors, were arrested, being accused of exceeding their authority.
According to prosecutors, Boris Golovin, who was director of CNAMUP but suspended from office during the term of deputy mandate, gave instructions to Oleg Barbă, newly appointed interim director at CNAMUP, to sign the transfer of the last tranche of money, worth over 100,000 euros (2 million lei), to Autoritate Grup, although it did not deliver the ambulances on time, and the respective amount was to be withheld by the state as penalties for not respecting contractual obligations.
At the same time, Mihail Ivanov, the anticorruption prosecutor, stated that both Oleg Barbă and Boris Golovin are presumed innocent until the court decides on their cases.
ZdG couldn’t talk to Boris Golovin because he is in pre-trial detention. His lawyer, however, told us that Golovin pleads innocent.
Oleg Barbă, who was also detained in the case, was subsequently placed under house arrest after he, according to prosecutors, admitted his guilt.
A deputy who is also CNAMUP director
Following the parliamentary elections on November 2014, Boris Golovin was elected deputy on the lists of the Communist Party. A year later, a group of 14 Communist deputies, including Golovin, announced about their leaving the Communist Party and joining the parliamentary majority formed around the Democratic Party.
On December 30, 2015, Boris Golovin won in the contest for the position of CNAMUP director and was appointed to the position on the last day of the year. Although he won the contest for the position of CNAMUP director, Golovin chose to remain a deputy until the end of his term so, on January 27, 2016, he requested the suspension of the individual employment contract concluded with CNAMUP.
However, ZdG’s sources inside CNAMUP said that Boris Golovin, even though officially suspended from office, was de facto running the medical institution, coming almost every day to CNAMUP headquarters and giving directions to the interim director and deputy directors.
At the same time, although he officially held the position of deputy, Boris Golovin participated in most public events organized by CNAMUP, such as the distribution of new ambulances or the cutting of ribbons for the opening of emergency medical assistance points in various localities.
The fact that the deputy Golovin held, concurrently, the position of CNAMUP director came to the attention of the National Integrity Commission after a complaint filed by Vladimir Voronin, deputy at that time. By an act dated April 28, 2016, the National Integrity Commission found that Boris Golovin violated the legal regime of incompatibilities. Not agreeing with this act, Golovin contested it in court.
On December 2016, the Râșcani District Court in Chișinău, granted his request, canceling the act of findings of the National Integrity Commission. The dispute reached the Chișinău Court of Appeal, which, in June 2017, overturned the decision of the first court and declared legal the act of the National Integrity Commission, which found the violation of the legal regime of incompatibilities by Boris Golovin. The Supreme Court of Justice, however, issued a final conclusion in this case, and on November 1, 2017, annulled the decision of the Chișinău Court of Appeal, giving Golovin justice.
Co-founder of Autoritate Grup with residence in the family apartment of a former deputy minister
The documents analyzed by the Ziarul de Gardă show that the company Autoritate Grup, the one that sold the Russian ambulances to the state, has ties with the Democratic Party of Moldova. In 2012, when the Turkish citizen Aygar Necati became co-owner of Autoritate Grup, he lived in an apartment in Chișinău belonging to Valeriu Triboi’s family, Ex-Minister of Economy and Democratic Party deputy.
Vasile Cucu, associate and administrator of Autoritate Grup, said that he was the one who found the apartment for Aygar Necati, his Turkish partner, but he claimed that he did not know about Triboi’s political affiliation.
Constantin Sula, another representative of Autoritate Grup during the implementation of the contract, was the Democrats district councilor in Strășeni for the last four years. Previously, he had been a local councilor and mayor of Roșcani commune, and deputy director of the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption, the predecessor of the National Anticorruption Center.
Vasile Cucu admitted that he knew about Sula’s connection with the Democratic Party, but specified that this didn’t influence the winning bid for ambulance delivery by his company in any way. Constantin Sula declared the same things.
The donor and trusted person of Democrats who is the business partner of the Autoritate Grup owner
The businessman Andrei Furculiță is another person from Vasile Cucu’s entourage affiliated to the Democratic Party. The two are associates at Mercuriy Trade. Furculiță is member of the National Political Council of the Democratic Party, and one of the donors of the party.
In the 2016 presidential election campaign, Andrei Furculiță donated around 3,600 euros (70,000 lei) to the Democratic Party, and in February 2019, during the campaign for parliamentary elections, Furculiță donated 1,500 euros (30,000 lei) to the party.
Once again the manager of the company that delivered the ambulances said that his company did not benefit from his partners’ affiliation with the then ruling party, which also included Boris Golovin, the de facto CNAMUP director.
“I have known Furculiță Andrei for a long time, we run a company together. I really didn’t know he was a member of the Democratic Party. It is my company that managed the transaction (the ambulance delivery contract), I am not member of any party, I did not request any support from Mr. Furculiță or from Mr. Triboi,” said Vasile Cucu.
The company providing ambulance maintenance is a donor of the Shor Party
Autoritate Grup provided a two-year quality warranty or covering 100,000 kilometers for the 69 ambulances delivered to CNAMUP. At the same time, on June 25, 2018, Autoritate Grup signed a contract with Auto Prosper Services for the technical service of the ambulances during the warranty period (oil changes, filters, brake pads, etc.).
Auto Prosper Services is one of the companies authorized by the Russian Gas group to provide maintenance services and warranty repairs of Gas cars on the territory of Moldova. According to the contract, obtained by ZdG, the cost for the maintenance of the 69 ambulances during the warranty period amounts to around 99,000 euros (1.91 million lei).
According to data from the Central Election Commission, Auto Prosper Services was one of the most generous donors of the Shor Party in 2019. According to the report on the revenues and expenses of the Shor Party in the electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections of February 24, Auto Prosper Services donated to the party around 36,000 euros (695,000 lei), indicating as a source of money the profit registered by the company. The donation came in a single tranche, on January 28, 2019, when the election campaign was in full swing.
Vasile Cucu, the manager of Autoritate Grup, said the following about the donations of the company he contracted to do ambulance maintenance work during the warranty period:
“Auto Prosper Services was recommended by the GAZ manufacturer because they have authorized service by this manufacturer. I didn’t know about donations. I learned later, that Auto Prosper is indirectly linked with the Shor Party. I knew nothing about it. Now we have commercial relations, but we are not acquainted.”
We couldn’t talk to Alexandr Vidriţki, the director of Auto Prosper Services, to ask him how he became a donor to the Shor Party and whether this donation has anything to do with obtaining the ambulance maintenance contract. Vidriţki was not at work when we visited the car service of the company he runs; neither did he answer the phone although we left a message with two of his employees that we wanted to discuss on the subject of donations for the Shor Party.
The other 36 ambulances also have non-compliances
Also in 2018, in addition to the ambulances from the Russian Federation, the state bought 36 Mercedes transport units, destined for Chișinău. For this purpose, over €2.5 million (50 million lei) were allocated from budgetary sources. According to Boris Gîlcă, former State Secretary General of the Ministry of Health, the 36 transport units were, in fact, vans converted into ambulances by the Turkish company that won the tender, organized, this time, by the Center for centralized public procurement in health.
Boris Gîlcă said that probably it was the minister himself who coordinated the transaction at the Ministry of Health, as no other person in the ministry had information on the purchase of Mercedes ambulances. And after these ambulances were brought to Moldova, one by one, medical personnel and drivers began to report certain technical deficiencies: either of the electricity system, or of the air conditioning system, or of the medical equipment that easily dismantled and fell apart.
After these reports increased in number, the ministry began to investigate the problem. Some of the ambulance maintenance staff said the ambulances were non-compliant, meaning these ambulances did not arrive as factory made ambulances, but were purchased as Mercedes vans and re-equipped into ambulances. Boris Gîlcă said that he had warned the Turkish company about these non-conformities in an official letter.
The 168 ambulances that never came
On July 12, 2018, the then Prime Minister Pavel Filip, signed a loan agreement, worth €12 million, with the Development Bank of the Council of Europe. From this money, the Government announced that it will purchase 170 new ambulances.
Shortly after, a tender was organized, and the same company in Turkey that delivered the Mercedes ambulances won the bid. This time, however, the winning bid offered Ford ambulances.
In total, 168 ambulances were to be purchased, of which 35 intensive care ambulances (type C) and 133 for first aid (type B). The ambulances, however, have not been delivered, and the fate of this contract is, for the moment, unclear because this purchase has also come to the attention of the prosecutors.
Prosecutors, however, avoid giving details on the grounds that the investigation is just at the beginning. Asked about the reasons the purchase of Ford ambulances was suspended, Ala Nemerenco, the Minister of Health, Labor and Social Protection, told us that irregularities were found in the procurement procedure, and that she could not give us details so as not to prejudice the law enforcement investigation.
The state purchased more non-compliant ambulances
In June 2019, a group of specialists from Moldova traveled to Adana in Turkey to inspect and ascertain the technical correspondence of the Ford ambulances and their equipment with medical facilities to be delivered to our country.
“I was delegated to Turkey by the government to inspect the ambulance models that were to be delivered under the contract: a type B and a type C ambulance. I did not go alone, I went with a group of expert-specialists from Moldova.
After the examination it became clear that these ambulances, as well as the medical equipment provided, were non-compliant. Moreover, the medical equipment was mounted almost under artisanal conditions, by some unauthorized craftsmen of the Turkish company who did not have the necessary professional skills.
We realized this because they asked us: “where do you want to install your X or Y equipment? On the left wall or on the right wall, higher or maybe lower?”
According to European standards for ambulances, the installation of equipment is strictly regulated and standardized and is not a subject of negotiation,” stated Boris Gîlcă after their visit to the factory where the ambulances were equipped.
The former State Secretary General thus stated that, the group of experts from Moldova concluded that the ambulances are not compliant, the equipment is of very poor quality, their installation is unauthorized and their cost is surprisingly high.
Thus, in the travel report, submitted to the Prime Minister, Gîlcă expressed the necessity of terminating the contract, reconsidering the tender and starting a new international auction, which is absolutely transparent, in order to procure ambulances that comply, of the highest quality, in accordance with European standards.
Patients’ ambulances vs CNAMUP chief’s cars
While ambulance procurements have resulted in criminal investigations and delays in their delivery, CNAMUP administrators use new service cars, produced by Japanese or American companies.
In October, we saw in the CNAMUP yard several Chevrolet Captiva model cars, the cost of which starts from 25,000 euros for a unit. The cars, eight in number, were purchased in 2016. Subsequently, CNAMUP purchased several Suzuki Vitara cars, which were also intended for the institution managers, including the heads of regional stations.