In the last two years, the authorities invested over 660,000 euros from the state budget in the repair of the community cultural center in Gotești, Cantemir district, southern Moldova. However, ZdG found that the renovation project of the center’s building became a cradle for bribes and local corruption, as the construction company benefited from the government’s money and interrupted the repair work after the change of the town’s mayors.
He blackmailed us after that, ‘give me this much money and that’s it’
ZdG got an audio recording, which reveals a discussion between the current mayor of the locality, Romeo Bolocan, and two decision-makers of the company that carried out the repair work, Russu and Gramma. The recording provides evidence of corruption as the company representatives admit bribing the former mayor.
Russu: We gave him a lot of money.
Bolocan: How much?
Russu: About 400 000 Moldovan lei and he requested 500 000 more.
Bolocan: When did he ask for 500 000 more?
Russu: Before the elections. He said: „I’ll win the elections, I’ll do everything. So we thought that he…
Bolocan: Why did you give him 400 000?
Russu: More than 400 000.
Bolocan: What for?
Gramma: Well, that’s not the point… We wanted to sign the percent for the remaining sum. There are about 53,000 there.
Bolocan: We’ll sign when you come, not now.
Gramma: We have everything with us.
Bolocan: The driver is not here. The bags are in the car.
Russu: You should count transport expenses as well, 500 km back and forth, you see.
Bolocan: Tell me exactly how much Panainte [the former mayor] requested and how much you gave him.
Gramma: What for? Panainte is sure to have his own problems. I’ll show you the project. He probably had to be shot for such a project. We altered the project. It’s serious.
Russu: We paid for the project and he dares to deceive us.
Gramma: And now, the project does not include sewage. I just wanted to explain it to him, … and then to sign… Let’s agree to sign tomorrow morning.
Bolocan: We have a meeting tomorrow morning.
Bolocan: Why don’t you record him when he calls?
Gramma: Look here, do you want to arrest him?
Russu: I have everything recorded. Everything.
Gramma: We have everything.
Russu: It’s not about the money. It’s just about keeping one’s word, everyone wants to make some money. If you take the money, you should do something about it. He just got us into debt.
Gramma: After that, he blackmailed us, `give me that much money and that’s it`. I’m telling you…
Russu: He would have been arrested long before if we only wanted it. Somehow, we pity him.
Papers of carrying out repair work that do not correspond to reality
The project started two years ago when according to local councilors, they were to be allocated from the state budget about 755,000 euros for the reconstruction of the community cultural center. Thus, at the beginning of November 2018, following an auction, the town’s hall led by mayor Panainte Chicicov signed a contract of around 732,000 euros with AnaGrama-Grup, for the village’s cultural center repair.
The cultural center was to be open at the end of December 2020. Although the contractor
reports having spent over 661,000 euros, repair work of the building is not finished, and the company refuses to complete it.
A local councilor reports that the company received the first tranche of over 330,000 euros shortly after signing the contract. Subsequently, another tranche was transferred, but the company stopped the repair work before the local elections in October 2019.
“The former mayor signed the papers of carrying out the work, drawn up according to the law by the contractor and the technical manager – a commission that confirmed the completion of repair work. In our opinion, the papers do not correspond to reality. In these two months, practically nothing has been done there. Repair work at the Culture House started in 2019 and continued up to the elections; another 330,000 euros were raised, 661,000 euros in total, and that’s it, nothing is done until today, the house is locked,” says the counselor.
“How come, we start a project and change the rules of the game on the way?”
The problems of the community cultural house came to light after the former mayor lost the local elections in 2019. Romeo Bolocan, a candidate from the Socialist Party, won, and a new local administration was elected. A current local councilor Sergiu Botnari, claims that, shortly after the contract regarding the repair of the building was signed, the construction company changed the type of roof provided in the basic project, which led to an increase in the value of the contract by about 236,000 euros. The local council did not decide on the adjustment and it was based on a letter of recommendation from the former mayor.
“According to the project, the roof was soft, but they changed it with a profiled sheet. They had to follow the original project; otherwise, they needed to have a decision of the council for the modification of the project. How come, we start a project and make changes on the way. Something is not clear here and it is not right,” the local councilor is puzzled.
„Now, as it turns out, we are in debt.”
Following the election, given that the work at the community cultural center was stopped, the company’s representatives asked for new conditions to complete the building’s repair. Thus, after installing the new roof, as agreed with the former mayor, the company asked the current local administration to sign the approval on the adjustments to the project. “The contractor wanted us to vote in the council for the decision that allowed the change of the roof. They made the change on the basis of a letter from the former mayor, and now they are asking the council to vote for a decision that didn’t exist. Why didn’t they do it on time if it’s a good thing if it’s transparent if it’s in good faith? That is, 13 councilors are less significant than the former mayor?” Sergiu Botnari asks rhetorically.
The counselor added that the company’s representatives informed them that they do not have financial funds to continue repair work, so the company insists on signing “the additional agreement for the construction of the roof, in order to receive state subsidies to complete the work.” “The cost of the roof amounts to 222,000 euros which, apparently, is our debt. But there are already allocated 708,500 euros. Where should the council take this money from, we don’t have this money, we don’t operate with such sums,” says Botnari, member of the local council.
“We all understand that this money was stolen”
The “Money laundry from Gotești”, as the villagers call it, came to the attention of the National Anti-corruption Center, yet the institution failed to do justice. According to the deputy director of AnaGrama-Grup, whose statements are in a report from September 2020 for the Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office, as a result of adjustments to the project, the Gotești commune’s debt to the company amounted up to 307,000 euros. The amount included additional expenses for the roof’s construction, for construction expertise and the project carried out before the roof was built, and also the amount left unpaid from the basic contract.
On the other side, the new administration of the village does not acknowledge the debt. It refuses to operate with foreign money, and for the council’s vote to accept modifications to the project, the administration requests from the company an expenses report. The local officials are dissatisfied that the Culture House remains in a disastrous state, considering 661,000 euros as stolen.
“If they had carried out all repair work and, if they had spent this much money, let them provide documents to confirm it. But they only claim that to complete the work, according to their calculations, they need about 283,000 euros. But they have to justify the expenses with some calculations: why the roof is so much more expensive, by a few thousand euros. You know, they have these papers of carrying out the work to date, which, I tell you, do not correspond to reality; according to them they spent 661,000 euros. We all know that this money has been stolen. You should go inside the building, there is a total disaster, and everyone is dissatisfied,” says the councilor Vasile Berescu.
In July 2020, the current administration of Gotești Hall filed a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anticorruption Center to investigate the case, but so far they have only been informed that “the complaint has been received and is being examined.”
In their notification, the local officials mention that “the project for carrying out the repair works was incomplete, superficial and with major deviations”, stating that “it did not include the basement of the building and other aspects such as the sewerage.”
“Completion of work on the first and second floors as well as the roof of the building is incompatible without strengthening the foundation of the building. Subsequently, during the partial execution of the repair work of the building, the basement has been muddy, full of waste and mold; it is in a disastrous state,” states the complaint of the local administration.
Bribing the current mayor: “I only accepted the application, but I didn’t even touch the money.”
On September 2, 2020, the National Anti-Corruption Center announced that both the former and the current mayor of Gotești village, as well as a local councilor, “came under their scrutiny following a denouncement that they had asked for bribes from the company’s representatives”. The authorities also noted that the employees are “suspected of having extorted money to favor a local council decision on budget allocation for the repair work.”
However, the current mayor of the town denies the accusations brought against him; he claims that, in fact, Ivan Russu, the company’s deputy director, tried to bribe him in order to influence the local council to vote the decision to the roof change project. Bolocan claims that he informed the law enforcement bodies about the attempted corruption only a few weeks later, on the grounds that supposedly he took it as a joke.
The Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office did not accept the official’s request and rejected it, motivating that “the deed does not meet the elements of the crime.”
At the same time, the prosecutor’s declaration states that Romeo Bolocan’s complaint
would be “with the aim of self-defense against the incriminated deed”, referring to an opened criminal case. In the meantime, the company’s representatives denounced last summer the current mayor that he would have taken a bribe. “The company was probably deceived (by the former mayor, editor’s note), or I don’t know what they did, that now they want to get away clean and have someone resolve their questions. They demand the modification to be signed. I am not against it, I told them that we are making the change through the Council, but the councilors still do not agree, they want an account of where the money went. 661,000 euros is not a small amount. It remains a debt of the mayor’s office,” argues Romeo Bolocan.
Former mayor: “They just ruined my reputation so I don’t run in the next elections.”
Panainte Chicicov was the mayor of Gotești commune for 12 years. During this time he switched three political parties, and before the October 2019 elections, in which he was defeated, he left the Democratic Party and ran for the Electoral Bloc ACUM.
Repeatedly contacted by ZdG and asked about the cultural center, the former mayor claimed that he did not break any law and is not guilty of anything. As for the repair work at the building, Chicicov claims that during his administration the work was carried out but the Government has not paid the full amount of money and also extra work has been done.” Meantime, the former mayor warned ZdG not to “write something unnecessary, or we might end up in court.”
Asked how it was possible to operate adjustments to the project without having the Council’s decision, the former mayor states that “this change is not within the Council’s competence. The local authority, together with the designer, the contractor, and the technical manager decide on this.” At the same time, the former mayor claims that the roof’s change was a good thing. However, he is convinced that the current administration pursues to denigrate him, “so that I no longer run in the next elections.”
“We have a technical manager who is responsible for the work. Work was carried out, they transferred money, what’s the problem? They just ruined my authority completely, so I do not run in the next elections,” points out Panainte Chicicov, stating that the accusations regarding the acts of corruption “were set up by the current local administration.”
The contractor: “When the mayors changed, they began to fight each other.”
The company AnaGrama-Grup specializes in construction and has had high value contracts with public institutions over the years. Anna Gramma, the current director, founded the company 20 years ago, and her husband is the deputy director. When ZdG tried to discuss with its representatives about the repair works of the Culture House in Gotești village, the deputy director refused to answer us. Shortly afterwards, however, he contacted us and agreed to speak. The deputy director Ivan Russu stated that the company did not receive the full amount of money, and the repair work stopped for lack of funds.
“We carried out work, as much as there was money; then they closed, because when the mayors changed, the old one and this new, they began to quarrel. Who took more, who took less, do you understand what system is here? When we saw what was going on, we stopped the repair work. When there is money, we will continue to build,” says the company’s representative Russu.
ZdG asked why he agreed to carry out the construction of the roof without having the decision of the Council, Russu claims that this aspect was related to the former mayor’s debt. The company representative claims they were not informed that the former mayor did not receive the Council’s decision to change the roof. Later the company representative admits that he offered bribes to both the former and the current mayor, stating that “before they pay you, you have to give them.”
“I have to do my job. You give the money, I do the work; if there’s no money, there is no work. I know that I have to pay taxes and salaries, to provide material and work, to make sure the firm has no complaints. It is none of my business what they do there, how and what they share between them. Now that they are in trouble, they are looking for justice. There cannot be any justice for them as they are up to their neck in thievery. They are the greatest thieves, but they want to get away clean. How can they get away clean, if they got the money? ” stated the representative angrily.
10 million lei (472,000 euros) allocated annually for the repair of culture houses
While former and current officials from Gotești village count their money, and accuse each other, the inhabitants are dissatisfied that, although they have been promised, they still do not have a Culture House in their district, where to carry out socio-cultural events.
In 2014 the Government approved the Development Strategy “Culture 2020”. In the years 2009-2011, with the financing from the local public administration budgets, 281 houses of culture underwent major repairs. The total expenses amounted to over 68 million euros. At that time, 73 culture houses were still damaged, and 536 needed major repairs. Thus, according to the Action Plan on the implementation of the Culture Development Strategy, for six years, 472,000 euros were for the repair of cultural buildings, a responsibility that fell to local public authorities. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that in 2019 there were 1,216 cultural institutions in Moldova.