A 130 Million Dollars Loss for Electricity Debt
Moldova’s state budget could lose almost 130 million dollars as damage, the equivalent of about 2.2 billion Moldovan lei, due to a twenty-year-old debt for the electricity received from Romania. Following an auction at the end of 2020, a part of the debt was transferred to a pharmaceutical company in Bucharest. Thus, the Romanian company has now the right to recover about 70 million dollars from Moldova, and the amount is increasing due to penalties.
Additionally to this amount, Moldova may have to pay another 60 million dollars due to litigation based on the same debt, after another company addressed the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.
Daniela CALMÎȘ, ZdG Reporter
December 29, 2020, Bucharest- Takes place a multiple-interest auction related to a Moldovan electricity debt. A debt of 17 million dollars was auctioned, a part of the total debt of about 32 million dollars that Moldtranselectro SE from Moldova had towards Termoelectrica JSC from Romania. Only one Romanian company participated in the auction, unrelated to the electricity business: Bucharest Tehnoplus Farm JSC, which obtained the right to recover the 17 million-dollar debt, as well as the lost income for the total period of the debt’s non-payment.
The companies’ battle for the extinguished debt
In 2001, the Romanian Parliament approved Law 209, according to which Moldova’s debt to Termoelectrica Romania, heiress of the National Electricity Company Conel, for the supplied energy was extinguished. However, Termoelectrica Romania, after Conel’s closure, continued to claim that debt, even after the law’s approval. The company’s actions are based on an arbitrary decision from 2004 recognized in Moldova.
In 2016, after Termoelectrica Romania went bankrupt, the company Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring /Insolvency, an association affiliated to one of the most famous law firms in Romania – Mușat & Asociații, which represented on several occasions the interests of the Romanian state, as well as of the current President Klaus Iohannis, became its judicial liquidator. Public data show that Musat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency, representing Termoelectrica’s interests, organized auctions to sell the 17 million-dollar debt, which is part of the alleged debt of Moldtranselectro in Moldova to Termoelectrica Romania.
Following several failed auctions, a new one was organized in November 2020, at which two Moldovan companies participated: Elevator Park JSC, represented by the controversial businessman Vadim Ciornea, and Lafarina-Plus JSC, represented by Ukrainian citizen Volodymyr Kriukov, and Farmacia București Tehnoplus Farm SJC, a Romanian company, In the end, Lafarina-Plus JSC became the winning bidder for the alleged debt in exchange for 1.8 million dollars.
Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring/Insolvency: “No one can invoke ignorance of the law.”
The Lafarina-Plus SJC representatives informed of their right to claim the debt to the Moldtranselectro company. In her reply letter, Angela Morarencu, the current director of Moldtranselectro, referred to 2001 Law approved by the Romanian Parliament, according to which the Romanian state is the successor of the claim for the electricity delivered to Moldova, while the debt of Termoelectrica Romania to the state, which derives from the contract of the two energy companies, was extinguished from the account of a placement investment made by Merrill Lynch.
Having received this answer, representatives of Lafarina-plus JSC sent a summons to Musat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency, requesting a refund for the participation in the auction as well as canceling the 2014-2020 auctions as being illegal. However, the representatives of Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency considered the summons unfounded, stating that “no one can invoke ignorance of the law.”
The links of the winning company representative with Veaceslav Platon
Shortly afterward, Lafarina-plus JSC was notified that it lost the status of the auction’s winning bidder, and the guarantee of participation in the auction was retained as damages.
“Mușat & Asociații did not behave properly at the auction. Obviously, the company from Bucharest, which participated in the auction, was their “spoiler”, as they only tried to increase the auction bid. […] According to the data we got from our unofficial sources, this company is related to Mr. Igor Popa, Vlad Filat’s former lawyer,” Volodymyr Kriukov reproaches, specifying that “Termoelectrica Romania did not have the right to claim the debt, this is clear from the law’s text. This is about reputation, and for lawyers, these are fatal things. In response to our letter, they admitted, “Yes, we knew this.” If you knew it, it means that you intentionally did these things,” Kriukov claims.
The Ukrainian businessman admits that he has been trying to get the right to the claim of the 17 million-dollar debt since 2014. For a period of two years, starting with 2008, the current representative of Lafarina-Plus SJC was the administrator of Energoalians, a company affiliated with the controversial businessman Veaceslav Platon. The company is currently involved in another dispute of millions with Moldova. Kriukov claims he no longer has a close relationship with the controversial businessman at present.
The link between the winning company and the former director of Moldtranselectro
Lafarina-Plus JSC, founded in 2000, is managed by Kriukov’s wife, Mariana Kriukova. In addition, she is also founder and manager of Quantum Renovatio JSC, together with the son of Alexandru Lupan, former director of Moldtranselectro in the years 2003-2007 and the current technical director of Termoelectrica Moldova. Lupan is also the author of the letter that the current Moldtranselectro director signed and sent to Lafarina-Plus.
Lupan confirmed for ZdG that he is friends with the Kriukovs, but he denies having known about their Kriukov’s intentions to acquire the debt claim and insists that he did not inform them about the mentioned Romanian law, to avoid a conflict of interest.
The Popa & Asociații’s role in the debt’s recovery
Lafarina-Plus JSC accuses lawyer Igor Popa of being involved in this litigation, Their accusations are based on the fact that in 2018, Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency, the judicial liquidator of the Romanian energy company signed an agreement with the Popa & Asociații law firm, whose founder is Igor Popa. The lawyer became known to the public after he defended the interests of former prime minister Vlad Filat. The agreement with the Popa & Asociații law firm offered legal aid to Termoelectrica against the Moldovan energy firm, Moldtranselectro, based on the 2004 arbitration award.
The relationship between the Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency and Popa & Asociații law firms started in 2010 when the Romanian law firm announced that it expands through an exclusive strategic partnership with the Moldovan firm, aiming to offer services of legal advice in Moldova.
Asked by ZdG, the lawyer Igor Popa denied any connection with Farmacia Bucureşti Tehnoplus Farm, winning bidder of the claim at the December 2020 auction, and warned us that if the two law firms are affected, we will be sued for defamation.
“It is presumed that Termoelectrica considered the Emergency Ordinance was not executed.”
Meanwhile, another auction took place in Bucharest on December 29, 2020, in which only Farmacia București Tehnoplus Farm participated. The company won the right to recover the debt of about 340,000 dollars. The Romanian company, with a turnover of about 16 million euros, manages the pharmacy chain Farmacia Ana-Maria, a brand present on the pharmaceutical retail market for almost 30 years. Marian and Ramona-Elena Petcu run the company, which are partners and administrators in several pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies. Marian Petcu did not answer the ZdG phones.
Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency, the judicial liquidator of Termoelectrica Romania, in a reply for ZdG, specified that “considering the initiation of the arbitration dispute no. 102/2003 definitively resolved by the Arbitral Award no. 73/2004 issued by the International Court of Arbitration attached to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania, enforceable title recognized on the territory of Moldova by Chișinău Economic Court of Appeal, it is presumed that Termoelectrica considered that the Ordinance of Emergency no. 79/2000 approved by Law no. 209/2001 was not executed .”
“Therefore, during the period of voluntary liquidation as well as during the period of bankruptcy, we went through the legal procedures in order to capitalize the claim held by Termoelectrica against Moldtranselectro Moldova based on the final arbitral award no. 73/2004 issued by the International Court of Arbitration attached to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania,” runs the answer of the judicial liquidator.
Angela Morarencu, the administrator of Moldtranselectro confirmed the information regarding the assignment of the debt to the company from Bucharest. She specified that Mușat & Asociații – Restructuring / Insolvency notified them about the results of the last auction. Morarencu warns of the risk that, in the coming period, creditors “will pursue the debt in all possible ways, which may lead to claims against Moldova at the European Court of Human Rights.” As Moldtranselectro does not have the capacity to repay this debt, Angela Morarencu cautions that, in the end, the creditor will request the debt from the Moldovan state budget.
The 20-year-old debt is a discussion subject of the presidents of the two states
According to President Maia Sandu’s adviser on energy policies Sergiu Tofilat, at the suggestion of the Romanian president, Chișinău authorities issued a written address to the Romanian authorities requesting more details on the situation of the alleged debt.
“CONEL had a debt to Romania. Likewise, we were indebted to CONEL. Romania, the Romanian Government decided that: “We irradiate a part of your debt, but you pass on the debt of Moldova to take it as a state debt.” Therefore, some accounting operations had to be done and we want to see if this was accomplished. We asked them to check this as well as to appeal to the court and annul the arbitration award so that we can annul the decision of our courts and explain that this debt no longer exists. […] It is clear that a Romanian company did not respect the law, it sold this debt and now it tries to illegally collect money from us,” Tofilat specified.
The presidential adviser claims that once the Romanian Parliament approved the Ordinance of the Romanian Government in 2001 regarding the energy debt of Moldova, “someone had to verify how the law was executed, both in Romania and in Moldova.” At the same time, Tofilat states that the 2004 Court of Arbitration’s decision would “contravene the law” and claims that as long as this decision remains in force, it poses risks for Moldova.
Previously, there were other attempts to recover the debt. In April 2008, Termoelectrica Romania signed an assignment agreement with the company Titan Total Group JSC, by which it ceded the right to recover about 15 million dollars from the total amount of the alleged debt of Moldtranselectro. And because the debt could not be enacted, the Romanian company filed a complaint with the ECtHR, requesting the repayment of the alleged debt in the amount of 15 million dollars, as well as the value of the lost income for the entire period.