Politically appointed managers, fuel thefts, endless criminal cases opened due to irregularities detected at the company, lack of control and the poor condition of the railway infrastructure are just some of the reasons that led the Moldovan Railway to the situation where it can no longer honor obligations to employees who have not received their salaries for several months. The continuous degradation of the railway institution led, in 2021, to debts of about 36 million euros and arrears of salaries of about 4.5 million euros.
Several former and current employees of Moldovan Railway claim that the situation at the company is aggravated by the continuous change of the company’s managers. Since 2010, the company had nine managers, some of whom have only served for a few months. At the same time, the managers were selected every time on political grounds resulting in incompetent people that have nothing to do with the field.
Modernized trains in Romania – an inefficient investments
One of the former heads of the Moldovan Railway is Vitalie Strună. He was appointed in 2011 by Anatol Șalaru, then Minister of Transport and Road Infrastructure from the Liberal Party. Struna remained in the chair of Moldovan railway until 2013, and a year later, he was wanted by prosecutors in a case of embezzlement of funds in the amount of 400,000 euros. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, in September 2014, they stopped the criminal investigation.
Struna’s name is also linked to the scandal surrounding the modernized trains at the Remar plant in Pașcani, Romania. Shortly after the trains were modernized, technical problems with the engine, gearbox, and other mechanisms appeared. Both Strună and the minister Șalaru were held responsible for these problems. Strună was accused of conflict of interest in the collaboration between the Moldovan railway and the Romanian Remar plant because Remar plant was a part of a private railway holding Grampet-GFR, a company where Strună occupied earlier the vice president position. In his defense, the minister Anatol Șalaru claims that Vitalie Strună was “the best of all” and that he cannot say whether or not there was a conflict of interests and that the situation must be analyzed by competent people on this specific issue.
The former Moldovan Railway chief pleads not guilty
Another employment based on political criteria is that of Iurile Topală, an exponent of the Liberal Party. Topala says that the situation at Moldovan Railway was never good, specifying that when he took over the company’s leadership, there were external debts of about 35 million euros.
“I took over the company with all these debts and paid them along the way. But they wanted to bankrupt it. This Parliament Commission was made at the initiative of the Socialist Party. In order to avoid the responsibility, they want to redirect the public attention and how that I am guilty. They steal and blame me”, states Iurie Topală, mentioning that Moldovan Railway drifted due to the current administration’s incompetence.
Relations with the former president Igor Dodon
The most recent appointment on political criteria to the Moldovan Railway is that of Adrian Onceanu. He is the Moldovan Railway director for more than a year. Onceanu’s appointment is based on his relations with former president Igor Dodon. Adrian Onceanu’s wife, Liudmila Barcari, graduated in 1997, together with Igor Dodon, in the same class of the Faculty of Economics at the State Agrarian University of Moldova. Adrian Onceanu studied there too, graduating in 1999, together with Igor Dodon’s wife, from the same faculty.
Onceanu’s appointment at Moldovan Railway is criticized by current employees of the company that claims that he does not have the necessary knowledge to manage the institution.
The current management, in turn, says that the situation at the Moldovan Railway has continuously degraded, since 2009. Vitalie Mucan, first deputy director for strategic planning within the company, and a municipal councilor in the Socialist Party faction blamed the former management of the institution and said that the current administration knows how to solve the situation. He promises that the Moldovan Railway will return to its normal path if no obstacles would be created.
“From my point of view, the Moldovan Railway has always been a cash cow for several political groups and, unfortunately, not only political but criminal too. Many aspects of the institution’s activity were political”, says Alexandr Slusari, the Parliament’s vice-president.
The ZdG reporters contacted Adrian Onceanu to ask for a reaction to the accusations brought against him, but he did not respond to our calls and messages.
Millions lost from diesel theft
In addition to the faulty management, the Moldovan Railway degraded due to the fuel theft schemes. This problem has been discussed in public several times, but the thefts did not stop regardless of the different administrations. The former manager of the company, Iurie Topală, declares that he knows of the fuel theft and claims that he fought with these schemes.
At the beginning of 2021, the Moldovan Court of Accounts presented an audit on the management of financial resources at the Moldovan Railway to the Parliamentary Commission for the Control of Public Finances. According to the auditors, in the years 2018 – 2019, due to an overconsumption of fuels and lubricants the company lost around 500,000 euros. And due to fuel theft, it lost another 100,000 euros.
Deputies Alexandru Slusari and Radu Marian declare that the fuel theft did not stop after Iurie Topală left the Moldovan Railway. “Under the current leadership, things have continued to degrade. For example, in 2020, the company lost 1.5 million euros only from fuel theft. Onceanu received all the materials and evidence but did absolutely nothing. At the indication of the institution’s internal security managers, the program monitoring the real diesel consumption was shut down because it was an obstacle to their theft schemes,” claims the deputy of the Action and Solidarity Party, Radu Marian.
“This scheme has always existed and, from my point of view, it could not function without the management’s awareness. I consider that the theft in such large proportions would not be possible if the scheme had not been covered by someone from above”, says the vice-president of the Parliament, Alexandru Slusari.
Rewards for employees in the form of fuel
There are other problems related to fuel. Specifically, the company signed contracts with several employees so that they could use their private cars to represent the Moldovan Railway’s interests, provided that they would earn fuel for this. However, the auditors found that these contracts were concluded in a non-compliant manner and that they represented indices of fraud. Due to the lack of control over the use of fuel allocated to the private cars of some employees, their expenses were incurred without proper adjustment to income and expenditure, which resulted in exceeding the institution’s budget approved for 2018 with 20,000 euros.
Non-compliant sale of ferrous metals
The auditors found irregularities in the selling of ferrous materials too. Only in the period 2018 – 2019, the institution gathered about 66,000 tons of ferrous metal. The institution commercialized the metal assets amounting to 8.4 million euros in the absence of decisions and approval of the Board of Directors.
Other large-scale embezzlement of money has previously been reported in the case of fraudulent activity of ticket tellers on suburban trains. Ziarul de Garda previously wrote about the struggle of a former employee of the enterprise, who repeatedly informed the Moldovan Railway management about the money theft schemes, but to no avail. According to the former employee, the passengers were encouraged by the cashiers not to pay the full cost of the ticket, and later the money, instead of being deposited in the ticket offices, was sent to people in the administration.
“In a very short time, the Moldovan Railway will go bankrupt”
The schemes from the Moldovan Railway have reached the National Anticorruption Center’s attention in recent years. Alexandru Slusari, deputy of the Dignity and Truth Party, says that most of the 23 criminal cases started in recent years by the National Anticorruption Center were closed, including on the episode related to modernized trains in Romania. Earlier, Slusari expressed his concern that the Moldovan Railway would be prepared by some interest groups to be privatized at a small price. However, he considers that the enterprise can be saved from bankruptcy, if it will be subordinated to the Government: “We must declare it a strategic enterprise and to grant aid, even if it is necessary to grant aid from the state budget. Otherwise, in a very short time, the Moldovan Railway will go bankrupt. Everything is moving towards this.”
Following a meeting with the current management of the Moldovan Railway, Slusari stated that the institution is on its verge and requests financial aid from the state.