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Who doesn’t want our Treasure back from Russia?

Virginia MIRCEA

Between the summer of 2003 and end-2004, Mr. Eugen Anca represented a German, Stuttgart-based company, Capital Consulting Ltd, which is the European arm of the Institute for Foreign Economic Relations (VNIIVS), a governmental agency of the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Economic Development and Commerce. In April 2005, company Profact SRL (with Eugen Anca as sole shareholder) was invited by the Institute for Foreign Economic Relations based in Moscow to form a mission, which was to include an authorised representative of the National Bank of Romania (BNR), in view of launching negotiations in Moscow on the contractual terms and conditions for a package of 32 trade, economic and financial projects entrusted by the Institute to company Profact SRL. The last of these projects, at number 32, referred to “confirmation of participation in talks on project no. D–02/122, “The Gold component” of the assets of the Romanian Kingdom in the Russian Federation, or as the Russian dubbed it, the “rare metal component.” In this project, the central bank official alone had the right to conduct negotiations and make a final decision. Although attempts were made to get Romanian authorities involved in finalising the project to recover the Treasure, the Moscow offer was ignored.

Mr. Eugen Anca, could you please explain for our readers why such a sensitive issue was taken over by a private company and a private person as you are, after having been officially negotiated on for 90 years, at a head of state, prime minister and foreign minister level? 
To fully understand the Russians’ reasons, we must go back and clarify a number of things. And we should start from the official position of the Russian Federation, according to which as far as the Russian party is concerned, there is no such thing as “Romania’s Treasure in Moscow.” The issue simply does not exist! And there are several reasons for that.

Let’s take them in turn.
First, the current Russian Federation has never undertaken the patrimonial obligations and official agreements signed prior to the October – November 1917 Revolution. And, as we know, the Government of Romania had already sign the Convention on the shipment and storage of our Treasure in Moscow with the old Tsarist Government, as far back as in December 1916. The current Russian Federation has only mentioned that it took over part of the obligations entered into by the former USSR, but not by the former tsarist government.

And do you find it normal for us to give up claims on a national asset, on a patrimony asset of undeniable value, only because the Russians issued a resolution?
I am in no position to give verdicts here. I only pointed out an official position, made clear by the Russian party, a position which has never changed over the past 90 years, nor is it expected to ever change, whether in 100 or 200 years’ time.

Let’s move on.
Secondly, in 1935 and 1956 the Russian party returned to Romania many of the patrimony assets in the Treasure.

Yes, they did give us something back, but not much.
Not quite true. For instance, on June 16, 1935 the Russians returned 17 railroad cars’ load of archives and documents, stored in 1,436 cases, which arrived in the Bucharest Obor Railway Station at 5.30 PM. After an inventory of the assets was drawn up, on June 28, 1935 a delivery-receipt protocol was signed by the official representing the Government of Romania, Mr. G. Paraschivescu. Then in 1956 as many as 39,320 Romanian art works (paintings, drawings, engravings, icons, tapestry works, religious objects, gold coins, medals) were returned to the Romanian Government. On this second shipment, the Russians concluded that “the issue of the so-called Romanian Treasure transferred to Moscow in 1916 was definitively settled.”

What does this “definitively settled” mean? In what sense?
The Russian party put forth the argument that, upon finalisation of the second shipment, on September 6, 1956, the authorised representative of the Romanian Government, academician Mihai Ralea, signed an Appendix to the Protocol on the return of valuables, which explicitly mentioned that “The Government of the Socialist Republic of Romania thanks the people of the USSR for the returned assets, and officially states that it no longer has any claim, whether material or of any other type, related to the transport and storage of BNR assets in Kremlin warehouses, carried out between December 1916 and August 1917”.

Who signed this Protocol for the Russian party?
There were five people in all, namely: Mikhailov Nikolai Alexandrov, Minister of Culture and head of the mission, General-Lieutenant Vedenin A.I, Commander of Kremlin, Kraftanov S.U., Orvid G.A and Pahomo V.I.

And for the Romanian party?
Academician Mihai Ralea was the only one to sign that Appendix to the Protocol, although the other members of the Romanian mission had taken part in the action. They were not informed by Ralea on that appendix. In fact, no other member of our delegation signed any document, even the Protocol as such. This must have been the agreement.     

Well, that’s a pretty good bargain. We sent 93.4 tonnes of gold to Moscow, and the Russians only gave us 33 kilos back.
History tells us that in January 1918 the Romanian Army invaded Bessarabia, entering into war with the Russians. Then, in WW2, the Romanian Army once again fought against the Russians, invading Bukovina and going as far as to Odessa. Under the 1947 Paris peace treaty, Romania was forced to pay Russia USD 300 million in damages, and the Russian party took the BNR gold stored in Kremlin in 1917 and 1917 to be the payment of this debt. In fact, this is a third reason why the Russians officially regard the matter as settled.        

Are there any other reasons?
Yes. On his first visit to Moscow in 1965, Nicolae Ceausescu signed a “friendship and mutual aid” agreement, which included a clause long kept from historians, researchers and the public in Romania. The clause read that the Agreement took precedence over all claims on the other party, but this mention makes direct reference to possible claims by the new leader in Bucharest with respect to the Treasure.  

It goes without saying that Ceausescu, at his first visit to Moscow, would not get at odds with Kremlin, so probably he did what he was told and signed it. This may have been precisely why he was confirmed as a leader in Bucharest.   
I don’t know, I am not in a position to state that. But there definitely was something.

Is that all?
No, there was also the 1986 move, when Ceausescu forged a deal with Kremlin on a delicate operation, which cannot be disclosed as yet. The fact is that for the second time in his career, Ceausescu signed a new document, reiterating that Romania gave up all claims on the Russians over the Treasure issue.

Can’t you be more specific about this?
I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do. We will have to wait for another 29 years, for the operation to be made public! Anyway, many of the participants in that operation are still alive, and they know a lot of details about this secret operation.

To return to my first question, why does Moscow promote this approach on the issue, and, more importantly, why is it to be carried out at a private, rather than an official level?
I have already told you, the matter is officially settled, and there is no chance it will ever be tackled again at an official level. But given that the Romanian Treasure is privately owned by BNR and other banks which existed and operated at the time, and given that this new attempt started out as a private endeavour, the Russian party decided that it may support a larger-scale project, to be exclusively carried out at a private level, precisely in order to once and for all put an end to Romania’s persistent demand to get its Treasure back. 

Wait a minute, what do you mean by privately owned? Isn’t the Treasure the property of the Romanian State?
No, the Treasure is privately owned. Specifically, it is the private property of the National Bank of Romania (BNR)! At least this is how it was defined and certified by Victor Antonescu himself, the minister for finances in 1916, who signed the Protocol with Kremlin.

Is there any document attesting that the Romanian Treasure is the private property of BNR?     
Naturally. This document is public and it can be found by any interested reader in the Foreign Ministry Archive, fund 71/1914, E2, Part I, vol. 183, pages 50 – 53. And there are certified copies of this document held by the Ministry for Finances, BNR, the French and British embassies, and Kremlin. 

So this is why the Russian party insists on finalising the project at a private level, rather than an official, diplomatic level.
This could be one of the reasons.

And which are the other reasons for the Russians to be willing to return the Treasure?
There are at least 3 major reasons. There are others as well, less important, but these first three are essential.
First of all, under the Council of Europe accession treaty signed in Strasbourg on February 28, 1996, the current Russian Federation undertook to settle all contentious issues with all countries in the world, and primarily with European countries. But this agreement does not require that such contentions must be settled at an official level, so the Russians may meet this obligation by promoting and supporting various projects, at a private entity level, so as to eventually check this important commitment in the agreement signed in1996. This is how the Russians have already solved their problems, in an amicable and cooperative manner, with another 74 countries in the world. Once again, Romania is somewhere at the bottom of the list!
The Russians went through something very similar to what we have... In 1921 they were forced to transfer as much as 6 times more than what we had given them to Japanese banks, in order to secure grain and food supplies. But in 1921 the Russians were smarter than we were! They transferred the gold to Japanese banks, allowing the Japanese to use this gold, and upon the return of the gold to Moscow, the Japanese banks were to pay a quota of the proceeds to the Russians! In contrast, we signed a simple Protocol, which only referred to the storage of the gold in Russia, giving the Russians no right to use it whatsoever, therefore no extra profits could be made! Well, to this day the Russians haven’t received their own treasure from the Japanese, because their dispute over the four Kuril Islands has not been settled, and the Russians have not yet signed a peace treaty with Japan, 62 years after the end of WW2. The Japanese keep reminding the Russians that they still have issued open with other countries (probably with reference to Romania, among others), and that they have no moral right to reclaim their gold until the other claims are settled. So the Russians are quite interested in sorting out this dispute with Japan, of which they would have a lot to gain.
Although at first sight it may seem less important than the other two, this third reason is however tale-telling for the new outlook of the central administration in Kremlin.
Russia is a very rich country, but a lot of its resources are very hard to extract. For instance, Siberia alone has 80% of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves! But the inadequate infrastructure, bad weather and huge distances between towns make these resources really hard to develop. Russian analysts have designed several packages of trade, economic and financial projects, most of them linked to each other, to help overcome these hurdles. One of these economic, trade and financial packages, which includes, among others, the “rare metal component,” that is, the gold we have been reclaiming from Kremlin for the past 90 years, was specifically for Romanian private companies. Such an economic package amounts to at least USD 10 billion and includes projects in major sectors where the Russians have huge reserves, namely oil, natural gas, rare metals, diamonds, but also the product trade sector, adding to which was a financial-banking component, so that Romanians had only to contribute their intelligence and work! The Russians would have made significant profits, more precisely: had such a package been developed by Romanian private companies, we would have been in charge with ensuring all logistics means needed in underdeveloped Russian areas, precisely in order to extract and process the raw materials included in the economic package offered by Moscow. Which means paid local taxes and charges, paid excises and licenses, employment of local workforce, virtually the industrialisation of a part of Russia which is less developed.            

It’s becoming clear to me that this version proposed by the Russian party actually makes sense, and I tend to believe this may be the solution to settle the Treasury issue. So how did it all begin, with the Russians making you this offer?
I came into the picture later on. It all began 1994, when President Ion Iliescu urged Kremlin “to find a solution to settle this issue.” The Russians’ answer to this official request made by Bucharest was, “the issue of the so-called Romanian Treasure is closed.” That’s it. Case closed! But someone in Kremlin did look into the matter and shortly after the Russians came up with a smart plan, benefiting all parties involved, able to support the development of cooperation between private entities in Russia and Romania and at the same time to solve the respective problem.

How did the Russians go about it?
First they referred the matter to their analysis departments, then they set up a special committee in the State Duma, which issued a resolution in this respect in 1996, which allowed for the settlement of the matter by means of packages of economic, trade and financial projects, on condition that they were implemented at a private level, that is, that they had nothing to do with the official, diplomatic regime. These trade projects were then forwarded for implementation by the Ministry of Economic Development and Commerce of the Russian Federation, which then transferred them to the Institute for Foreign Economic Relations (VNIIVS).

When did the Russians make the first such offer to Bucharest?
In early 1995, the Russians talked to the President of Romania, Mr. Ion Iliescu himself; as the talks indicated that the matter was rather delicate, Mr. Ioan Talpes was appointed to coordinate it. In short, the conclusion was reached that it would be a good idea for the Russians to set up a private bank in Romania, through which to bring the Treasure back. No sooner said than done! This is how a commercial bank named Fortuna was set up —but it had American investors and capital! They transferred USD 2.5 million in share capital in Bancorex (which at the time was the recommended bank for such transactions), they deposited 2 tonnes of gold in Switzerland on behalf of Fortuna Bank, and supplied all the necessary banking equipment. Then they asked BNR to launch procedures to bring back the Treasure via Fortuna. But Bancorex opposed it, on grounds that it was only through Bancorex that the Romanian Treasure could be brought back. But since Bancorex was a State-owned bank, the Russians would not agree with the involvement in the transaction of any entity controlled by the State. Meanwhile, BNR withdrew the Fortuna Bank operation licence, and the American investors lost the USD 2.5 million deposited in Bancorex; the 2 tonnes of gold are blocked in Fortuna accounts in Switzerland, but they cannot be released until the judicial status of Fortuna Bank is clarified. Which has not happened to this day, although it’s been 12 years since the bank was set up!

What happened next?
In 1997 the Constantinescu regime took power. The Russians came to Bucharest once again, and this time the matter was entrusted to Mrs. Zoe Petre. Unfortunately, she made the return of the Treasure to BNR conditional on the condemnation of the Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact and on the annulment of Pact provisions. The Russian mission told Mrs. Zoe Petre that the current Russian Federation had denounced the Pact as far back as in December 1989, and that the Russians no longer held the territories referred to by the Pact. Moreover, the Russians would not have a political matter (the Pact) merged into a private one (the Treasure). So ... nothing was done.

What do you mean? Four years with Constantinescu in power, and no one did anything?
Not quite. Shortly after this meeting with Mrs. Zoe Petre, Ambassador of Romania to Moscow Mr. Diaconu stated that “Russia owes Romania USD 23 billion for the Treasury issue,” and the Russians immediately shut the project down! But not for good; in 2003, a new generation of civil servants had come to Kremlin—younger people, more open and smarter than those in Boris Yeltsin’s time. So in 2003 the decision was made to reopen the project, but this time a German company was mandated to deal with it—Capital  Consulting Ltd, based in Stuttgart — on grounds that both the Russians and the Romanians had very good relations with the Germans. The manager of the German company, Claus Rayhle, was coordinating the Stuttgart office of the Moscow Institute for Foreign Relations, which was in charge with the project.

What did Rayhle do?
He was only mandated to inform Romanian authorities on the benefits of the project, with Romanian authorities to decide on the course of action. The first man he went to see, I believe in May 2003, was Admiral Cico Dumitrescu, who was a presidential adviser in Cotroceni.

Why did Rayhle go to Cotroceni, rather than BNR?
Before coming to Romania, Rayhle went to the Romanian Embassy in Germany, where he was advised to go straight to Mr. Cico Dumitrescu, on grounds that, since this was such an important and sensitive matter, the green light from the Presidential Administration in Cotroceni was needed.

So how did the Rayhle - Cico Dumitrescu meeting go?
Really bad! The Admiral didn’t believe a word; he thought that everything was made up, that the German had shady intentions, that the Russians planned a diversion, in short, only bad stuff. He asked Rayhle to make copies of the documents, which he then passed on to the intelligence services, ordering them “to run a check” and expressly asking for “checks at all levels with special attention!” Although Claus Rayhle had good intentions, which could be fully documented, still because of the wrong approach on the Rayhle discussion, and of the inability to fully grasp the subtle economic and trade mechanisms, Admiral Cico Dumitrescu made sure that Rayhle was badly discredited, and that he was presented in intelligence service reports as “a suspect individual” ! 

Why didn’t you step in, to avoid these consequences?
Because I didn’t know Claus Rayhle at the time. It was only in June 2003 that I met him and it took me some time to understand the whole mechanism, which is rather complex. 

What other officials did you talk to, together with Claus Rayhle?
Only in January 2004 were we received by Mr. Cristian Diaconescu, who was a Secretary of State with the Foreign Ministry at the time, and the discussion with him was a full-fledged failure!

How come?
From the very beginning, Mr. Diaconescu rejected any discussion on the return of the Romanian Treasure in a private form; he pointed out that Russia had clear obligations, and that Romania will never accept any approach of the matter, other than in the official, state-to-state framework, without the involvement of any private entity.

Did you go to BNR?
Yes, with BNR our luck changed. On April 8, 2004 we were received by Governor Mugur Isarescu himself, who was a lot more open and interested in solving the problem. It was during this meeting that company Capital Consulting Ltd submitted a first written, signed and stamped offer to the Governor’s office. The offer was quite enlightening.

And what did the Governor answer?
He never did!

I wonder why?
Because I was representing Claus Rayhle in Romania, and Claus Rayhle was rated as “suspect” by the Romanian intelligence services! And since Claus was “suspect,” I could only be seen as dubious myself, given that we were working together, right? You see, all Romanian authorities are bound to request data and reports from the intelligence services on the individuals and companies which propose various projects and deals. So since we were discredited from the very beginning, no Romanian authority bothered to give us an answer!

Did you try to break through this information barrier, to present the actual facts?
Obviously. I wrote to the Parliament of Romania, and I had a chance to talk to Senator Adrian Paunescu. When I talked to him — at some point in September 2004, I believe — there was a Romanian businessman who wanted to support our initiative and took part in the meeting. This businessman suggested that we should give BNR a surety bond issued by Moscow, because otherwise it was very hard to convince Bucharest of our good intentions.

What sort of bond?
A USD 20 million “Performance Bond.” That is, a bond to guarantee satisfactory completion of the project, calculated at 2% of the total value of the 93.4 tonnes of gold, which was put at approx. USD 1 billion at the time.

You lost me. Do you mean that the Russians were to give us the 93.4 tonnes of gold, plus a USD 20 M guarantee?
The performance bond is a common practice in commercial transactions. Particularly in private ones. To briefly explain it for readers who are not familiar with such practices: when a supplier wants to sell its products, it is required to issue a performance bond in favour of the buyer, accounting for 2% of the total contract value or of the total value of the letter of credit. Such a bond is the guarantee that the supplier is able and willing to perform the transaction. The bond is only valid during the contract implementation period, and once the transaction completed, it is returned to the supplier. If the supplier fails to perform adequately or doesn’t perform, the bond is cashed by the buyer, in our case, by BNR. 

I see. And did you get the 20 million USD?
The Russians wanted to prove their good faith to Bucharest, and on October 18, 2004 they issued a USD 350 million banking bond! Of this, USD 20 million was to be retained by BNR as a “Performance Bond,” and the balance to the total was to be used as a fund to guarantee payments to Romanian companies which exported goods and services to the Russian Federation. The point was to encourage Romanian business operators to export to the Russian Federation directly, and to be paid on the spot, because Romanian companies were reluctant to exporting to the Russian Federation, for fear that they would never see the money!           

And what did BNR do with the USD 350 million?
Well, it never get it! They didn’t even want to talk about it! Actually, I wasn’t even accepted to take part in the talks!

Unbelievable! And what did you do with the USD 350 million?
I was forced to find other solutions, since I was the one having requested the guarantee, so ... I had to foot the bill. Through an acquaintance of mine, I got in touch with a well-known financial expert in Geneva. Ironically enough, this expert knew Mr. Talpes very well, and Mr. Talpes was the senior Vice-Premier of Romania at the time!   

Talpes again?
That’s right. This time we were lucky, though! Mr. Talpes received me at his Government office and had the patience to listen to the whole story. Which took about three hours to tell! He realised the advantages of the project, and with more fair-play than I had expected, at the end of the meeting he said “he was now persuaded that he had been misinformed, that the services get things wrong sometimes, and that the project had to be carried on, to the benefit of both parties.”

So what came out of it?
Nothing did. Our meeting took place on December 3, 2004, and on December 5, 2004 Traian Basescu won the elections and Mr. Talpes’ mandate came to an end!

Back to square one, I presume?
Right. Encouraged by the experience with Mr. Talpes, I simply besieged President Traian Basescu, his advisers and the new Cabinet members with dozens of petitions and memos, trying to get a meeting or at least to persuade them to go to Moscow and check my statements.

Did you get a meeting?
Never!

 What did the authorities answer?
I got 7 memos reading, “Your petition has been forwarded to the Foreign Ministry, which is to answer it.”
In March 2005, I proposed to the Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow (VNIIVS) an alternative for the implementation of the project. This alternative, slightly more complex and more sophisticated, was accepted. This is why the company I used to hold, SC Profact SRL, was commissioned to run this project, which was assigned the code D-02/122. On April 28, 2005 VNIIVS Moscow notified the Romanian Embassy in Moscow that “Our Institute addressed an invitation to the Romanian company SC Profact SRL, also confirming its participation in negotiations on the project D-02/122 – The Treasure component of the property of the Romanian Kingdom in the Russian Federation.”  The note also reads, “We are prepared to receive a mission of the aforementioned company and to hold negotiations in view of discussing and settling all the main aspects, related to the respective project. We find the participation of an official representative of the National Bank of Romania in this negotiation process to be appropriate.” Concurrently with the memo sent to the Romanian Embassy in Moscow, we presented other memos to Romanian authorities, requesting their cooperation with the Russian party. Unfortunately, just as it happened before, no Romanian authority chose to answer Moscow’s offer.

It is hard to believe that there was no positive response, at least from the Romanian Embassy in Moscow. What did the Ambassador of Romania to Moscow, Dumitru Prunariu, do when he received the memo?
He immediately informed the Romanian Foreign Minister, Mr. Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who communicated him, via a Foreign Ministry Secretary of State, to “refrain from further involvement in the Treasure issue.”

It must have been a misunderstanding... How can a Foreign Minister issue such an order?
This is precisely what the Ambassador thought. He asked for further clarifications from Bucharest, and in exchange for his insistence on settling the Treasure issue, President Traian Basescu ... recalled him. He signed the presidential decree 4 weeks after Moscow had sent to the Romanian Embassy a confirmation for the start of procedures to finalise the Treasure project. 

Are you quite sure of all that?
Absolutely. This is precisely why I believe that the order of the President of Romania, which boycotted the project by terminating Mr. Dumitru Prunariu’s mandate as an ambassador just when the respective project was to be finalised, gives us enough reasons to believe that the President may be acused of more than lack of interests in this issue.

These are very serious accusations you make.
I am aware of this, and I have the documents and evidence to substantiate them. In fact, all public statements made by President Traian Basescu, and his conduct since recalling the Ambassador of Romania to Moscow to this day, clearly prove that Mr. Basescu acted against Romania’s legitimate interests, namely against the return of the Treasure to Bucharest. 

Let’s go back to when you informed authorities of the invitation to Moscow to negotiate the return of the Treasure.
Wait, let’s get this right. I am not mandated to negotiate the Treasure issue, but only the commercial, economic and financial projects in the package D-02/122. The only one authorised to negotiate on the Treasure, or the “rare metal component,” as the Russians call it, is the Governor of BNR, or an authorised official for BNR.

I see. I noticed you have 12 gold coins, too. What is their story?
Initially, around 1995 when talks had started in Cotroceni with the first team from Moscow, the Romanians asked the Russians, as a token of good faith, to produce a set of 12 gold coins along with the inventory of the case they had been kept in, with the original confirmation of the existence of the Treasure. So the Russians gave me the 12 coins, dating since 1859 – 1907, commonly known as “Napoleons.” 
And why didn’t you hand them over to BNR?
I tried to, again and again, through official petitions or through various middlemen, but all in vain! They gave me no concrete answer, except for a very unclear reply which said that BNR has a member in the Romanian – Russian Joint Commission, and that they are quite satisfied with the performance of the Russian party in this Commission. The irony is that this Commission was dismantled one year ago! The Commission no longer exists! And BNR writes to tell me they are satisfied with the performance of the Russian party in a Commission that no longer exists! This is outrageous! 

But this is impossible! Did you try with other authorities?
Of course I did. I asked Parliament, that is the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, to take over the gold samples and store them wherever they see fit. I even asked the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) to take them and to schedule a meeting, in which I might request their cooperation.

What did they answer?
SRI answered that the “Service director’s agenda is busy and he cannot receive you.” As for the gold coins – not a word!

This sounds like the theatre of the absurd! And still, did nothing good happen all this time?
A lot of things happened, but only bad things. Dozens of inspections and checks started pouring on me and my family and company, inspections by policemen or alleged policemen, by tax inspectors and financial inspectors, by the labour safety department and the public health department and the fire department. I was subject to dozens of criminal complaints, accusing me that I had laundered hundreds of million US dollars, of having received banking guarantees from various “Mafia rings in Russia,” of being involved in organised crime, of working with suspect individuals which act against the interests of Romania, and so on and so forth. There were days when I was woken up at 6 AM by two or three so-called policemen telling me that “they had information that I hosted suspicious individuals” in my home, asking me to open the door and let them in. Then they started to harass my neighbours, asking them whether I brought foreigners home, whether there were cars with foreign registration plates coming to take me, and all sorts of nonsense, as if we had gone 50 years back in time!

What did these inspections and criminal complaints lead to?
I was eventually fined ROL 10 million, when the fire safety people found I didn’t have a fire extinguisher at the office. Otherwise, everything was legal and no one had anything on me. There was no criminal fine, no criminal file, I wasn’t even prosecuted for anything!

What you’re telling me is inexplicable, unbelievable.
Unfortunately, it is true. I was almost desperate. No official would talk to me, my memos would return with the wrong answer, if any, I could no longer cover the costs, there were bills I couldn’t pay any longer.

How did you handle it?
I was very lucky to meet some Dutch businessmen, who noticed my work on this project. At first they didn’t believe me either, they even felt sorry for me. But they took the time to check all the project elements with Moscow and, when they returned from Moscow, they were convinced that it was all true and feasible, so they decided the project was worth getting involved in.

And what did you do?    
The Dutch took over the main project and covered all the necessary expenses, and I became their representative in Romania and the contact for the Russian party in relation to Romanian authorities. On August 25, 2006 the Dutch sent a first memo to BNR, requesting the central bank management to initiate procedures for the transfer of original documents on the return of the “rare metal component in project D-02/122,” that is the Treasure, as well as the gold samples in question.

And what did BNR answer?
Nothing, as usual! The Dutch sent a second memo to BNR, on October 10, 2006, and this too went unanswered! On November 16, 2006 the Dutch resorted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, requesting that the third memo to BNR should be conveyed via the Court, which was to ascertain the continuing unwillingness of BNR (and implicitly of the Romanian authorities) to receive documents on the Treasure return. Subsequently, the Dutch were to request the Court to establish that they had accomplished their mission, and to issue a document attesting this.

Why would The Hague Court accept this?
There is a judicial loophole that the Dutch took advantage of, and the Romanians overlooked. The Dutch attorneys pointed out that they applied for the respective Court ruling, under the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, concluded in The Hague on November 15, 1965.

I see. Were Romanian authorities notified on this Hague trial?
This was not an actual trial, but an application filed to the Court, to ascertain that Romania would not accept the alternative proposed by Moscow. And yes, Romanian authorities were informed.

Exactly which authorities?
First of all, the Romanian Ministry of Justice.

Who informed them? The Hague Court?
No. The Rotterdam prosecutor’s office, which had been requested to notify the National Bank of Romania, via the Ministry of Justice of Romania.

And what did the Justice Ministry answer?  
That “the request filed by the Rotterdam prosecutor’s office cannot be answered, because the documents to be notified are not subject to the 1965 Convention provisions.”

Unbelievable! Were there other Romanian authorities informed of this procedure?
Of course. The Embassy of Romania to The Hague received a complete set of documents, at the request of The Hague Court.

And what did the Embassy say?
That the Embassy of Romania in The Hague “is not in the position to receive and forward any document, because the respective matter is of a private nature, and the Embassy only handles diplomatic aspects.”

What other institutions in Romania did you notify?
Just about all of them. Starting with the Presidential Administration, the Government of Romania, BNR, both Chambers of the Parliament of Romania, via several Committees, even the SRI.

And what answers did you get?
None whatsoever.

Do you have evidence attesting that you have notified Romanian authorities that the Treasure may be lost?
Of course. We submitted all these memos to authorities, along with explanatory appendices, and they were all assigned official registration numbers. But I was not content only with filing memos and appendices. I insisted and I managed to get us audiences, unfortunately only at the Chamber of Deputies, where we were received by three specialised Committees.

You said “we,” in the plural; are we to understand that there were several people involved?
Yes, I was accompanied by important people, true patriots, people who understood the Moscow offer and who supported me all the time.

Could you tell us who they are?
Sure. First, Mr. Gelu Voican Voiculescu, then Gen. Mircea Chelaru, lawyer Liviu Trandafirescu, who is also the attorney of the Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow.      

Why would the Dutch company go to the trouble with The Hague Court?
Before they took over the company I used to hold, SC Profact SRL, and after being assured by Moscow that the project was real and feasible, the Dutch contacted a law firm in The Hague, in view of identifying a solution to get legal possession of the 93.4 tonnes of gold, so as to use this value in various investment projects, as long as the respective amount is subject to a private project and has nothing to do with the official requests filed by Romanian authorities to Moscow.

This is amazing — we’ve been struggling for 90 years to get the Treasure back, and the Dutch want to take it themselves?
The approach of the Dutch is strictly commercial. They believe that as long as the matter is private, Romania declines participation in the project, and Moscow agrees with their proposal, there is no reason why the Dutch shouldn’t take the Romanian gold.

Do you mean they will be the new owners of our gold?
No, absolutely not! They will only have the right to use it in joint projects with the Russians, that is in investment projects, and if at some point Romania wants to reclaim its gold from Moscow, it will be advised to negotiate with the Dutch, rather than with Kremlin.

Now this is absurd indeed.    
This is precisely what I tried to explain to Romanian authorities. But it was as if a wall had been erected between us, which was impossible to break.

Why didn’t you resort to leaders of parliamentary parties?
I talked to leaders of most parliamentary parties, except for PRM, I even talked to leaders of some non-parliamentary parties. 

Why didn’t you talk to the PRM leader, who is a great patriot?
This is what I thought, too, and some of the party MPs even insisted that I should talk to Mr. Corneliu Vadim Tudor.

Did you meet with Mr. Corneliu Vadim Tudor?
No. Never, because he would not see me, although some MPs in his party accompanied me to the very doorstep of his Senatorial Office.  

What about the PNG leader, Mr. Gigi Becali, did you meet him?
Yes, twice. But Mr. Becali was hardly interested in this private alternative for bringing the Treasure to Bucharest.

I don’t believe it is possible for all leaders of Romanian political parties to handle such an important topic so carelessly.
The only party leader in Romania who bothered to check my statements was Mr. Cozmin Gusa, head of PIN. We had several meetings, and he asked me to arrange several meetings for him in Moscow, at as high a level as possible, to confirm the feasibility of such a private project.

I recall Mr. Gusa has travelled to Moscow several times. Did you arrange his meetings there?
Only the meetings he had in 2006. These meetings were the only ones arranged and carried out through myself and the experts in the Institute for Foreign Economic Relations in Moscow. Not the ones before 2005, when I didn’t know Mr. Gusa.

As a businessman who relies on intuition to tell whether a project or a proposal will be taken or declined, what is your gut feeling about the Romanian authorities’ careless and apathetic approach of the Treasure topic?
This is a very complex question. Two scenarios are worth considering here. But only a parliamentary inquiry committee can shed light on the issue. One of them is the 1995–1996 period, when Fortuna Bank was purposely destroyed, precisely to prevent the return of the Treasure via the Russia-backed bank. As far as we know, one of the Fortuna managers was reportedly instructed in June 1996 by certain influential circles in Bucharest to issue a bank guarantee in the amount of USD 1 billion, on the basis of original Treasure return documents held by the Fortuna Bank. The operation took place in the three days between a BNR inspection on Fortuna and the publication of the BNR decision in the Official Journal.

Who was the beneficiary of this huge bank guarantee?
None other than Bancorex. A bank which was already sinking. Decision-makers in Romania at the time may have been well-meant; they may have intended to prevent the Bancorex bankruptcy. But the bank needed massive and quick capital inflow. However, no international banking institution would credit Bancorex any longer, given the disastrous financial results of the largest State-owned bank in Romania. So senior public officials found the solution: they buried Fortuna and rescued Bancorex. Specifically, they resorted to Zaher Iskandarani and Omar Hayssam for help, asking them to get funds for Bancorex, in exchange for the bank guarantees offered by Bancorex. They made the inflow of US dollars from private sources in Arab states conditional on the Romanian State’s “aid” in certain privatisation procedures or on authorities’ staying out of their private dealings. This is how such individuals came out as “rescuers” of Romania; they were later accepted as PSDR members and in the “inner circle” around the Presidency of Romania.

This probably explains the rise of such controversial individuals.
Without the (disinterested?) support by some important members of Romanian public leadership structures at the time, such an operation wouldn’t have been possible.

OK, but since December 2004 we’ve had a new President and a new Government. Why is it that incumbent officials too turn down this offer coming from Moscow?
That’s easy. Although rulers have changed, we, the people who have worked on this project for 12 years, have been discredited as “suspect” by those people working for the intelligence services, who were keen on harming our reputation precisely in order to make sure that no Romanian authority will want to talk to us, and that documents coming from us will be overlooked.

But why would intelligence service staff want to discredit you?
Many of the intelligence service personnel who are still working for these structures have benefited from preferential credits contracted with Bancorex, which they never refunded (or have not refunded in full). So if the truth on this matter was disclosed, they would be the first to lose: not only would they be ordered to refund the respective credits, but they may also be subject to criminal proceedings.

This is beginning to make sense. And how could this problem be solved?
As I was saying, only through the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry committee, to look into all the related aspects. A committee made up of MPs who had nothing to do with the intelligence services and the Bancorex loans. 

You said there were two scenarios worth considering. The first is the Bancorex one. Which is the second?  
This may be a major problem, a highly sensitive and delicate issue; it has to do with the fact that the Romanian Treasure is private property of BNR, but not all the assets sent to Kremlin belonged to Romanians. A good share of the assets belonged to the Jewish business community of the time, which kept their savings in Marmorosch Bank in Bucharest, a very strong bank at the time. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose further details on this topic; it would infringe upon the interests of Romania and I will not spark an international scandal.     

In a story published in “Evenimentul Zilei” daily, President of Romania Traian Basescu says you demanded USD 2 M in exchange for the Treasure return. How do you comment?
I have never asked for any money; on the contrary, I stated more than once that neither myself nor anybody else in my group have ever claimed any fee or any other financial or fiscal facility.

What do you live on, then?
I have my incomes from the commercial projects that I carry out with the Russian party, obviously other than the Treasure project.

Do you think the President of Romania is misinformed?
No, I believe Mr. Traian Basescu has accurate information. Perhaps not complete information, but enough to make a proper decision. Had he been the real leader, the patriot and the national spirit he claims to be, Mr. Basescu would have ordered that all the data I have be fully taken advantage of, in order to take that unique opportunity during his term in office and to derive advantages for Romania. But ever since he first laid foot in Cotroceni as a President, he has given up the Treasure matter. In fact, he has more than once stated that “the Treasure issue is a thing of the past, and we’d better left it to historians!” To me, as I said before, the President’s statements and actions amount to treason and even to undermining national interests.  

Why “undermining national interests”?
Because simple math tells us that the consequences of the President’s declining this economic alternative to the Treasure matter are catastrophic.

Could you be more specific?
Keeping in mind that the value of the economic, commercial and financial projects offered by Moscow is about USD 10 billion a year, and calculating a minimum profit rate of 30 per cent per year, which is perfectly achievable in the Russian economic space, we find that Romanian companies could have made USD 3 billion in annual profits. International audit reports indicate that such a turnover would have enabled the employment of 200,000 people in these projects directly, with adequate salaries, and the Romanian State would have received some USD 2 billion a year in taxes and charges (income tax, profit tax, VAT, import duties, excises, etc.). This money would have allowed for the payment of ROL 4,000,000 monthly pension benefits to one million pensioners, or for the construction of many necessary social facilities. But because of Mr. Traian Basescu’s decision, the profits from these projects will go to the Netherlands or other business operations, and not to Romania.   

Seeing that you are very well informed on all aspects related to the Romanian Treasure in Moscow, which do you think is the solution for a favourable completion of the project?
You may not believe it, but the solution is amazingly simple. First, the matter should be transferred from the Foreign Ministry to the Ministry of Economy and Finances in Bucharest. Subordinated to this Ministry is a Romanian Centre for Commerce Promotion (CRPC), basically the counterpart of the Moscow one. Meanwhile, all the institutions and commissions having worked on the Treasure issue should convene and reach an agreement on the value of the assets still to be recovered from Moscow. And then CRPC should sign a contract with the Moscow institution in charge with this matter.

What if there are differences between the value of what Moscow is prepared to offer and what Bucharest expects to receive?
In case there are differences between the minimum gold amount, that is the value of assets reclaimed, and what Moscow offers, the group of companies in charge with the project should undertake these financial obligations, and commit to cover the debts to the Romanian State, in full, within a reasonable time span, which should neither affect the business operations of the respective group of companies, nor take longer than 10 years. All these payment obligations should be covered from the estimated proceeds in the project.

by Virginia MIRCEA

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 47

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