Justice

Main state institutions, guarded by security companies with criminal past close to Vlad Plahotniuc and of “the thief in law” Makena

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Author: Julieta Savițchi
30/05/2019 14838

Two private enterprises of over 100 that ensure security and detective services gained advantageous tenders for the security of state institutions for many years. One of the companies belongs to an off-shore company, affiliated to the leader of PDM, Vladimir Plahotniuc, and the other is of a former policeman, who would be connected to the criminal authority Vladimir Moscalciuc, alias Makena. Though, these companies are targeted in dubious schemes, torture cases, use of force, illegal interceptions and other serious actions, they are free to guard public institutions, including those in justice field, despite the prohibitions of the law. The investigation into this case started from a notification on the Corruption Map in which a citizen wondered: "How impartial is the judgment if the defendant, wearing the uniform of Bercut, is the one who welcomes the magistrates every day?"

Private detective and guard companies did not have right to provide services for the state institutions by 2016. After the fall of the communist government, the former Minister of Economy Valeriu Lazar promoted the idea that the private security companies should be granted the right to guard the state institutions, but it was not backed by the former PM Vlad Filat, and the Interior Minister of that period Dorin Recean.

After the arrest of Vlad Filat, in the autumn of 2015, the then president of the National Security Commission, Veaceslav Untila, re-tabled in the Parliament's agenda the issue of amendments to the legislation regarding the activity of private detective and security companies. On December 10, 2015, the Parliament amended the law so that private companies were entitled to guard any state object, except for the National Bank of Moldova, as well as the storehouses for weapons and ammunition or radioactive, toxic and dangerous substances. On June 17, 2016, the Government headed by Pavel Filip repealed the list of objects whose security cannot be performed by private security companies.

Plahotniuc's companies and agreements worth millions with the state

Starting with 2015, the most advantageous contracts with the state has obtained the Argus-S SRL, an enterprise with foreign capital, whose founder is the offshore company OTIV PRIME SERVICES B.V. ,  which is part of an off-shore holding in Holland,  OTIV Prime Holding B.V. The holding includes other companies about which the press wrote that they are controlled by PDM leader Vlad Plahotniuc. These are: OTIV Prime Real Estate B.V., OTIV Prime Hospitality B.V., OTIV Prime Media and OTIV Prime Financial B.V. For several years the Dutch holding was represented by the former Moldovan Speaker Andrian Candu, the god father of the leader of the PDM.

OTIV Prime Services B.V. has founded over the years several companies, all close to the PDM leader, among which Top Galeria SRL, Axa Broker SRL, Argus-Teh SRL and Argus-S SRL. Along the way, some of them changed their founders and distanced themselves from OTIV Prime, but only in acts.

Argus-S SRL and phone calls tapping

Argus-S Company was involved in 2013 in the scandal of phone calls tapping and interceptions of several officials. Then, the company came to the attention of the prosecution's security service, which had announced that a criminal case was started. In addition to violating the right to privacy, prosecutors investigated the company for smuggling, setting up or management of a criminal group. Then the company was headed by  Plahotniuc's  god father, Dorin Damir, and the manager was the former director of CCCEC (now CNA), Valentin Mejinschi.

The security company has a legal address in a building on Mazililor 21 Str. in Chisinau, Botanica sector.

Photo: CIJM

In 2010, the land and the building were owned by the foreign capital Enterprise Finpar-Invest SRL, another company that originates from the Dutch holding of Vlad Plahotniuc.

In July 2017, the owner of the building was Serghei Plahotniuc, the elder brother of the PDM leader. The transaction is made by sale agreement, signed with Finpar-Invest.

Valentin Zubic. Photo: sports.md

From March 2016, Argus-S was managed by Valentin Zubic, ex-deputy Minister of the Interior during the communist government, accused but  released from criminal prosecution in the "April 7, 2009" case. From July 2015 to March 2016, Zubic  managed the company Finpar-Invest.  

The Argus-S security organisation has contracts with several customers, such as the national telephone operator Moldtelecom, Posta Moldovei, Moldova-Gaz, Petrom-Moldova, Bemol and Lukoil Moldova gas station networks.

Argus-S company gained millions of tenders for guarding services for some state institutions, such as the Public Services Agency or the State Tax Inspectorate for several years.

The data in the state public procurement register shows that, in 2017, the security company "Argus-S" signed 11 contracts worth over 6.6 million lei with state institutions.

The company signed the biggest agreement worth over 2 million lei, on 27 December 2017 with the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova, for the delivery of equipment for the video surveillance system.

Also, in 2017, over two million lei from contracts for the physical and technical security of civil status offices filled the company’s accounts. Another agreement worth 1.3 million lei was signed with the National Centre of Emergency.

In 2018, the value of the contracts concluded by Argus-S with the state institutions doubled and reached over 12 million lei. Leu’s share was ensured by the Public Services Agency, which paid over 7.14 million lei to the company.

2019 seems to be a prosperous one for the Argus-S company. In the period 21 January to 15 March 2019, the enterprise gained 4 purchase agreements, totaling 9 million 24 thousand lei.

The most advantageous contract, amounting to 7.2 million lei, was signed with the Public Services Agency, for physical security services. That tender was carried out with only one partcipant.

In 2018, Argus-S almost reached the amount of purchases won by the Company of Security Services of the Interior Ministry, the only state-owned company of this kind in Moldova, which has been on the market for more than 60 years.

Vitalie Şeremet, operating director at Argus-S SRL said that success in tenders is due to the correctness of drafting documents and prices offered by the company. "We rule the law, we do everything right. We participate in tenders and we win ".

Asked if the successes in tenders would be due to the affiliation with the PDM leader, Vitalie Şeremet replied promptly: "I do not know such information".

Makena's man and the security services for the Constitutional Court

Another security company Bercut-Grup won several tenders in the last 3 years to guard state institutions.

The agency was established in 1999, and at that moment it was one of the largest in Moldova. Bercut serves over 12,000 customers, including banks, foreign-owned enterprises, as well as state institutions. The administration boasts modern equipment, trained staff, firearms, cars.

Infographic: CIJM

The only founder and manager of the Security and Protection Agency Bercut is former policeman Veaceslav Murzacov.

He was imprisoned for resounding crimes and is close to the “thief in law” Vladimir Moscalciuc, alias Makena.

Photo: Facebook.com

Moreover, Murzacov named his accomplice, Vladimir Aga, alias Bezumnii (Madman –  n.r.), supervisor on behalf of Makena at the Penitentiary Nr. 15 of Cricova, head of the "Bercut" wrestling sports Club.

These data are found in the case filed against Moscalciuc and his accomplice for the blackmail of detainees.

Murzacov's companies have their legal address in an apartment on Botanica Veche str. , while Bercut's headquarters are in a real estate of almost 800 square meters on Costiujeni str.  8/3 in Codru, suburb of Chişinău. The building was purchased by the Saturn Grup SRL, one of Murzacov's companies in 2014.

The company Bercut Grup is currently managed by Vitalie Craciun. One of the founders is SRL Bercut Grup tehnic, registered in 2005 by Veaceslav Murzacov, while he was in detention.

Veaceslav Murzacov is the only founder and manager of another enterprise in charge with protection and security services, Saturn GRUP SRL, registered in 2006. By July 2016, Tatiana Paladi was founder and manager of the company Saturn Grup SRL, we do not know much about her.  

In 2010, when he was still in prison, Murzacov founded the public organization Union of Legal Entities Bercut and Co  for the purpose of "improving services in the field of private security activity, representation of rights and interests of members of the association ", and Murzacov was designated president.

In late 90s, Veaceslav Murzacov served as deputy head of the criminal police in the Botanica sector of Chisinau. In the case filed for attempted murder, Murzacov was accused of having provided illegal services for the economic agents’ protection. In 1999, Murzacov founded the Bercut protection and security company.

Attempted assassination from Cvin SRL

In 2001, Murzacov and Aga were involved in an assassination attempt. The owner of a network of Cvin restaurants and stores,  Serafima Botezat and her husband, Ion Manoli, miraculously escaped the explosion of a grenade that was hung to own car.

The woman underwent several surgical interventions and rehabilitation treatments. Later, the police  found that those who placed the grenade were Timofei Şutac and Vladimir Aga, and the assassination was ordered by the policeman Murzacov. The reckoning would have started from the fact that the Cvin SRL did not want to "contract" services of "security".

The policeman was arrested on November 1, 2004, and on February 20, 2006, magistrate Iurie Bejenaru, then president of the Buiucani court, sentenced Murzacov to 15 years in prison "for premeditated murder committed in engrossing interest, for seizing by blackmail the owner's estate and for abuse of power ".

On 17 May 2010, the Supreme Court acquitted Murzacov in terms of murder and reduced his sentence to 7 years, being found guilty of seizing property by blackmail and abuse of power. Timofei Şutac and Vladimir Aga were sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Veaceslav Murzacov served his sentence in Lipcani and Pruncul prisons. While in Pruncul, Murzacov stayed in a cell with the “thief in law” Vladimir Moscalciuc, alias Makena, and was part of the gang ruled by him.

In May 2011, a few months before the release, Murzacov was charged in Makena case, filed for seizing money from detainees.

A document published in a RISE Moldova investigation reveals that Murzacov would have paid big money to be released in the Makena case.

What the law says

Article 22 of the Law on the private detective and guard activity dated 4 July, 2003 stipulates that " leaders of private security organizations may be citizens residing in the country who have reached the age of 21, shall have high education,  shall own certificate of graduation or of qualification trainings organized by the Interior Ministry, shall not be in the register of Narcologist or psychiatrist, do not systematically violate public order and were not convicted for criminal offence committed intentionally. " 

Authorisations for the operation of enterprises providing protection and security services are issued by the police, and one of the conditions requires that employees do not have penalties for contraventions in terms of public order and public security and do not have convictions for intentional crimes.

Bercut SRL and acquisitions in a row

SRL Saturn Grup has the license MMII-051849, valid until August 24, 2021, issued by the former State Licensing Chamber.

No license  issued for BERCUT Group SRL is found in the Licensing Chamber database.

The police issued operating authorisations  for both Saturn Grup SRL and Bercut Group SRL.

In the period 2015 – 2017, Bercut-Grup SRL  won  1.63 million lei  from the provision of security services at the Republican Psychiatric Hospital, General Directorate for Public Transport and Ways of Communication of Chisinau City Hall and the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova. 

On January 23, 2018, Bercut-Grup SRL signed a contract worth 250,000 lei with the Constitutional Court for the provision of security services for 2018.

On December 18, 2018, the company signed a similar contract with the Constitutional Court for the provision of security services in 2019. We remind that Bercut-Grup SRL was the only participant in both tenders.

Also, in 2018, Bercut-Grup SRL won 220,000 lei from the provision of security services for the Directorate General for Public Transport and Ways of Communication of Chisinau City Hall.

2019 seems to be a better one for the enterprise in the public procurement. In addition to the sum of 250,000 for the security services provided to the Constitutional Court, the Bercut-group accounts will be supplemented with 710.8 thousand lei from the contract with the Psychiatry Clinical Hospital.

Chisinau Court of Appeal will pay 564.5 thousand lei for security contracts to the company and the Directorate-General for Transport and Ways of Communication of Chisinau City Hall will pay 22,000 lei.

Incidentally or not, a car with the inscription of the Bercut Security Agency is often seen at the gate of the house of the chairman of the Chisinau Appeal Court, Ion Pleşca, on str. Pictor Ion Jumati in Chisinau.

Bercut: Torture, court trials and scandals

Infographic: CIJM

We remind that over the years, Bercut employees have been involved in several scandals. In the summer of 2011,  Bercut agency was targeted in Franzeluta scandal, when Eugen Baleca was dismissed from the position of general director.

On the same day, based on a court decision, he was reinstated. Then, the employees of the private company Bercut started to provide security services to the enterprise, which in that period was contrary to the law.

Police didn't have access to Franzeluta's office for half an hour, although a bomb alert was announced at the company.

As a result, the Interior Ministry asked the Licensing Chamber to investigate the private security company for a possible withdrawal of the license. The case was covered.

In 2014, an employee of the Bercut security company was sentenced  to 5 years in prison for committing torture and serious intentional injury to bodily integrity.

In December 2011, following an alarm signal from a gambling room in town Singera,  Chisinau, the Bercut employee moved to the scene, where a man broke a window and refused to pay the damage caused. The security guard, who had the mission just to calm the spirits and to call the police, hit the man several times, causing him serious bodily injury. At the hearing, prosecutors asked the   court to condemn him to seven years in closed-type prison, with deprivation of the right to occupy functions within public authorities and security organizations for 4 years.

The court ruled the defendant a five-year sentence with the suspension of the execution of the sentence on a five-year probation period and depriving him of the right to perform functions or activities related to the security of goods or persons for 4 years.

Ion Plesca's house. Photo: CIJM

Prosecutors also investigated the case of a policeman who, outside working hours, would have been tortured by the Bercut employees.

In August 2017, prosecutors announced that they had sued the criminal case filed against 4 employees of Bercut. They were charged by policemen that in 2016 they used tear spray to a driver, they hit him with legs and sticks, causing him physical pain and strong mental suffering.

As a result of the violent actions of the agents, the man had closed cranio-cerebral trauma, fractures of the ribs and nasal bones, excoriations on the right arm, as well as other traumas. According to prosecutors, the victim did not fight back or did not violate the law.

In 2015, Bercut's agents were seen using force in a disco in Orhei.

What the beneficiaries of the two companies say

Oxana Batranu, senior consultant in the Finance and Logistics Directorate of the Constitutional Court, said they had no choice but to sign the contract with Bercut Grup. " First time, several companies participated in the tender, but they proposed much higher prices than Bercut. Then only Bercut-Grup participated in the tender. We do not know why so", said Oxana Batranu.

Mariana Magla, head of the Division of public procurement in the Public Services Agency gave a concise reply: "Tenders are transparent and assessments are carried out under Law No. 131 on public tenders”.

Representatives of security companies: "We participate in tenders, but we do not win"

Guarding and security enterprise Media Security SRL won a few public tenders last year for the delivery of translation and recording equipment to state institutions. The company's lawyer said that the company participated in the tenders announced by state institutions on the acquisition of security services, but failed to win any. "I don't know why we don't win; they probably don't like the price which we propose", said Ursu.

Justar SRL, founded in 1992, is one of the first companies on the security and guard services market. The company does not have contracts with the state, although it has participated in several tenders. "We participated in several tenders, but we did not win. Probably, they did not like our price. But we care about our employees, we want them to receive decent wages, to maintain their families. We cannot diminish the prices of our services at the expense of employees. Recently, we are no longer participating in tenders announced by state institutions", said Ivan Suhodol, director of Justar SRL.

Expert: "Actions concerted by market monopolisation must be avoided"

Stela Pavlov, expert in the organization "Lawyers for Human Rights" believes that it is about a market monopolization scheme in this case. ' As a rule, the contracting authority shall award the public contract to the tenderer who submitted the most advantageous offer in terms of money, applying  the criteria the 'lowest price'  has 'the best quality-price ratio'.

The criterion the "lowest price" is actually the most used in procurement, being also the most challenged by the participants. It does not always ensure the quality of goods, services and works, nor the acquisition of the most qualitative goods, services and works.

"Collision schemes are often encountered in public procurement, for example" Market sharing ". Companies that "cooperate" share the market or deliveries of certain products/services/works and agree not to interfere or, if they participate in tender, they should submit the offer previously agreed with the "priority" partner. Economic operators know about the existence and "proper functioning" of this scheme, but as a result of pressure or agreement, they do not formally confirm this”, said the expert.

According to her, increased attention is to be paid to additional agreements, which are less controlled compared to the initial offer and the contract granting process. Thus, following preventive arrangements with the representatives of the contracting authority, the economic unit, participant in the tender, files the offer with the lowest price to gain the contest, being sure that subsequently, after the agreement is granted, an additional agreement will be signed, which will increase the initial value of the contract. "Of course, not all the increase agreements are due to fraudulent understandings, but according to international practices a significant part of them is improperly drawn up", said the expert.

In recent years, the Public Procurement Agency has taken a number of measures to improve the legal and regulatory procurement framework and has increased monitoring of contracting authorities on compliance with procedures. ' However, as a public institution responsible for monitoring the procurement process, it should strengthen its efforts to avoid monopolizing processes and miming transparency of public procurement through actions with increasing influence on behalf of some groups of interest", said Stela Pavlov.

The investigation was carried out in the framework of the project "Civil Society to Support Judicial Integrity in the Republic of Moldova", carried by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the financial support of the U.S. State Department.

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