Public money

How Moldovan Railways Has Lost Wagons of Millions

Author: Mariana Rață
19/10/2015 9190

Moldovan Railways, which has got to the point of inability to pay salaries this year, wasted revenues of over 50 million lei from the rent of its wagons in the previous years. The money did not go into the state enterprise accounts but to those of some suspicious companies. Prosecutors suspect that the owners of these companies have worked hand in hand with the heads of the Moldovan Railways.

Intermediaries of millions

In 2005-2007, Moldovan Railways rented 800 wagons to three private Moldovan companies. The companies, two of which had been founded just half a year before, were chosen without any competition whatsoever. They were granted the right to use the freight wagons of Moldovan Railways until the end of 2008, for a lease payment of 8.77 US dollars per day, per unit. At that time in Russia, where these wagons were sub-rented the fee per day for a wagon was 22.5 US dollars. In this way, playing the role of intermediaries, the three companies succeeded in three years to collect revenues of ten million lei.

The indebted renter

The "Transpac Service" Company had obtained the right to use 210 wagons of Moldovan Railways through three lease agreements signed in 2005 and 2006. The relationship between this company and Moldovan Railways was complicated from the start. The company, which sub-leased the wagons to some Russian firms, always had rent debts before the Moldovan Railways. This however did not prevent it to ask every year for a VAT refund worth of about one million lei and require Moldovan Railways through court to compensate the expenses incurred for the repair of rented wagons, about two million lei. The company’s claim was satisfied by judges and Moldovan Railways not only could not collect the money from the rent of the wagons but was also forced to pay its indebted renter.

The “Wagons” Operation

Due to rent arrears of "Transpac-Service" and the other two companies had, on 1 December 2008, Moldovan Railways decided to terminate the contracts, asking for the wagons to be returned. "Transpac-Service" refused to comply with the request, arguing that it had no money to bring the wagons to Moldova, thus Moldovan Railways was forced to give another million lei to bring back those 94 leased wagons.

These wagons, however, brought to Moldova on 24 June 2009, reentered the use of Moldovan Railways for a short period of time. After only five days, the Central Railways Dispatcher of Ukraine asked for them to be used in Russia. As soon as the wagons reached the territory of Russia, the wagons were confiscated by customs officials on the grounds that "Atlantik" LLC (the Russian firm that had sub-rented the wagons from "Transpac-Service") infringed on the deadline for the temporary import of wagons in the territory of Russia.

Losses of ten million lei

Moldovan Railways wasted revenues of over 50 million lei from the rent of its wagons in the previous years

On 16 April 2010 a team of lawyers from Moldovan Railways addressed to the Moscow Arbitration Court with a request to retry the case that ruled the confiscation of wagons (estimated by Russians magistrates at about 18.6 million lei). "Atlantik" LLC quickly washed its hands, the company’s administrator Alexander Ratov saying in court that he had not signed any lease contracts for wagons or issued any power of attorney to anyone for the same purpose. Moreover, the Russian authorities found that "Atlantik" LLC had a fictitious legal address. "Transpac-Service" announced that it was bankrupt and the Moldovan Railways remained without money and without wagons. Forty-three of these were sold to a company in Russia, which soon resold them to another Russian company. Today, Moldovan wagons are the subject of another lawsuit in the Russian Federation between two local economic operators claiming their ownership on them.

After three years of "business" with "Transpac-Service" Moldovan Railways incurred total losses of about 10 million lei. Of them, 2.2 million lei is the payment not received for the rent of wagons; 279,000 dollars (about 4.5 million lei) - paid compensation for confiscated wagons in Russia (their value estimated by the management of Moldovan Railways is 4.5 times lower than the value estimated in the lawsuit from Russia); two million lei – money paid by the Moldovan Railways for the repair of wagons; one million lei - expenses for transporting the wagons back from Russia, the wagons which were subsequently confiscated.

A poor patron and empty accounts

“Transpac Service” was founded on November 10, 2004, six months before entering the first contract with Moldovan Railways. The company is based in a one-room apartment of the manager who is also the sole shareholder Valeriu Colbasiuc, who died in February 2013. Although he managed a business worth millions Colbasiuc had a modest living. The small apartment he left as inheritance to his daughter in law Jana Colbasiuc, accountant at "Transpac-Service". She claims that, in reality, the company was run by another person, Alexandr Diulgher. He had the signature right in the company and withdrew most of the money from the "Transpac-Service" accounts, either under the excuse of paying  off some loans taken by the company or to grant loans to himself or for the payment of some services, most of the times, for car rental. 

In early 2014, when Moldovan Railways went to court to recover the money for rent and the lost wagons, "Transpac-Service" had its accounts empty. Recently, the company was liquidated.

Ex deputy manager of Moldovan Railways suspected of complicity

"Transpac Service" is today the subject of a criminal case initiated by the Moldovan Prosecutor General Office in November 2010 on the grounds of large-scale material damage caused by fraud, committed by decision makers of the company.

Viorel Morari, head of Criminal Investigation Unit told us that there are two suspects in this case – the ex-deputy manager of Moldovan Railways Vladimir Bagoev, who signed all the lease contracts with "Transpac-Service "and the director of that company, Alexandr Diulgher.

Currently, prosecutors are awaiting for a rogatory letter from the Russian Federation which has to provide several answers, including the answer to the question how it was possible that Moldovan Railways could bring back from Russia those 94 wagons abandoned there by "Transpac-Service" if at that time the Russian authorities had already found that "Atlantik" LLC had infringed the timeline for temporary import of the wagons. We remind you that the wagons were confiscated by Russian customs officials only after "Transpac-Service" had escaped the related liability.

In 2006, Moldovan Railways had 1316 wagons in lease (22% of total). Of these, 822 were leased to eight Moldovan economic agents and 494 to three Russian operators.

A parasitic offshore

Another question that prosecutors have not yet answered is related to the role of the offshore company "Bellatrix Assets LLP" (registered in the UK) through which the Russian companies paid "Transpac-Service" for the rent of wagons. A part of the money was transferred to the Moldovan company and the rest remained in the accounts of the offshore company.

"Bellatrix LLP Assets" was founded in June 2007 and ceased its operation in July 2011. The company, which was active only when "Transpac Service" and an affiliated company made business from renting the Moldovan Railways’ wagons, is founded by another offshore company and a citizen of Panama, Alvardo Mario Antonio Castillo, who appears as founder of dozens of offshore companies.

Another firm, same scheme

Alexandr Diulgher also appears as co-founder and administrator in another firm - “Artecopac,” with which Moldovan Railways started to make wagon renting business. Founded in May 2004, already in June the company concluded a contract with Moldovan Railways for the lease of 50 wagons, and a year later other 40 wagons were leased. Similarly to "Transpac-Service", "Artecopac" over the years has had rent arrears (which was only 6.36 USD dollars per wagon for one day) and did not return to Moldovan Railways all the leased wagons (the state enterprise had to incur costs to bring the abandoned wagons back to Moldova). "Artecopac" also got its money from the rent of wagons through “Bellatrix Assets LLP".

“Do not try looking for anyone behind”

Laurian Pantaru, one of the founders of "Artecopac" says that the company has always been honest in its dealings with Moldovan Railways. Pantaru confirms that "Artecopac" and "Transpac-Service" were sister companies but denies that they were founded only for businesses with Moldovan Railways wagons.

According to Pantaru, Alexander Diulgher had been several years in the transport business, which is why he offered him to join him. "At that time it was not difficult to get wagons on lease. No competition was needed," the businessman said. In regard to the offshore company through which payments were made, Pantaru claims to know nothing about it. He also says he does not know the former deputy director of Moldovan Railways, Vladimir Bagoev. "This was entirely our deal. Do not try looking for anyone behind,” Pantaru urged us.

The man blames the management of Moldovan Railways for the incident with the confiscated wagons "If the heads of Moldovan Railways did not call back the wagons, they wouldn’t have been seized."

Alexandr Diulgher refused to talk to us and informed us through Laurian Pantaru that he would discuss with us only after his return to Moldova, in a couple of months.

31 million, wasted money

"Intertranscord" company, which leased in 2005-2008 about 500 wagons from Moldovan Railways, is the subject of another criminal case launched by prosecutors back in 2009, where the ex-manager of Moldovan Railways, Miron Gagauz, accused of signing contracts with this firm inflicted to Moldovan Railways damages of 31 million lei.

Prosecutors justified their accusations by the fact that the company would have sub-leased the wagons to some companies in Russia, earning from this transaction 75 million lei, 20 million more than the amount paid to Moldovan Railways. Moreover, being the exporter of services in lieu of Moldovan Railways the economic operator benefited from VAT refund from the state budget in the amount of 11 million lei.

According to data from the State Registration Chamber, "Intertrans Cord" was founded in 2002 by Vladimir Kiko, a resident of Tiraspol (Transnistria) and offshore company "Terboch Limited" from Cyprus, registered in turn by other offshore companies.

We have discovered that at least one of the Russian companies that leased wagons from "Intertranscord" "RV-Trans" was also founded by "Intertranscord". The Moldovan company used its subsidiary in Russia for several operations for recovery of suspicious debts from other Russian companies. Lawsuits were held also at the Chisinau Economic Court, which enabled "Intertranscord" to recover debts of tens of millions of Russian rubles.

We could not get hold of a representative of "Intertranscord". The company sold its premises and became invisible.

”I have acted in the interest of Moldovan Railways”

Contacted by us, Vladimir Bogoev denied any accusations of having acted in the interest of the renting companies. "I have acted only in the interests of Moldovan Railways. It needed revenues and the lease of wagons represented a source of income, "said the former deputy manager of Moldovan Railways, currently manager of a railway company, founded by Moldovan Railways.

The former director of Moldovan Railways Miron Gagauz refused to answer our questions.

The current head of the State Enterprise "Moldovan Railways" Iurie Topala says he was not aware of these businesses. "Today, Moldovan Railways no longer rents wagons through intermediaries. We provide lease services of our wagons but not on a long-term basis, only for specific orders. It's a source of revenue that we cannot ignore," Topală said.

Former prime-minister Tarlev "does not remember the context"

On 27 December 2007 and 29 February 2008, the Tarlev Government adopted two decisions on extending the operating term for the wagons leased to Transpac Service,"Artecopac” and “Intertranscord " companies, which expired in December 2008 until 25 July 2011.

Vasile Tarlev says he does not remember the context in which the decisions were made but certainly the requests came from the leadership of the Moldovan Railways. "The Railways was in a difficult situation. The management of the enterprise argued that those were lucrative contracts for the state, "Tarlev said.

Namely, these Government decisions served as a pretext for the three companies to sue Moldovan Railways in court demanding the repayment of the lost profit due to the unilateral termination of the lease agreements.

This investigation has been produced as part of the campaign “Journalists for Transparency in Public Fund Management,” carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism with the support of the US Embassy to Moldova.

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