Public procurement

Modernization with criminal case at Moldova State University. Illegal tender or attempted political revenge?

Rectorul USM, Gheorghe Ciocanu, (centru) și Viorel Godea, la inaugurarea sediului renovat al blocului nr. 2 de studii FOTO: captură ZinganTV
Author: Victoria Dodon
19/09/2016 13722

Moldova State University (USM) and the construction company Lagmar-Impex SRL started a few years ago a large investment for infrastructure development of the educational institution that would end in 2018. Under the project, the company committed to renovating many dormitories for students and a classroom block. Instead, USM ceded 2 plots in the center of the capital. Here, the company raised a huge residential complex which sells apartments, whose prices start from 444 euros/ 1 square meter. A year ago, the "business" came into sight of Anticorruption prosecutors and officers. The police suspected that the public tender for the investment project was rigged. The case beats time. While prosecutors argue that they gather further evidence, rector of USM, the only person charged in this criminal case, is confident that it is about a political command.  

Late last year, Moldova State University (USM) has reopened the classroom block No. 2 of the institution, located at the intersection Banulescu Bodoni and Mihail Kogalniceanu, where the faculty of Law was recently transferred. Historic monument of national importance, the building was renovated from December 2014 to December 2015 under an investment project of infrastructure development of USM.

"We changed the design of the hall, we restored the marble stairs and oak doors and a lift for disabled students were installed. It is a social building and a historic monument.   We were lucky to select namely this company - Lagmar-Impex. I am thankful to this company and to general director”, said the then rector of USM Gheorghe Ciocanu. Representatives of the construction company said that the block was rebuilt almost from scratch. "It was a challenge for us and an impetus to go ahead because, so far we have not had a chance to rebuild historic buildings", said Viorel Godea, general manager of Lagmar-Impex.

 Video source: youtube.com / ZinganTV

Shortly,  Lagmar Impex completed renovation works of the dormitory No. 10 of USM, on str. Gheorghe Casu 32. After nearly a year of repairs, the building with a capacity of about 130 seats, offers to students in exchange of  700 lei per month, almost three times  better conditions than old dormitories. Renovation works in the dormitory Nb. 11 completed in July.  Dormitories No. 12 and 13 will be renovated by the end of 2018. All these are part of a project of infrastructure development of State University, which authorities started three years ago.

Provisions of the project of infrastructure development of USM 

The works started after in March 2013, the Government Filat issued a decision by which they decided to transmit from public to private ownership 2 plots in the center of the capital, both of them were managed by USM. The first, on str. Pan Halippa 6, has a surface of 1.0874 hectares, where 5 dormitories of the university (No.5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are placed,  each  dormitory has a surface of about 500 - 550  square meters, according to data from Cadastre. Other plot with a surface of 3.1126 hectares is on str. Gheorghe Caşu, and there are 9 buildings of the university, dormitories No. 10, 11, 12, 13 and 16, up to 600 square meters each. 

The company that was supposed to become owner of the plots was required to restore classroom block at the intersection of Metropolitan Banulescu Bodoni and M. Kogalniceanu, to rebuild four dormitories (Nb.10, 11, 12, 13) on str. Gheorghe Casu, 32 and a dormitory for young specialists, employees of USM.  Instead, the company had the possibility to build new residential blocks on these 2 plots, 1.08 hectares and 0.71 hectares respectively and a number of apartments to sell to USM employees at a preferential price.  Also, a library and a student cafeteria were supposed to be arranged in these blocks. According to the decision, the investor would perform all the works of its own money. A year later, in July 2014, the Government issued another decision that annulled the provision under which the investor was forced to rebuild the dormitory for young specialists.

How company Lagmar-Impex SRL won the contest

Before the Government took the second decision, the leadership of USM developed a public tender and designated Lagmar-Impex SRL company as beneficiary of the investment project. 

The two plots mentioned in the decision of
the Government Maps: cadastru.md

According to a press release posted on the webpage of USM in August 2014, the working group in charge with the organization and development of the contest for modernizing the infrastructure of the educational institution was established in May, 2013. Half a year later, members of the group approved the specification for selecting the private investor and in February 2014, they have already opened envelopes with offers of the companies enrolled in the contest. USM called on a specialist to perform an expertise of offers. „The expert wrote his conclusions in the document and said that the most serious and professional offer is the one presented by tenderer Lagmar-Impex SRL”, write the release. On February 24, the offer of Lagmar-Impex was officially declared a winner. 

According to the same press release,  the dormitories Nb. 6,7 and 8 in USM campus on str. Pan Halipa underwent technical expertise in April, 2014  followed by dormitories Nb. 5 and Nb. 9. "According to the conclusions of experts, dormitories No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 are damaged; dormitories No. 8 and No. 9 were preserved because their technical condition endangers the safety of persons living there. (...) For the first time in Moldova, a major social investment agreement is implemented: blocks and classrooms, modern conditions for living and  study for students,  reasonable prices for purchasing flats for employees of USM”, reads the press release of USM. 

The agreement between USM and Lagmar-Impex SRL was signed on July 29 and was approved by the Ministry of Education on the same day. According to the stipulations, the company committed to restoring   classroom block No.2 with an investment estimated at 33.097.312 lei; to rebuild dormitories on str. Gh. Casu 32  with an investment of 10.658.123 lei  for each dormitory; to design and to build  a multi storey of its own money of which 50 apartments with the total surface of 3.000  square meters and sell them to employees of USM at a price of 450 euros per one square meter; to build a canteen for students with a surface of 300 square meters in one of the blocks; to arrange a library on the ground floor of a rebuilt dormitory. 

Tender, in the attention of prosecutors and anticorruption officers 

In September 2015, the National Anticorruption Center started a criminal case on the investment project. The National Anticorruption Center acted in response to the suspicions that the contest of public procurement of the investment project was rigged. The only chargeable person in this case is the rector of USM, Gheorghe Ciocanu. "The criminal investigators of the National Anticorruption Center handle the criminal case on abuse of power resulting in serious consequences, by decision makers of USM and of the Ministry of Education. The prosecuting authority continues the investigations to strengthen previous evidence", said CNA spokesperson Angela Starinschi.

Therefore, the management of  USM refused to provide access to tender documents, although they are public information. "The documents were previously requested by CNA for some controls,” writes an official response sent to CIJM administration by USM.  We received a similar refusal from CNA prosecutors and officers: "Given the fact that the documents seized will be used as evidence and eventually can be the basis of the sentence or other judgements, in accordance with Art. 212 of the Criminal Code, currently, the prosecuting authority cannot ensure your access to study and multiplication of these documents, in order to observe the presumption of innocence, not harming the interests of other people and of the criminal investigation. “However, before an official response, Anticorruption prosecutors invited us to a discussion in the office of the institution.

In a room for hearings inside CNA, prosecutor Andrei Baesu and police investigator Teodor Codreanu tried to find out why we want to investigate this case, why are we interested in this case, what information we already know and what journalistic steps we managed to do so far. We were forbidden to record the discussion or make notes. We found from representatives of law that, according to them, the selection of the  economic unit was carried out  under a regulation set by the working group neither under the Law on public procurement nor under the Law on public-private partnership, which would constitute a  violation. 

In all, 3 economic units participated in the contest launched by USM. They are: Sagitod-Grup SRL, with the tender offer of 87.728.836 lei; Itumit SRL - 118.942.144 lei and Lagmar-Impex SRL, with an offer worth 75.729.804 lei. University has contacted Grigore Vascan, expert and professor of Economics and Management in Constructions at the Technical University, to check the documents of the three packages of companies.

"From what I remember, I gave my view on the estimates of expenditure presented by the bidders as requested by the university, correctness of the rules, if the prices to materials are not too small or too high. As I remember, indeed the offer of Lagmar was the best, well-structured, with the most convenient prices, in line with the list of works proposed by USM. If they are good or not at construction, I do not know. I do not remember other details. It was in 2014 and I sent my reports to the University right after the assessment”, said Vascan.

Manager of Moldova State University for about 10 years

Gheorghe Ciocanu is rector of the State University since 2007 and is currently on second term. Before being appointed, he served Dean of Computer Science and Mathematics. According to statements for recent years, Ciocanu has gradually increased his revenues, from just over 307,000 lei in 2012 to almost 400,000 lei in 2015, money collected from monthly salary of 15,000 lei for educational, scientific and creative activities.

Rector says that he owns an apartment of 70 square meters in the capital, purchased in 2008 and valued at about one million lei, and in 2014 he reported an Audi Q5, used by bailment. Ciocanu sold a car of the same brand a year earlier at the price of 28,000 euros. However, the car was not included in the 2012 and 2015 statements. In 2013, the manager of USM opened a bank deposit. In 2015, he had 41,000 dollars in this bank deposit. Also, he contracted a bank loan of nearly one million lei.

In 2011, the family Ciocanu bought a plot with 0.06 hectares in town Codru, suburb of the capital. In the same year, land was mortgaged to the bank loan registered in the statements on income. Currently, a 2-storey house with a surface of 209, 8 square meters is built on the str. Sergiu Radautan, according to data from Cadastre.

The house on Sergiu Radautan street PHOTO: CIJM

Rector: „This case beats time! It is fabricated!”

There are different comments and opinions about the investment project at USM. On the one hand, a source who wished to stay anonymous, told Anticoruptie.md that it is about an understanding between USM rector, Gheorghe Ciocanu and director of Lagmar-Impex. "The economic unit builds and instead gives the rector a certain percentage of new apartments. Since 2008-2009, when the canteen in the central campus was renovated on the street Mateevici, they concluded deals with dividends for the leadership in all tenders ", said the person. Others say that it is about a fabricated case and a political command against Maia Sandu, Minister of Education in the period when the decision was taken by the Executive and persona non grata for the leadership. We tried several times to talk with USM rector Gheorghe Ciocanu, but he refused each time to give us a comment on the case, and accused us of malevolence and manipulation of public opinion.

„This case beats the time!  I brought 81 million lei to the institution, can you imagine?! 81 million?! Now I am charged of abuse of power … Wait the sentence! Why not wait for the court decision if you claim that you are right? ", he reproached us in one of visits, clearly bothered by questions.

Instead, the lawyer Adrian Lungu, who is also a professor at the Faculty of Law at USM, made it clear that the university administration is accused of alleged damage, although the contract with Lagmar-Impex lasts until 2018 and only then will it be possible proper assessment of the project and issuing conclusions: "They cannot prove anything you say, because they come with allegations when the contract is still developing."

The pleader said that USM asked CNA to make expertise of the investment contract before signing. Since it is a civil contract, CNA responded that it has no connection and it is not the case to provide any expertise. "Also, prosecutors invoked the Law on Public procurement, but it's not about a classic public procurement, but an investment contract. When USM decided to go on such a contract, it set the rules of the game from the start by a regulation, borrowing a part from the mechanism of public procurement to ensure transparency. An investment contract of this kind was previously developed by the University of Medicine and it was taken as reference", he explained.

Maia Sandu: USM does not have money to renovate infrastructure on its own account

In turn, Maia Sandu, who  served as Minister of Education when the Government gave green light to the investment project, said that this was a necessary  alternative given that USM did not have own resources for renovations. Also, the state did not invest in the past 2 decades, in maintaining and developing the infrastructure of high educational institutions for lack of money. Also, she explained why they resorted to a classic public procurement competition.

„USM came with the proposal to carry out an investment project, as they did previously with other universities in the Republic of Moldova and not a public private partnership. An eventual private public partnership would mean ceding the right of management of dormitories to a private partner for a certain period in exchange of renovation works. Following a short market research, the administration of USM showed that there is not interest for such a project as the investments necessary for dormitories’ renovation are higher than the income obtained by the investor from accommodation fees.  The state contribution is necessary for blocks’ renovation, which is why in this case this is the cost of the plot ceded to the private investor”, said former head from Education. 

According to her, the Ministry of Education did not participate in the competition commission and did not influence the development of works. „Ministry of Education has under its subordination about 3.000 institutions and cannot organize or supervise procurement processes in all of them. In my opinion, the components of the project related to the infrastructure rehabilitation (classroom blocks, dormitories, and library) are useful and necessary. At first sight, the quality of works seems to be good. I think the usefulness of the project will be reviewed when the specialized institutions perform the final evaluation, compared to the real costs of investment and costs of land ceded by the state", said Maia Sandu.

Complex on str. Gheorghe Casu almost ready

The construction of the complex Gheorghe Casu continues and Lagmar-Impex SRL plans to commission it early in 2017. The ten-storey block will have 440 one-room, 2-room and 3-room flats and an underground parking for 350 cars. The entrepreneur promises a price of 444 euros per one square meter. In 2014, the project of this complex of flats was awarded the distinction “The best project of the year” by the Union of Architects in Moldova. The company was founded in December, 2001 by the businessman Viorel Godea, and provides design services and constructions. In 2012, the company reported to the State Registration Chamber an income worth 14.3 million lei.

„We do not know anything about criminal case, which is why, we do not comment. Perhaps, the leadership of USM can tell you. Lagmar-Impex is further working on its projects underway and works with much responsibility. Two dormitories have already been transmitted to USM; other 2 will be ready soon. Also, next year, the library and the canteen from the complex Gheorghe Casu will be transmitted to the State University. I would like to mention that our company owns just 1, 8 hectares of the two aforementioned plots. The plot on str. Gheorghe Casu 32 is still managed by the State University. We renovate only 4 dormitories from this place. We got the smallest plot on str. Gheorghe Casu 30/2, that has a different cadastral number and we will build the residential complex there”, said for Anticoruptie.md Adrian Balmus, financial director of the company.

Foto: lagmar.md
Photo: lagmar.md
Foto: CIJM
Photo: CIJM
Foto: lagmar.md
Photo: lagmar.md

 

Procurement worth millions of lei 

According to open data of the Public Procurement Agency, since 2011 until present, USM signed about 350 procurement agreements. Most of money (1 million and 3 million lei - n.r.)  was spent for reconstruction and reparation works of different blocks, of the Sports Palace (2.538.899 lei), of the swimming pool (1.678.476 lei and 462.453 lei), purchase of furniture for the Office of the Senate from the company Mobigrup Anturaj SRL (1.885.745 lei), services of reparation and maintenance of the piston installations, production and installation of uPVC windows from company Lorinela Grup SRL (2.979.963 lei).

The insurance services with materials for training at the Military Department, which USM contracted from Brigade 2 of Motorized Infantry of the Interior Ministry, cost about one million lei. The petrol products, sanitary materials, computers, works of territory arrangement and others were also expensive. In 2016, USM purchased insurance services with materials for training at the Military Department, worth almost half of million lei and services of diplomas’ personalization worth about 85.000 lei. Also, the institution contracted in current year informational services worth 135.000 lei from Public Association RENAM (Research and Educational Networking Association of Moldova) and signed 2 agreements worth 118.000 lei each for reparations in block 1, 2 and 4 and installation of the wooden casing in the seating room. 

Otherwise, Sagitod-Grup SRL has collaborated before with representatives of USM, these 2 entities signed 8 procurement agreements in the past years. This company rebuilt the Sports Palace in 2011 and provided to the institutions various reparation services worth 5, 1 million lei (5.119.854 lei).  Other state beneficiaries of services of this economic unit are – the Public Health Center Chisinau, Institute of Phtysio-pneumology „Chiril Draganiuc”, National Center for Blood Transfusion, Academy of Music, Theatre and Fine Arts, a range of schools and kindergartens. According to the data of the State Registration Chamber, Sagitod-Grup SRL was founded in 2002 by Iulian, Andrian and Grigore Dron, the last was manager of the company. In 2012, the company reported sales income estimated at over 9, 3 million lei. 

The other company, Itumit SRL, performed reparation and reconstruction works worth thousands of lei at many institutions, inclusively at Teleradio-Moldova, Academy of Public Administration, district councils Straseni and Cimislia and others. This company is owned by Vitalie Severin, and was opened in 2005.  In 2012, this company reported sales income estimated at 4, 5 million lei.

Expert in procurement Olesea Stamate considers that the development of an investment contest is the best option for the State University.  

Olesea Stamate Photo: CIJM

"It is difficult to tell you view over the correctness of the competition if you do not see the set of documents or regulations issued by the working group. Law no. 96 on public procurement [repealed with the adoption of a new law in 2015 - n.r.]  does not include any modality of procurement  to meet the needs of USM. Eventually, the competitive dialogue seems to be more or less close, but it is quite difficult to "arrange" all conditions (land transfer, reconstruction, plus conditions for building the residential block) under a standard procurement procedure. Thus, in conditions when the USM developed a regulation to meet the needs of organizing the contest, I think that they were successful. And the results that we see now (work performed in time and quite qualitatively) are not suspicious. I believe that there was used a good possibility to renovate block No.2 and the dormitories in conditions when USM lacks means to do it on its own means", said the specialist.

The investigation was accomplished under the Campaign „Public Money Is My Money Too”, carried out by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJM) and the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance (AGER), within a project funded by the European Union and the National Endowment for Democracy.

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