THE BIG SHOTS OF AMBULANCES
PDM-AKP contract and the details of an onerous business with European money
● The Moldovan citizens will have to pay back a loan of 12 million euros from the Development Bank of the Council of Europe (CEB) following an allegedly political contract for the delivery of 168 ambulances assembled in Turkey, on the border with Syria, by obscure companies connected to the AKP party run by Turkish President, Recep Erdogan.
● The tender`s budget was increased after an exaggerated amount of quality consumables worth about 2 million lei [100,000 euros] were introduced in the specifications.
● The procurement procedures were launched three weeks after the illegal deportation of seven Turkish teachers from Moldova in September 2018.
Moldovan Government signed, on July 12, 2018, with the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), a Loan Agreement worth 12 million euros, to purchase a batch of 168 ambulances for the National Center for Pre-hospital Emergency Medical Assistance (CNAMUP). Based on this credit, 133 type B ambulances (first aid ambulances) and 35 C ambulances (intensive care ambulances) were to be purchased. The vehicles had to be purchased based on an international tender, in line with CEB procurement standards.
CNAMUP estimated the healthcare system needs 450 ambulances. Until then, for the modernization of the park medical unit, in 2018, the Government allocated 51 million lei from the budget for the procurement of 69 ambulances of Russian production "Sobol" (B). Subsequently, in the full election campaign for the parliamentary elections of February 24, 2019, the executive allocated another 55 million lei for the purchase of 36 "Mercedes" ambulances (B).
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection of Moldova, at the suggestion of the Government Pavel Filip, set up on March 13, 2018, a working group for drafting the specifications for the purchase of the batch of ambulances.
After the technical specifications were drawn up, the Centre for Centralized Health Procurement was responsible for organizing the tender.
The director of the CAPCS Ion Antoci and the director of the CNAMUP Boris Golovin would have introduced other technical data than those approved by the working group of the Ministry of Health, according to a report of the former Secretary of State, Boris Gîlca.
Gilca said the two institutions requested 4x4 ambulances with diesel engine (all-wheel drive). In the opinion of the former Secretary of State, this increased the budget for the tender. The ministry's working group had called for gasoline-powered 4x2 ambulances to reduce costs.
Finally, after the changes introduced by Antoci and Golovin, it was established that CNAMUP needs 43 B 1 4x4 ambulances; 90 B2 4x2 ambulances; 5 C1 4x4 ambulances and 30 C2 4x2 ambulances.
Moreover, the specifications contained an exaggerated number of consumables and minor medical equipment. A team of the Ministry of Health made a calculation of the additional materials included in the specification and found that, indeed, the supplies increased the price of the ambulances considerably.
The minimum estimated amount by which it was increased, artificially and not documented, the total cost of the contract is 1,995,784 lei (100,000 euros), reads a request of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection to the National Anticorruption Center.
"It seemed a joke to me at first, the cost of some syringes, some gauze, and cotton. They reached almost 2 million lei”, said the former Minister of Health, Ala Nemerenco.
In his turn, the director of CNAMUP Boris Golovin told us the acquisition of the 168 ambulances would be the only competence of the CAPCS and the institution he manages would have nothing in common with this tender. "As for the procurement, [contact] them. We already receive the goods”.
The director of CNAMUP refused to comment on the remarks of the former Secretary of State Gilca because he said, was contacted "on his personal phone" by the reporters.
He told them to send him an official letter and he will reply, "if he considers it appropriate to do so."
Reporters of the Center of Investigative Journalism sent the questions to Boris Golovin several times, but either these would not reach the press officer because the institution's electronic mail does not work or they should wait longer.
Out of eight companies, only two Turkish companies submitted their offer
The tender for the procurement of ambulances was organized by CAPCS. The announcement was published in the Official Journal of the EU for tenders and eight companies showed interest, from Germany, Poland, Spain, and Turkey.
Despite the significant number of interested companies, only Das Ozel Saglik Ambulans and EMS Mobil Sistemler, both of them from Turkey, sent their offers until the deadline – September 24, 2018. CAPCS rejected the offer of the latter because it was sent over the deadline, September 24, 2018, at 14:00.
"In fact, the offer was sent with a delay of only 10 minutes", said the former minister Nemerenco.
According to the Orbis international database, EMS Mobil Sistemler company enjoys financial results and a higher number of employees than Das Ambulans. Contacted by CIJM reporters, representatives of EMS Mobil Sistemler told us that, at that time, the officials responsible for the tender in Moldova suspected a "fraud attempt".
"The rumour was the tender in Moldova was rigged. At least, that’s what they talked in our company; I don't know other details. We were also surprised by the decision from Moldova”, told us a representative of the company whose offer was rejected.
EMS Sistemler is an internationally recognized company operating in Turkey, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA. The company recorded a turnover of about $ 36 million in 2017, according to documents consulted by CIJM reporters.
However, the contract was won by Das Ambulans and Gizerler, the Ford dealer in Adana.
Freight minibusses turned into ambulances
These 168 ambulances are the second batch of ambulances purchased from Das Ambulans. The first batch was the 36 Mercedes vehicles taken in the electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections of February 2019.
Displayed in great splendor in the Grand National Assembly Square, in November 2018, the Mercedes ambulances assembled by Das Ambulans have many technical problems, especially with the electricity system, problems reported several times to the manufacturer.
“These cars were simply reused based on standard bodywork. Freight minibusses have been reused in the patient compartments, such as ambulances. As a result, in some cars, the electric system, the heating system of the salon or the air conditioner went out of use. In some ambulances, the equipment installed in the salon fell on the fly”, stressed Boris Gîlca.
Das Ambulans representative in Moldova, Victor Maxim, acknowledged the technical problems, only that "all of them were removed".
"Even representatives from Turkey came, not once, three or four times.”
Under such conditions, on April 16, 2019, Das Ambulans signed the contract with CAPCS and CNAMUP. According to the documents owned by the Center of Investigative Journalism in Moldova (CIJM), the majority shareholder of DAS Ambulans is Ibrahim Dolek, a Turkish citizen.
According to the Orbis database, Das Ambulans was created in 2011, the profile of activity is transport, loading, storage and ambulance services. The company's site is still under construction.
Referring to the experience of Das Ambulans in assembling ambulances, Victor Maxim said the company has been producing such vehicles "for over 50 years".
Connections with President Erdogan's party
The owner of Das Ambulans company, Dolek, in 2015 and 2018, ran for a seat in the Turkish Parliament in the Adana province on behalf of AKP, but he was not elected.
On his Facebook page, in November 2018, Dolek was proud that his company started to introduce ambulances "on the European market" in Moldova, distributing a piece of news published by Publika TV.
The whole business would have been done through the honorary consul of Moldova in Bursa, Serkan Yazici. Like the owner of the company who won the tender, Serkan Yazici is a fervent AKP political activist and appears on his pages on social networks with President Recep Erdogan. Therefore, Dolek and Yazici are party colleagues in AKP.
Yazici has a close relationship with the former Minister of Economy in the Filip Government, Chiril Gaburici. On October 6, 2018, he was present on the site where the Chisinau Arena is built and took a photo together with Gaburici.
The day before, on October 5, 2018, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Filip cabinet, Tudor Ulianovschi awarded Yazici for his activity in developing Turkish-Moldovan relations.
According to his biography, Yazici ran for mayor of Marmaris district in Mugla province in the local elections on March 31, 2019, on behalf of Erdogan's AKP, but he failed.
Yazici told the Center of Investigative Journalism he does not know anything about the contract on the delivery of ambulances. "This is the first time I hear about it [contract]," he told us. Also, Das Ambulans representative Victor Maxim denied the deal was mediated by Yazici.
"Handmade" assembly unit in Adana
Two months after the contract was signed with the Moldovan authorities, Das Ambulans readied two ambulance models - type B and C - to be checked by a group of Moldovan experts during June 27-29, 2019.
The expert group first checked the medical equipment for ambulances. According to the same report presented by the former Secretary of State Boris Gilca, 74% of the equipment was of Turkish production and the remaining 24% – of Chinese production. Only by one piece of equipment on the list was Korean, Portuguese and Italian production.
"The most valuable equipment – the ventilation device, the electrocardiograph and the monitor for monitoring vital functions – were of Chinese production that did not meet the requirements of the emergency service, both in terms of technical parameters and their dubious quality," said the secretary.
Also, the experts checked "a lot of consumables and health care equipment – catheters, syringes, gloves, duvets, sheets, urine collectors, gauze, etc." These materials did not have to be the subject of the tender because they are procured centrally by the CAPCS. The inclusion of these materials in the specification increased artificially the price of ambulances.
According to CNAMUP acts, a sum of 11,220,000 lei was foreseen in the 2018 budget of this institution for consumables, equipment, including medicines, and for 2019 – 13.400.000 lei.
Chinese supplies at cheap price
Minor medical equipment and supplies for ambulances assembled by Das Ambulans were delivered by another Turkish company - ARI Medical in Istanbul. Medical devices were to be mounted in minibusses by DAS Ambulans mechanics. According to the Orbis database, ARI Medical is a company founded in 2017, with only 20 employees, with import-export activity.
"Of course, this company produces nothing, it is a company that buys and sells very poor-quality supplies. In Moldova, we have much better quality supplies”, said Boris Gilca.
Although he did not want to comment on the details of consumables, the representative of Das Ambulans in Moldova told us that the Ministry of Health and CNAMUP were the ones who drafted the specifications.
Also, he acknowledged that "there is not such a practice in which there are so many consumables, but we [Das Ambulans] respected them".
On the other hand, Maxim estimated that the consumables worth about 2 million lei, as much as CNAMUP spends for equipping ambulances for months – "would not be extraordinarily high". "The supplies are provided for five to ten emergency cases."
"As far as I know, CNAMUP requested this amount of consumables, so that as soon as the ambulances arrive in Moldova, they will be used, not to wait for one, two, three weeks to organize tenders, to receive supplies, etc."
We remind that Golovin told us that CNAMUP was not involved in drafting the specifications.
After checking the two Ford Transit ambulance models, Moldovan experts concluded that Das Ambulans and Gizerler do not hold ambulance assembly certificates.
On the other side, Victor Maxim told us that "all licenses and certificates were presented during the tender". "In addition, I sent to Mr. Gilca and Mrs. Nemerenco the entire package of documents", he insisted.
At the same time, the former Secretary of State emphasized in the report presented after the visit to Turkey, the cartel delivery and assembly by parts – Das Ambulans, Gizerler and ARI Medical – of the equipment are considered "unauthorized and non-certified works".
As a result, considering the "vehicle brand, methods of assembly, equipment, and the quality of the equipment", the author of the report estimated the prices to ambulances are exaggerated.
"The loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank worth 12 million euros, by definition, requires the purchase of quality ambulances that will serve patients in the long term. Only in such a way, this loan can be justified and repaid by the Government.
Boris Gilca called for consultations with the Council of Europe Development Bank for the termination of the contract with the DAS Ambulans / Gizerler company in Turkey and for calling a new transparent international tender for ambulance procurement.
Also, he ordered an investigation into this tender "with plausible rigged data tender".
Despite the reported problems, the former Minister of Health, the Turkish ambassador to Chisinau Gurol Sokmensuer has repeatedly discussed the issue of ambulance deliveries from Turkey.
In addition, the Ministry of Health of Moldova received an official letter from the Turkish Ministry of Commerce, through the Turkish Embassy in Chisinau, insisting that the Moldovan authorities no longer request the cancellation of the contract with problems regarding the delivery of ambulances.
The Turkish authorities explained that Das Ambulans would have great losses in case of the decision to cancel the contract. Any technical problems could be repaired and there would be no need to terminate the contract. Turkish officials asked their counterparts from Chisinau to explain their wish to cancel the contracts.
On November 7, 2019, the Minister of Health, Labor and Social Protection, Ala Nemerenco, sent a note to the National Anticorruption Center (CNA), showing the amount of losses caused by the inclusion in the specifications of the ambulances and consumables that breach of standards for equipping ambulances – 1.995.784 lei (100,000 euros). Also, the Minister asked the CNA to investigate the drafting of the technical data for ambulances.
Four months later, in February 2020, the CNA informed the Center of Investigative Journalism the criminal prosecution body "found lack of grounds for starting the criminal prosecution and submitted to the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office a report to stop the criminal prosecution ".
The current director of CNAMUP, Boris Golovin, was detained on October 15, 2019, because he would have harmed the state by 2 million lei as a result of another procurement contract of 69 Russian ambulances, Sobol. As a result, on October 10, 2019, he was suspended from the position of director of CNAMP.
During the arrest period, the head of CNAMUP became ill and asked the people of law to call an ambulance of a private company, and not from a state company, from the institution that he has been running for 5 years.
On December 7, 2019, Golovin was reinstated as head of CNAMUP, after he challenged in court the order of the Ministry of Health regarding his suspension.
The investigation was carried out under the media campaign "Raising awareness about corruption in public procurement", carried out by the Center of Investigative Journalism with the support of National Endowment for Democracy.
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