The High Court Prosecutor’s Office announced yesterday in a press release that it has decided to reopen various investigations against businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vintu on charges of fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors said there are four cases that are to be reopened: one regarding the crash of a major Ponzi scheme, the National Investment Fund (FNI) and three others regarding the collapse of three banks (Banca Agricola, Banca de Investitii si Dezvoltare and Banca Romana de Scont) which the businessman set up alone or in partnerships.
Activities in all the four institutions mentioned above were conducted by companies that were part of Gelsor Group, which was controlled directly or indirectly by Vintu, prosecutors said.
The Prosecutor’s Office release said the decision was made after Nicolae Popa, recently extradited from Indonesia to serve a 15-year jail sentence for the FNI collapse, demanded that the investigation into the case be reopened.
Prosecutors also said that by analysing the four cases, they noticed several irregularities in judicial processes and insisted that previous investigators’ decision not to indict Vintu in these cases were illegal. According to the release, all investigations against Vintu in these four cases were superficial and either violated procedures or resulted in ‘atypical’ conclusions. Moreover, the document says it was the same magistrates that halted further inquiries into the businessman in the above-mentioned cases.
In a document sent to Mediafax news agency, the High Court Prosecutor’s Office also criticised the fact inquiries against the businessman were separated into so many separate files, insisting that this decision led to “disregard of time and causality aspects in the case and of obvious consistencies in the means of action and the people charged/indicted.” Thus, investigations focused only on Gelsor Group’s administration, without properly contextualising the reported actions, ignoring chronology of facts and the final beneficiary of the illicitly obtained funds, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
The crash of the FNI in 2000 triggered one of the widest financial scandals, with hundreds of thousands of people left without their life’s savings. According to Antena 3 TV channel, the fraud in the case amounted to about EUR 400 M. After a lengthy trial, Popa, former director of Gelsor Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud, while Ioana Maria Vlas, former administrator of Vintu’s SOV Invest, which had set up the investment fund, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Although initially she insisted that Vintu was innocent in the case, during her time in jail she reconsidered her statements and started blaming the businessman. Vlas was released on parole in October last year.
Contacted by Mediafax to comment on prosecutors’ decision, Vlas said the move came too late. “I don’t know whether this can change the situation in any way. All I care about is this: that people who lost their money get it back,” she said. “After 11 years of useless trials, I doubt that this will make a difference.”
In separate comments to Antena 3, when asked whether she was afraid of the reopening of inquiries, Vlas said, “Afraid of what? That they’ll hang me, or shoot me? They would do me a big favour. I can’t do this anymore, I’m tired.”
Vintu is one of the most controversial businessmen, being involved in all sorts of deals even owning one of the largest media trusts in the country, Realitatea-Catavencu. He however sold his shares in the media holding earlier this year. In September last year, he was charged with aiding and abetting an offender, being accused of having helped Popa avoid justice and hide in Indonesia. He was released from custody, given his precarious health condition, and is currently standing trial in the case.
In April this year, Vintu was also briefly detained on charges of blackmail, being accused of having tried to extort large amounts of money from Realitatea TV manager Sebastian Ghita. The businessman was accused of having made death threats to Ghita and his family and of also threatening to terminate Realitatea TV’s management contract with Ghita’s company, Asesoft. Vintu has denied all charges against him and insisted that they are politically motivated, given his overt opposition and criticism of President Traian Basescu.