BUSINESS

Confusion at Oltchim deepens as workers resume protests

PM Ponta says Government is ready for the special administration strategy. Russian investors still interested. Back to Bucharest, Dan Diaconescu said he will sign the contract only if the government gives in to his demands.

Approximately 500 Oltchim Ramnicu-Valcea employees resumed protests in front of the administration building yesterday morning and threatened to only stop when production s resumed in the plant and they receive outstanding wages. ‘We will stay here and protest until production is resumed. The general overhaul will be over tomorrow, there is no more electricity, the work has stopped and we are waiting for our August and September pay. We are desperate, the protest will last indefinitely!’ Mediafax quotes a protester as saying. Protesters’ leader Corneliu Cernev says Oltchim workers have lost faith in the authorities and have no more hope. ‘We have no more confidence either in Dan Diaconescu’s plans or in the Government people who have promised to help us with funds, loans and with the payment of overdue salaries. We have resumed protests on the premises, we want this plant to have a future. No, it has no future at all’, Corneliu Cernev said. It is being reported that some of the employees are considering the option of coming to Bucharest to protest at the Ministry of Economy, on October, the first. There have been also some incidents. A conflict erupted in front of Oltchim yesterday between protesters and a group of young people who went there, holding placards that read ‘Oltchim is not OTV’ and who, according to Oltchim protesters, are not company employees. Some of the workers claim the young men were sent there by trade union leader Mihai Diculoiu, whose resignation they have been demanding. The five young men were removed from the crowd by the gendarmes and escorted into the administration building where they gave depositions. They were not carrying any IDs.

Also, over 300 employees of the Bradu Petrochemical Division in Pitesti, belonging to Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, protested in front of the company head offices in solidarity with their Valcea co-workers. They are unhappy with the delays in the privatisation of the company  which affects them directly. ‘We have asked to have a genuine dialogue with Minister Daniel Chitoiu, to receive answers to issues that have not been soled in such a long time’, said Marian Dumitru.  The minister of economy said, yesterday, that Oltchim might receive money from the state in the form of state aid for rescuing and restructuring companies in difficulty no sooner than November, as the operation needs to be cleared by the European Commission. According to the official, Brussels regularly answers in 30 days, a much shorter term compared to other aid schemes. He explained such aid may be granted for a maximum period of six months as both money and guarantees. After the six months, the authorities are supposed to present a restructuring plan that needs to be accepted by the European Commission, otherwise the entire sum is to be repaid, inclusive of interest and penalty charges. In this context, a delegation of four Oltchim employees has departed for Bucharest for further talks with the minister of economy. In the given situation, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), Teodor Melescanu, yesterday went to the Government to discuss with PM Victor Ponta the Oltchim situation, official sources say. The prime minister has also instructed the minister of economy to prepare until Monday, when the term by which Diaconescu may pay for the state’s shares in Oltchim expires, both variants of action the Government has, including the plan regarding the special administration procedure, payment of salaries, restart of activity and all the other things necessary for a new privatisation procedure. Ponta has also asked the minister to carry on talking to the heads of the plant as well as with the trade union leaders and always explain to them why the debt could not be converted into shares and the auction could not be postponed. ‘I would have expected better from a former finance minister who supposedly knows what the discussion of the letter of intent by the IMF Board means, but, well, we each have our level’, Ponta said. At the beginning of the Government meeting on Wednesday, the premier reprimanded the chief of the Office for State Assets and Privatisation in Industry (OPSPI), Remus Vulpescu, telling him to speak less and explain more clearly the facts regarding the privatisation of Oltchim, threatening to replace him by someone else as head of OPSPI if he didn’t do as told. Upon his return from Vienna, yesterday, Dan Diaconescu asked OPSPI to provide money for the payment of overdue salaries of Oltchim workers, set a concrete way of taking over Arpechim and give guarantees that no state-owned creditor would file for Oltchim’s insolvency after the signing of the privatisation agreement. He also said he had visited Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Monaco in the previous few days, but did not detail on the purpose of his trips or the date for signing the Oltchim agreement. He left last night and is expected back on Friday.Yesterday, Dan Diaconescu had a 45 minutes dialog with someone at the American Embassy in Bucharest as well, said one of his lawyers, Daniel Fenechiu. After the meeting, Diaconescu didn’t give any details about the discussion.

Blitz visit by russian ambassador to Ministry of Economy

Something very important to note is that, the Russian Ambassador in Bucharest, Oleg Sergheevici Malghinov, was at the Ministry of Economy for approximately one hour, the day after PM Victor Ponta had said Russian company TISE might still be interested to continue its cooperation with the Government for ‘a future privatisation or investment’, Mediafax reports. In April, TISE submitted an unbinding letter regarding the privatisation of Oltchim. The Voice of Russia writes in its online edition the fact that Dan Diaconescu is ‘the ace in the sleeve of President Traian  Basescu’, his success in the privatisation of Oltchim is part of a wider strategy aimed at lowering the score of USL in the parliamentary election’. ‘To any observer in the know, the success achieved by Dan Diaconescu in the fight for the privatization of Oltchim is a political signal that ranges within a broader strategy meant to lower the chances of USL to obtain a majority in Parliament during the next elections’, VoR reports.VoR further comments that ‘the Oltchim privatisation is a chance of turning Diaconescu in some kind of national hero.‘Now, the situation will evolve depending on the political conjecture. One should not rule out the possibility that certain political-economic groups with strong orange affiliations give Dan Diaconescu the money to buy the shares, and the purchase of Oltchim becomes an important source of electoral capital for PP.’

Boc: Strategy on renouncing conversion of AVAS’ receivables from Oltchim is wrong

Ex-PM Emil Boccriticised the manner in which the Government had decided to go about the privatisation of the Oltchim plant and said the Executive’s strategy to renounce the conversion of the money owed to AVAS and buying Arpechim from Petrom was wrong in his opinion, Mediafax notes. Emil Boc told a press conference that, while he had been prime minister, he had discussed in Brussels and Bucharest with European commissioners about the need to convert the debt in order to make Oltchim viable. According to him, the Government he led had started taking steps in Brussels for the conversion of Oltchim’s debt in 2010.

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