Moldovan raider takes over troubled Romanian refinery Rafo

By bne IntelliNews June 28, 2016

Andres capital, an Austrian investment vehicle controlled by Moldovan corporate raider Vitalie Cebanu (60%) and Cerevatov Alexandr (40%) has reportedly taken over the troubled Romanian refinery Rafo from another Austrian vehicle (Petrochemical Holding) of Russian investor Iakov Goldovski, reported.

The refinery, the third largest in Romania with a capacity of 3.5mn tonnes a year, has not operated since 2008 and has reportedly accumulated losses of $400mn since then.

“The situation is not that desperate. There are no historic debts to the budget. There are unpaid wages, indeed, but we are ready to pay them as soon as we resume operations at the refinery”, Cebanu stated in a surprisingly optimistic note. He said he plans to start operations at 10% capacity at the beginning.

Rafo refinery is not operating and the former owner was planning to sell it as scrap iron.  Goldovski had reportedly instructed the refinery’s management last February to dismantle the refinery and sell off its equipment,  Ziarul Financiar reported, citing a public letter from Goldovski.

The decision came a couple of months after a court started issuing sentences for Romanian investors involved in frauds related to Rafo petrochemical platform, which includes the Rafo refinery and rubber manufacturer Carom.

Rafo was privatised in 2001-2002 to a consortium of companies with unidentified shareholders, later found to be investors closely tied to the then ruling party PSDR (leftist, currently PSD).  The investors were sold the refinery’s debt to the budget, they converted this to equity at 10% of the nominal value in 2012. They had previously paid $7mn for 60% in the refinery.

The refinery’s shares changed hands several times during a couple of years. In 2005, the owners were on the verge of another debt-equity swap at the cost of the state budget, but the leftist PSD lost the elections and the centre-right cabinet at the recommendation of the IMF started investigations. The debt-equity swap was blocked, but the owners managed to sell the refinery to a group of companies formed by Expanet Trading, Calder-A International and Raglam Overseas. The debt-equity swap was appealed by the state.

A new owner, Petrochemical Holding paid in 2007 the refinery’s €200mn debt to the budget.  Petrochemical Holding closed the refinery in 2008 for two years and announced massive investments, but never opened it again.   

In 2014 the court gave the final sentence on the frauds carried at Rafo during 2001-2004. Local businessman Marian Iancu and the others were found responsible for tax evasion and illegal VAT refunds in the amount estimated by prosecutors in 2005 at €370mn. The court sentenced Marian Iancu to 12 years in jail. His brother, Octavian Iancu, was sent for 10 years in jail along with other people involved in the same case.

The refinery’s new buyer was part of a raider attack on Moldova’s largest bank in 2013. Cebanu was involved in a raider attack at Agroindbank, the largest bank in Moldova where the central bank suspended ownership rights for shareholders owning more than 40% of shares. At the moment, Cebanu is not formally a shareholder of the bank. Rise project suspects the bank is currently controlled by one of the most renowned local raiders, Veaceslav Platon.

Cebanu, reportedly a close ally of pro-Russian businessman and politician Renato Usatii (Partidul Nostru), has developed several businesses in Moldova. Cebanu’s Cyprus-registered Diartsamia Management and other Moldovan firms purchased in 2013 26% of the shares in Agroindbank from some Slovene shareholders. Out of the total, Diarstamia Management purchased a 4.99% stake (owners above 5% stake were subject of endorsement from central bank, under regulations prevailing at that time).

The firms were forced by the central bank in 2013 to sell their shares, but they sold to offshore companies. In 2016, the central bank concluded that the firms that had purchased the shares from Diartsamia and the other raider firms in 2013 operated in a coordinated way and ruled that they have to sell the shares. Rise project suspects the bank is currently controlled by Veaceslav Platon.

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