OBITUARY: Convicted Romanian businessman Adamescu dies

OBITUARY: Convicted Romanian businessman Adamescu dies
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest January 24, 2017

Romanian businessman Dan Adamescu reportedly died in a private hospital in Bucharest in the night of January 23-24. At the time of his death, Adamescu had served under a year of a prison sentence for bribe giving, and faced more charges in a separate fraud case. 

The owner of Astra insurance firm and numerous other assets, Adamescu started to make his fortune in Germany towards the end of the Cold War. By 2013, he was estimated to be Romania’s second-richest man with a fortune of €950mn according to Forbes rich list.

He moved to Germany in the early 1980s under unclear circumstances, after working for a chain of shops patronised by high-ranking Romanian officials. Before the collapse of communism in 1990, he developed an electronics distribution network in the communist countries.

There are rumours about his membership in the former communist intelligence services, which have produced a large number of successful businessmen in Romania. These have never been confirmed, though they were fuelled by the circumstances of his move to West Berlin in 1978. He visited a relative in Germany, with the purpose of undergoing medical treatment, and remained in West Berlin - the typical way that agents from former communist intelligence services used to be sent on missions abroad.

After the collapse of communism, Adamescu started doing businesses in Romania. Initially he imported used electronics but gradually he expanded into other sectors. In 2000, he took over the former state insurer Astra, in a controversial deal. In another major transaction a decade later, he took over Medien Holding, the publisher of Romania Libera, a centre-right daily that played an important role in politics during the transition years.

In addition to Astra, his holdings included Unirea Shopping Centre in Bucharest. More recently he acquired Otelul Galati football club (which has since gone bankrupt) and Rex hotel in the seaside resort of Mamaia (which burned down).

However, April 2016, a Bucharest court found Adamescu guilty of giving bribes to two judges to obtain favourable insolvency settlements for his companies. He was sentenced to four years and four months in prison, and the 68-year-old's health reportedly deteriorated after he was jailed in May. 

Adamescu was later indicted in a separate case related to frauds allegedly committed at Astra, which had been the market leader in Romania’s insurance sector, between 2011 and 2013. In February 2014 the insurer was placed under special administration as its solvency and capital adequacy dropped below the required levels. 

Prosecutors claim that Adamescu used money borrowed from Astra to increase his stake in the insurance firm and set up an offshore re-insurance company to hide the real financial situation and operations at Astra. Angela Toncescu, head of the insurance market regulator (CSA) at the time, was also indicted, as she was believed to have used her position to cover up the frauds.

The case was highly politicised since his newspaper, daily Romania Libera, was seen as a strong supporter of former President Traian Basescu, and he claims to have been victimised by the rival Social Democratic Party (PSD). 

Adamescu claimed that he was a victim of the DNA and protested his innocence. He also said he was targeted by the PSD, in power at the time, because of the centre-right orientation of his influential daily. 

In order to demonstrate the political aspect of the case, in September 2015 the law firm hired by Adamescu cited statements by Romania’s then Prime Minister Victor Ponta publicly commenting on the political bias of Romania Libera. Furthermore, the law firm claimed that the bankruptcy procedures started against Medien Holding were politically-driven.

Charges have also been filed against the businessman’s son, Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen who lives in London. Alexander Adamescu has accused the Romanian authorities of political persecution.