OLAF starts investigation into EU-funded metro project in Bucharest

OLAF starts investigation into EU-funded metro project in Bucharest
Works at Straulesti, the final stop on the new line. / Mihai Petre
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest February 1, 2018

The European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) has started an investigation into allegations of irregularities regarding the EU-funded project to build Bucharest's fifth metro line, OLAF told rfi.ro on February 1.

The new metro line is of high importance for the busy Romanian capital, as it will link western Bucharest to the city centre. More than 64,000 people will benefit from the new line, which will be 6.7km long with 10 stops and a depot.

OLAF confirmed it has carried out checks at the site. “However, because it is an ongoing investigation, OLAF cannot provide other comments,” the EU office said.

According to unnamed sources quoted by Hotnews.ro, OLAF suspects inflated payments were made to the building consortium led by Astaldi, which won the contract to build the Parc Bazilescu - Straulesti line in 2012. The payments were reportedly made with the complicity of some of the employees of the Bucharest metro operator Metrorex, a company controlled by the transport ministry.

OLAF has said it cannot anticipate when the investigation will be completed, but said that in 2016 the average length of a case was 18.9 months.

Works on the Bucharest metro line 5 started in 2011 and were expected to be completed in 2015. The project has suffered many delays so far and it is now expected to be completed at the end of this year.

In 2017, the European Commission approved €251.8mn financing for the expansion of the metro line. At the time, Commissioner Corina Cretu commented that the project would “have a positive impact on the air quality, local companies, tourism and of course citizens in the neighbourhoods where it will operate”. The Commission had previously approved changes to the project by rescheduling the financing into two tranches the previous year. 

This is not the first time the Bucharest metro operator has been embroiled in controversy. In April 2015, Romania’s public auctioning supervisory body CNSC froze Metrorex’s purchase of 51 trains from Spanish firm Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) after the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) launched an investigation into the procedure. CNSC halted the €310mn purchase in response to complaints filed by two rival bidders, local company Astra Vagoane Calatori and France’s Alstom. A fraud probe was later launched into three members of Metrorex’s procurement committee.