Prosecutors freeze assets of Air Moldova and private company that purchased it

Prosecutors freeze assets of Air Moldova and private company that purchased it
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest September 24, 2019

Prosecutors of Moldova’s National Anticorruption Centre (CNA) have seized the assets of Air Moldova and the limited liability company Civil Aviation Group that purchased Moldova’s flag carrier, in connection to money laundering investigations, according to a press release from the CNA.

The seizure was carried out in connection to "large scale money laundering at the privatisation of AIR Moldova."

"We are talking about a series of fictitious transactions that led to the privatisation of the airline," the CNA said in the press release. 

The anti-corruption prosecutors have not identified the nature of the assets seized, but the amount (MDL301.6mn or €15mn) matches the book value of Air Moldova’s capital. CNA does not mention whether the assets of Civil Aviation Group were seized as well, but its involvement in the privatisation makes it very likely. Mold Street reported that the Civil Aviation Group's assets, some €25,000, were seized as well.

Civil Aviation Group, made up of Romanian low cost carrier Blue Air (49%) and two Moldovan citizens, Andrei Yanovich and Sergey Melnik (25.5% each), bought Moldovan flag carrier Air Moldova for MDL1.2bn last October. However, out of the total value of the deal, only MDL50mn was paid for the shares and the rest of the money is the debt owed by Air Moldova to third parties. The payment was reportedly made in cash as opposed to by a bank transfer. 

Igor Munteanu, the chairman of the ad-hoc parliamentary committee for the analysis of the organisation and conduct of the privatisation and concession of public property (2013-2019), recently described how the new shareholders of Air Moldova brought the money.

“There is clear information from the Service for the Prevention and Combating of Money Laundering stating that Mr Yanovich came with a money suitcase to a commercial bank and deposited this money in cash. Obviously, there is a certain investigation of the origin of these monies and how they were included in the payment made in the case of Air Moldova,” revealed the chairman of the parliamentary committee.

Furthermore, Air Moldova has not paid back its debts to creditors, Munteanu announced recently. According to Munteanu, the financial documents consulted show that "until July 31, 2019, the amount of debt [owed by Air Moldova] has not undergone any major changes, and the new owners have not brought any funds from their own resources or as long-term financing".

The airline’s largest debt is to Chisinau International Airport — a detail that supports the scenario of hidden ties between the obscure former owners of Chisinau International Airport (recently taken over by Nat Rothschild) and the investors behind Civil Aviation Group.

The former Russian owners behind Avia Invest, the firm that operates Chisinau International Airport, are believed to be the actual buyers of Air Moldova, according to multiple converging sources commenting on the deal last October.

While Melnik and Yanovich reportedly have no prior experience in the airline industry, one adviser in Melnik’s company, Wolf Blitz Financial Consultants, is Vitalie Botgros, found when researching the two men’s backgrounds. Botgros served from 1995 to 2004 “as vice president for finance and a shareholder of Moldavian Airlines [possibly an approximate translation of Air Moldova] and Carpathair [possibly Romania’s Carpatair, set up in 1999],” as he declared in his public resume. He was also a manager at Russian Transmashholding. Newsmaker points out that Kolomensky Zavod OJSC, which is part of this holding, was one of the founders of Avia Invest when it became the concessionaire of Chisinau International Airport.