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Cablegate: Prospective Ebrd Loan Would Reinforce Unfair

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Post was unpleasantly surprised to learn
that the EBRD office in Bucharest is contemplating a loan
worth over 200 million dollars to a Romanian company that
has repeatedly come into our sights as an unfair and abusive
competitor in the soft drinks and consumer product markets.
Post believes strongly that awarding bad corporate practices
by granting a preferential loan to such a company would send
a signal that cheating is the best way to get ahead in
Romania's market economy. Post therefore strongly opposes
this loan. End Summary.

A Surprise from the Local EBRD Representatives
--------------------------------------------- -
2. (SBU) An alert member of the Economic Section's staff in
Bucharest noticed on May 31 an EBRD website announcement
about a contemplated loan of over 200 million dollars to
Romanian food and beverage company European Drinks Group.
She immediately alerted us to this because Embassy considers
this particular company to be one of the worst in Romania
for its blatant financial and tax manipulation that helped
it gain unfair competitive advantage over other companies,
including Coca-Cola.

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3. (SBU) In subsequent communication with the USG's EBRD
representative in London and in discussions directly with
EBRD representatives in Bucharest, it became evident that
EBRD Bucharest had circumvented both the U.S. Embassy and
U.S. companies in Romania in its so-called "due diligence"
in investigating European Drinks Group (ED). This is
astonishing, because if EBRD had queried companies belonging
to the American Chamber of Commerce in Bucharest and/or the
U.S. Embassy, the EBRD's representatives would have heard a
resounding salvo of complaints about ED.

4. (SBU) According to the project summary document on the
EBRD website, the European Drinks project has passed the
concept review and is pending final review. This makes it
all the more urgent that officials in Washington and the
USG's representative to the EBRD in London understand the
implications of allowing this loan to go forward.

5. (SBU) Post Economic and Commercial Officers have now held
two information sharing meetings with EBRD local Deputy Head
of Office and the EBRD's Associate banker responsible for
the crafting the loan project. We expressed our
disappointment at not being put into the process of due
diligence until the project is seemingly a "done deal."
Moreover, since it is our strong impression that the EBRD
has already made a decision to move forward with this
project, we are providing now to USG officials the same
basic set of concerns that we submitted to the EBRD in
Bucharest for its response, rather than wait for the EBRD's

A Company with a Reputation for Dubious Business Tactics
--------------------------------------------- -----------
6. (SBU) Post has heard and read many negative reports about
this company and the men who control it. Emerging from the
raucous early years of post-revolution Romania as
"entrepreneurs," the main owners of the company, twin
brothers with the family name Micula, have aggressively
pursued business growth, seemingly at any price. They have
created a network of holding and offshore companies to
become substantial players in Romania's growing beverages
and food sector. They are also allegedly engaged in bribery
and intimidation as a part of their business strategy.
However, in a country with pervasive political and
administrative corruption and a dysfunctional judiciary,
most of the reports of wrongdoing and corporate malfeasance
will never even reach a formal legal investigation and will
almost certainly not be tested in a court of law. In
addition, sadly for Romania, officials at every level in
this country are still easily bought off and will change
records for a fee.

7. (SBU) Despite the murkiness of the roots of ED's wealth
and the slipperiness of its owners, Post believes that
overwhelming circumstantial evidence points to a company
that has repeatedly manipulated the political and economic
system in Romania to claw its way to a substantial market
position to the detriment of honest American companies that
must hold themselves to a higher standard of integrity.

8. (SBU) The following list outlines our major concerns with
this company and with the manner in which the local EBRD
office pursued its "due diligence" for this potential loan:
- Avoiding American opinions. As already stated, EBRD's
work in preparing the loan circumvented the U.S. Embassy in
Bucharest and also American companies directly harmed by
ED's business practices. Post notes that the EBRD's
Bucharest Deputy Director claims to have consulted with
other foreign embassies in Bucharest and with the Bucharest-
based Foreign Investors Council (FIC), on whose Board the
EBRD's Director sits.
- Political conflicts of interest. Current Finance Ministry
Secretary of State Doina Dascalu is married to Romulus

Dascalu, director of the "SC Scandic Distilleries SRL" and
"General Transilvania Exim SRL," firms of the European
Drinks Group. People employed by European Drinks Group hold
political positions in various cities and counties in
Romania in which the company has received special treatment.
- Anticompetitive practices using state aid. European Drinks
has notoriously been one of the main beneficiaries of state
aid, to the detriment of legitimate corporate taxpayers and
to free market in Romania. By financing a company that has
benefited from the distorting mechanism of preferential
state aid, the EBRD would reinforce the outcome of these
practices. This is inconsistent with EBRD's stated goal to
"help move the country closer to a full market economy."
- Possible improper externalization of debt by the European
Drinks Group. The transfer of two companies of the group
(General Transilvania Exim and Interstock) that had ROL 450
billion (about 13.8 million dollars at the average 2004
exchange rate) in arrears to the state, to two offshore
companies resulted in decrease of ED's reported arrears.
Manipulation of ED's books to make it seem less like a tax
deadbeat is an obvious possible result.
- Noncompliance with antitrust legislation and other
financial legislation. European Drinks was allowed to
purchase state-owned entities (enterprises and hotels) at a
time when it owed the Romanian treasury back taxes. Post
questions how this could have been done legally, since
Romanian privatization legislation restricts companies with
budget arrears from purchasing state-owned companies. These
probably were not approved by the Romanian Competition
Council in a manner which will stand up to the current
intense scrutiny of the European Commission Directorate
General for Competition.
- Operations of ED in tax havens. European Drinks
transferred ownership of Original Prod company to Limerock
Holdings Limited in Cyprus. The management of Limerock
included Traian Bulzan. At the same time, Mr. Bulzan held a
managerial position with European Drinks. Post questions
the ability of EBRD to perform the necessary due diligence
for a company with obvious complex ties to offshore entities
and the possible implications for financial transfers to
those offshore companies.
- Intimidation and harassment of Coca-Cola company in
Romania. Managers of the local Coca-Cola company in Romania
have complained many times in the past of the thuggish
tactics of ED in destroying its property and threatening its
employees. Since Coca-Cola is a member of the American
Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Bucharest and adheres to the
ethics of the AmCham, it is already in a disadvantaged
position vis-a-vis many Romanian and other foreign
competitors in its own choice of business tactics. In
addition, Coca-Cola always pays its debts on time; again,
another disadvantage in its competition with European Drinks
that seems always able to find a way out of paying its fair
share of the national tax burden on time.
- Abuse of customs legislation through imports through
disadvantaged zones. American soft drinks companies and the
Romanian Sugar Association have repeatedly complained about
ED misusing the custom duty exemption for imports into
disadvantaged zones to import sugar that it has either re-
exported or used for soft and alcoholic drinks, in breach of
Romanian legislation, and with an unfair price advantage
compared to its law-abiding competitors.

9. (SBU) Post strongly urges the USG to oppose this EBRD
loan project in order to prevent the American taxpayers'
money to go to help a company as unsavory as European Drinks
Group. Post notes that it is deeply ironic that the stated
purpose of the EBRD loan is to make ED "more transparent in
its corporate operations." We believe that there must be
honest entrepreneurs in Romania who are already transparent
and ethical for whom an EBRD loan would enhance their
ability to compete fairly in a modern market economy.


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