(November 28, 2003) The proposal by Montana Gold Corporation (80% owned by Canadian company, Gabriel Resources) to dig Europe's largest open-cast gold mine, in the town of Rosia Montana is causing outrage amongst the local communities and NGOs in the region. The corporation has been employing its best lobbying tactics in an attempt to have the mining license granted with subsidies for Cernavoda-2 reportedly being offered as a sweetener. What began as protest against social, cultural and environmental destruction has broadened to include serious concerns over alleged inappropriate political and criminal involvement.
(599.5559) WISE Amsterdam - On 5 June, Romanian Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase declared himself "very reluctant" to sanction the gold mining project proposed by Gabriel Resources. PM Nastase said, "the mining project was not a priority for Romania…" while in previous statements, Nastase had declared that the progress of Cernavoda was a priority for Romania. Just days before Nastase's comments of 5 June, Gabriel Resources released a statement claiming to enjoy "the continued support of the Romanian government". The cause of such mixed messaging could only be guessed at until an unnamed source reported a conversation between the Prime Ministers of Canada and Romania at a Ministerial meeting in London where funding for further construction at Cernavoda was discussed. It is alleged that the Canadian government 'suggested' that financial support could be guaranteed for the construction of Cernavoda-2 were approval granted for Rosia Montana. In July, an additional statement by PM Nastase stated that his position on the Rosia Montana project had not changed.
On 10 November, several NGOs sent a letter to Canadian embassies protesting against the county's alleged role and requesting that the Canadian government refrain from any involvement in the matter. Protests were held at embassies in Austria, Hungary and Romania on the same day resulting in a statement from the embassy in Bucharest that made no mention of one of the main questions posed - whether of not the Canadian government were applying undue pressure using the Cernavoda carrot. (1)
One of the forces behind Cernavoda is Romanian businessman, Ovidiu Tender, owner of SC Tender SA and major shareholder of the Nuclearmontaj Group, which holds the very lucrative contract to build the nuclear plant - he also sits on the board of Gabriel Resources. With his brother Tiberiu, Tender began empire building in 1991 and now successfully controls a large portion of the Romanian economy while enjoying strong ties with political leaders of all parties. He is included in most political delegations with President Ilescu or PM Nastase - however, it should be noted that these connected are not proven to have contributed to his success…
Tender SA has interests in oil, agriculture, construction, nuclear power, security and protection, IT, finance and more. Ovidiu Tender is majority shareholder with 90%, while brother Tiberiu has to settle for a measly 2.5%. (2)
Gabriel Resources is under extreme pressure to obtain approval for Rosia Montana. Thus far there has been a 70% increase in costs for the project, a 50% drop in share value, reported shortage of funds and several high profile resignations by members of the senior management team. The most noted departure being that of Vasile Frank Timis, founder and former chairman of Gabriel Resources (twice convicted for trading in heroin). (1)
Frank Timis shares various business interests with Ovidiu Tender - both were on the board of Gabriel Resources (founder by Timis), until an internal investigation into his background cost Timis his seat. The investigation was probably instigated by the withdrawal of World Bank support, in the form of a loan for 200 million Euro (approx. US$ 239 million) for the Rosia Montana project. (3)
Timis also owns Regal Petroleum PLC (RPP), which was mentioned in a 1999 letter to then Romanian PM, Mugur Isarescu, from Russian company, GAZPROM. The letter, claimed that RPP worked with organized crime groups in the Ukraine and was involved in a plot to steal gas, from GAZPROM pipelines, that was then be sold on in Romania. RPP is still active in the Ukraine and in Romania where it's partner is Prospectiuni SA (owned by Tender). (4)
The criminal undertones of this case are ranging. Another of the principals in this tangled story is Jan Willem Matser (Lieutenant Colonel in Staff to NATO Secretary General George Robertson), arrested on 2 February on charges of suspected money laundering.
In October 2002, a suspicious package was intercepted at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands and was found to contain a cash deposit slip from Colombian bank, Santander, for US$ 200 million made out to Tender SA. The Dutch fiscal police (FIOD-ECD) bugged the package and allowed it to be delivered. It was tracked to Matser, however, it is not known exactly to whom the package was addressed. Three men, thought to be possible addressees, were also arrested within days of Matser: Willem van Voorthuizen, Piedro Fedino and Mohammed Kadem. (See box) (5)
The Dutch Ministry of Justice believes that Master is the mastermind behind an international money laundering operation with connections to the drug trade. Matser refutes these claims and those suggesting a connection with his work for NATO. However, he does concede that, on occasion, his NATO office was used to make telephone calls and send faxes for financial transactions and also that he forged documents. He claims to have started a legitimate 'money trading' business, acting as mediator to provide companies with short term loans. In addition, he carried out 16 other transfers to various Eastern European destinations but vehemently denies money laundering or knowledge of drug trafficking. Matser told police that the convicted cocaine dealer, Fedino was responsible for the Colombian connection - no doubt… Fedino had convinced him that large US$ reserves of legal origin were available in Colombia. (6)
Ovidiu Tender denies knowledge of the US$ 200 million and claims that his links with Matser are isolated to legitimate business. Matser had been seeking to purchase shares in the Tender groups (45%). However, Matser admitted that one of Tender's construction companies had been made beneficiary of the US$200 million (from the Colombian bank slip) to avoid tax charges of 70%. The company would supposedly benefit, to the tune of several millions, at a later stage through government schemes. Matser went so far as to suggest that Romanian Ministers were in fact willing to break the law to use his money trading business, which had been set up to help Romanian companies rather than from the desire to make obscene amounts of money for himself… Shortly before his arrest, he had signed an agreement to buy Libra Bank, Romania. It is uncertain where Matser's funds originate, he claims to be financially comfortable, maintaining that NATO paid enough so he didn't need to involve himself in criminal activities (enough to buy a bank?!).
When arrested, Matser claimed to have been "executing border crossing and politically sensitive work with NATO, representing the organizations continuity in Eastern Europe…" Matser was involved with various transatlantic think-tanks, lectured and organized conferences in Eastern Europe - the recurring theme was the future of the secret services in Europe. (7)
Within most Tender companies (especially concerning exploration, oil or the construction of nuclear power plants), there are ties to individuals linked to or part of the structure of the secret services.
Although Tender has sought to distance himself from Matser since the latter's arrest, they can again be linked through the September 2002 NATO conference in Snagov, organized by Matser and on the role of secret services in the 21st century. Price Waterhouse Coopers, Ovidiu Tender and Vasile Frank Timis sponsored the conference. The NATO press office reports that the Romanian government was the organizer and responsible for its sponsors and that its role was simply a supportive one.
Matser and Tender are further connected by their failed attempt to gain control of PETROM National Society (SNP), a soon-to-be privatized Romanian oil-company, which produces 10% of the Romanian GDP. Tender, Matser and Halliburton formed a consortium in an effort to gain controlling stakes - 51% estimated to be worth approx. US$ 1 billion. A few days following the announcement of this trio's interest, Matser was arrested. Subsequently, Romania's Economy Ministry has made it known that the consortium had not met its criteria and was no longer being considered. (4)
The question remains as the whether the destinies of Romania's two undesirable proposals, Cernavoda-2 and Rosia Montana will in fact be joined. The power and influence wielded by the businessmen involved with both projects, Tender and Timis, appears to be such that the approval of one may inevitably result in a green light for the other. The Romanian government requires substantial financial aid to continue with Cernovado-2 and the Canadian government is reportedly willing to arrange this in exchange for approval of the gold mining project. No judgements can as yet be made with regard to a connection between these projects and the Matser arrest or with regard to the possible role of any other organizations seeking to further their interests in Romania and Eastern Europe as a whole.
(1) Alburnus Maior; press releases from 5 June, 10 July and 11 November 2003 (www.rosiamontana.org)
(2) Love me…Tender; email from Stephanie Roth of Alburnus Maior, 5 October 2003
(3) Volkskrant 14 October 2002
(4) The Battle for PETROM by Paul Cristian Radu (www.crji.org)
(5) Fringe Intelligence Newsletter, 24 June 2003
(6) NRC Handelsblad, 18 October 2003
(7) Volkskrant 18 September 2003
Contact: WISE Amsterdam
Arrests linked with the Matser case
Piedro (or Pietro) Fedino is, reportedly, a wealthy Sicilian criminal residing in the Netherlands. Defendant in an ongoing cocaine case in Haarlem, the Netherlands and has a five-year German conviction for trading in cocaine.
Mohammed Amal Kadem is described as an incredibly wealthy criminal and also resides in the Netherlands. Suspect in four ongoing criminal investigations related to drug trafficking and on Interpol's wanted list since 1996. FIOD-ECD claims that Kadem holds 16 bank accounts worldwide with homes in both Spain and Morocco. In the Netherlands, he allegedly claims unemployment benefit…
Little is known of the third, Willem vanVoorthuizen, he is believed to be a real estate trader and has addresses in Nijmegen and Voorthuizen.
Otila Ciocirlan is a translator, who often accompanied Matser on trips to Romania and is also a small shareholder in one of his companies, Delta Holding. Ciocirlan visited the Netherlands between 30 January and 2 February at Matser's invitation.
Fringe Intelligence Newsletter, 24 June 2003