Well as I’ve written about before, the Pig Man and the Daddy Isarescu had big plans for Romania in 2012 with the first step to be selling off equity shares (or the entire company) of some of the last of this country’s state-owned firms. The first one on the block was Cupru Min (literally “Copper Mining”), a company that has rights to several large copper deposits but hasn’t been making a profit in a while.
Last week, all seemed well. A “Canadian” company won what seemed to be an open and fair bidding process and the paperwork was going to be signed on April 6 to finalize the deal for 200 million smackers. Ka-ching! That’s a good chunk of change to hand over to the IMF, eh? Most people thought so. I even saw one guy on TMC say it’s “banii incasat” (basically the money is “in the bank”) only to be brought up short by one of his colleagues who added “almost”.
Well “almost” was right as it turns out the papers never got signed on Friday. Instead, about 100 people from various Romanian ministries worked long into the night with the “Canadians”, trying to hash out details, especially concerning environmental concerns and transparency involving the “Canadian” company itself (a fairly good recap in English here). Over the weekend the government said the deal had failed and there would be a brand-new round of bidding but now it seems like the “Canadians” are getting one more chance to straighten out the problems and secure the deal.
So what happened exactly? This was supposed to be the shining moment for the IMF stoolies in the Romanian government as an unprofitable state-owned company gets sold off to those Wise Old Elves of the western capitalist world who would run the company with super efficiency and everyone goes home with a profit and a smile.
Well if you speak Romanian, I highly recommend you read this article. I am very, very pleased that there are some true journalists alive in the Romanian world who know how to do some digging, although HotNews is allied with some shady characters that I’d rather not discuss at the moment. Instead of ten thousand links and one of my massive posts, I’ll give you the short version.
In Romania they often refer to some men as “barons”, a small cadre of extremely wealthy and politically connected guys who essentially live like nobility. Their connections reach all over the place in Romania and they have their “fingers” in almost everything that goes on in this country. Even down on my small level where I live, I know dozens of people who are directly or indirectly involved with these guys. Well there are also a handful of foreign “barons” in Romania and two of them, Joel Hayes and Stacy Quinney, are involved in this Cupru Min deal.
These two American barons, one of whom lived in Romania for years (and is apparently obsessed with this country), originally became involved with Romania shortly after the revolution. Their mission was to take money from the United States government (originally $50 million) and use it to convince other foreigners to add their money to a fund. That fund then went towards making “investments” in Romania so that profit and fun could be had by all (the investors). Furthermore, their original goal was also to privatize some state-owned companies with more profit and fun to be had. Their first target? Banca Agricola (the Agricultural Bank). Now poor Romanian farmers had to come borrow money from foreigners instead of from their own government.
These two American barons then moved towards resource acquisition, more specifically mineral wealth. Romania has a lot of copper, gold and other profitable resources which can be mined and these two guys wanted a piece of the action. Over the years these two barons have profitably been involved with several of the Romanian barons and Cupru Min is not their first involvement with acquiring Romanian mineral wealth. Nor do these two always work together, but they are friends and colleagues.
So here comes Cupru Min on the “block”, up for sale outright as the first company Romania wanted to auction off in 2012. So what these two American barons did (along with other people of course) was set up a series of shell companies. The front-most company was “Bayfront Capital Partners” (itself in existence only 3 years) out of Canada, who created a brand-new company called “Roman Copper” specifically and only to buy Cupru Min. This is why I put “Canadian” in quotes because these two companies are set up in Canada but the men behind them are from all over the world, including our two American barons.
Ostensibly the main reason why the Romanian government rejected the “Canadian” company’s bid was lack of compliance with certain environmental regulations in the proposed contract. But it looks like the real stumbling block was that someone found out that the (almost signed) contract hadn’t been made public according to Romanian law and that they were going to kick up a major fuss unless it was published. I mean after all this is the Romanian people‘s company and you can’t just sell it off without making the details public. And untangling the web of who exactly it is who owns this “Canadian” firm with all of its shell companies and “special one-time companies” (SPVs in legal talk) and the true owners was not something that was going to happen. And so the deal is apparently off for now.
And while there’s no connection known at this point, an added wrinkle is the bizarre fact that Cupru Min itself was evaluated by a tiny Romanian firm with four employees and little history in the field of evaluating mining companies. It was this company which supposedly analyzed Cupru Min and determined what it was worth. The unsleeping eye actually picked this up last week but I thought it was a done deal on Friday and so I didn’t say anything about it. Clearly though if this tiny firm undervalued Cupru Min at the request (and/or bribe) of someone who wanted to buy it, that would be quite significant.
What happens from here we’ll just have to see. But one way or another I’m sure the barons, foreign and domestic, will get their way in the end.