Rise Moldova | 19.05.2019
This is a Google-generated translation - please see original for certainty
We sell our land to strangers, slice by slice. This is even if the law prohibits the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens or companies with foreign capital. " Believe me, if the man needs money, he is not at all interested in America, Russia, Romania or Cyprus ."
There are plenty of ways to get around the law. An estimation made by the Foreign Investors Association shows that around 15% of the agricultural lands are owned by foreigners. "I sold it, who and how, but they seemed to be in line ."
In other words, we have already given up the equivalent of four districts in the north of the country. " I don't want my children to be spoiled in their country by strangers ."
In the neighboring village, Văleni, we find the same situation. Here, according to local authorities, Consoliterra bought about one thousand hectares.
Gheorghe SEVERIN, the cadastral engineer in the village of Văleni: They bought everywhere. I do not know what policy they had to buy land everywhere, including orchard, and vineyards. Then it was a price, I would say infim. Around 6-7 thousand lei they gave for one hectare. People, if left alone, old, without help, without support, were forced and many sold.
Găvănoasa and Văleni are not the only villages where Consoliterra bought land hard. We were unable to find out exactly how much land he owns in the whole country, instead we identified another 60 localities where the company owns the land. The surface calculated by us exceeds eight thousand hectares, Consoliterra being thus one of the largest landowners in the Republic of Moldova.
Consoliterra began to buy land immediately after its founding and, after taking over everything she could, combined the land and leased it to a large extent to other farmers.
The company is owned, through another company registered in the Republic of Moldova, by ATS Agribusiness Investments LTD in Cyprus, to which a single associate is listed, since 2015, another Cypriot company. Details, HERE , HERE and HERE
But when Consoliterra began to buy agricultural land in the Republic of Moldova, ATS Agribusiness Investments was owned by NCH Agribusiness Partners LP, an offshore Cayman Islands, part of an investment fund headquartered in New York.
According to the information published on the official website , the main field of activity of the NCH Capital fund is agriculture, with investments especially in Ukraine and the Russian Federation, being at present one of the largest landowners in the world.
According to the financial reports obtained by RISE Moldova in Cyprus, in 2013, the parent company in Cayman - NCH Agribusiness Partners, invested in the daughter company in Cyprus - ATS Agribusiness Investments, the huge sum of over 885 million dollars. In 2014, the investment was significantly smaller, slightly exceeding the figure of 600 thousand dollars.
What was the financial relationship between 2008 and 2011 between the two companies behind Consoliterra, when it started to buy land in the Republic of Moldova, we do not know. This is because financial reports for that period are not available.
When we went to the headquarters of Consoliterra - an office center in Chisinau with limited access, no company representative wanted to talk to us. Subsequently, we received a written response stating that the company started its activity as a result of the increasing demand of agricultural investors for high-consolidation land. Accordingly, they bought parcels of land and dispersed and consolidated them to offer " exclusively to agricultural producers in the Republic of Moldova ".
When asked who the final beneficiaries are hiding behind the Cypriot company, we did not receive an answer. Instead we were assured that the company operates in strict accordance with the legislation in force. Details, HERE
HOW IS THE LAW OBLIGATED?
The law on how to sell and buy land prohibits companies whose social capital contains foreign investments to buy agricultural land. However, this provision is easy to bypass. According to Alexander Koss, president of the Foreign Investors Association, one of the methods is to use company chains.
Alexander KOSS: If a foreign economic agent sets up a company in the Republic of Moldova and this company, being a local company, even with fully foreign capital, founds another company, here is the third company is a hundred percent Moldovan economic agent, which has the right to buy land.
Another method described by Koss is the use of Moldovan citizens in the sale-purchase transactions.
Alexander KOSS: They buy land on their behalf and, at the same time, borrow money from foreigners for the purchase of these lands. To guarantee the repayment of the loan, I pledge the purchased land. Land pledging is possible and, in fact, the alien is the owner of this land.
I SOLD FOR FOUR RACES
It is clear from the data of the Association of Foreign Investors that we have already sold to foreigners agricultural land as much as the area of four districts in the north of the country. Specifically, over 300 thousand hectares. Buyers are companies with capital from Cyprus, offshore such as Panama or the British Virgin Islands, but also from European countries such as Germany or the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, the authorities do not know how much arable land has reached the hands of foreigners.
Nicolae CIUBUC, Minister of Agriculture, Regional Development and the Environment: I cannot explain what the investors have said (referring to the data of the Foreign Investors Association - no) , to be verified [the respective information]. We have already made the respective requests to the Public Services Agency to verify these things.
"THINGS, IN THE BACKGROUND, DO NOT CHANGE"
We sell our lands to foreigners not today nor yesterday. The situation was even worse in the early 2000s. Then the land could be bought by any company registered in the Republic of Moldova, regardless of the country of origin of the founders. That's because the law perceived them all as local companies.
Only in 2006, after long debates, MPs changed the law and expressly forbade companies with foreign capital to buy land. They banned and not too much. This is because any company owned by a foreign citizen or company could continue to buy agricultural land, being sufficient to found another company in the Republic of Moldova through which to carry out the transaction. Exactly the scheme described above by Alexander Koss.
The imperfection of the new law was anticipated by Marian Lupu, the then speaker of the Parliament. "The difference is that an intermediate link appears. […] Things, in essence, do not change ”, Lupu remarked.
LEASER - A DEATH PERSON
One of the cases mentioned in the debates in the Parliament refers to a judicial war that reached the ECHR. Specifically, two companies, one with Moldovan-German capital and the other with Moldovan-American capital, for nine years adjudicated their property right on a land of about 50 hectares in the village of Crțoaia, Anenii Noi.
In this judicial dispute, started in 2004, Vasile Zadebschi was also implicated. To tell us what happened to him, he flew 8 thousand kilometers. Now the man lives with his family in the American city of Chicago.
Vasile has over 2 hectares of land that he inherited from his father. Only that his land is in the middle of a plot of 50 hectares initially leased by German investors and later bought by a Moldovan-American company.
It all started in 2000, when Vladimir Pirojcov, a businessman from Anenii Noi, leased the lands of several locals from Crețoaia. Shortly thereafter, Pirojcov gave the land under lease to a company with a majority German capital, which planted vines. And in 2002, the same Pirojcov, having a collective power of attorney, already sells them to a company in the Republic of Moldova with partially American capital - Dionysos Mereni.
In the list of those who initially gave to Pirojcov for rent the lands were found Vasile Zadebschi's father. The problem is that, at that time, the man was no longer alive for a year and a half, and his son Vasile was working abroad and was unsure of these transactions.
Vasile ZADEBSCHI: I was in Portugal and when I came back I found out that the land had been sold. [...] I have the title of property to me, all the documents are in my name, but the land - no.
"I DON'T INTERVIEW"
When it detected these irregularities, Zadebschi notified the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption, now the National Anticorruption Center, which, in October 2010, started a criminal case. Already in the investigation, a graphological expertise was made. Expert's conclusion: "The signature was probably not executed by Zadebschi Vasile ".
The criminal case in this case came to Elena Roșior, prosecutor at Anenii Noi, who in 2012 decided to suspend the criminal investigation, until the person who can be charged is established.
Elena ROȘIOR: Please, I'm not interviewing.
From Roșior the file was passed to the Anenii Noi Police Inspectorate, where it is so far.
And while the criminal case was dusting through the drawers of the investigators, Zadebschi went to court, demanding the cancellation of the contract by which his land was sold to the company with American capital. Without success, though. After nearly seven years of trials, the Supreme Court of Justice rejected his request.
"YOU WILL SUPPORT THE CONSEQUENCES"
I also wanted to ask Pirojcov how he happened to sell Zadebschi's land without him knowing, so we went to the headquarters of his company, which is actually his home address. There we met his wife who suggested we leave her our contact details.
Shortly after, we were called by the businessman, obviously disturbed by the appearance of the film crew around his house.
Vladimir PIROJCOV: I will file a complaint with you to the Attorney General and I want to know who sent you. If you won't tell me who sent you, then we will finish the discussion. Even if I wanted to say something, I won't say. Because, that 10, already 15 years since the company no longer activates. The limitation period has long passed, either three times a criminal case or something else. The deadline to sue has expired. I don't know why you got in there, it's not fair. You will bear the consequences.
"TARGET AND BROKEN LEGISLATION"
Land experts say that the source of all the problems, like 20 years ago, is the imperfection of the legislative framework. While the Law on how to sell and buy agricultural land prohibits foreigners from buying land, then the Land Code does not provide such restrictions.
Viorel CHIVRIGA, IDIS expert Viitorul: It is a cracked and cracked legislation, especially since we have a long exhausted Land Code. The regulations that are in use now are easy to bypass and not just bypass. They can be interpreted in different ways.
After years of debate, the authorities finally completed the draft of a new Land Code, which, in turn, prohibits foreigners from buying land. The new Code has so far only been passed by the Government, which approved it in November 2018. But in order to become law, the project must also receive the vote of the deputies.
And because of the legislative ambiguities and the schemes by which foreigners get their hands on the agricultural lands of the Republic of Moldova, the country has only to lose, the president of the National Farmers Federation believes.
Vasile MÎRZENCO, president of the National Federation of Farmers: Those who dream that heaven will be brought to this country by strangers, they are wrong. There is no foreign person who would come to Moldova to invest to flourish the Republic of Moldova. He comes to promote his interests, personal or group, or a company. I, for example, do not want my children to be spoiled in their country by strangers.
Contributed: Liuba ȘEVCIUC, Vladimir THORIC