Romania probes 85-million-euro bank fraud

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Two banks operating in Romania have been hit by an 85-million-euro fraud carried out by a criminal group that took out a string of illegal corporate loans its members never repaid, prosecutors said. Austrian bank Volksbank and French-Romanian bank BRD confirmed they had been hit by the scheme. Prosecutors said investigators had carried out 50 searches Thursday in connection with the case.


“The accused made substantial financial gains by illegally obtaining loans from two banks for 35 companies controlled by members of this network of criminals,” said the prosecution’s organised crime unit in a statement. Seven bank directors helped the companies obtain loans they did not qualify for, while notaries who were involved in the scheme provided overvalued estimates of the property offered as collateral, the statement said.Volksbank, which said it had alerted authorities to the fraud in May 2010, estimated its losses at eight million euros.

BRD did not say how much it had lost in the scheme.

The prosecution’s organised crime unit cracked a similar case in November that involved high-level Romanian civil servants and the deputy director of BRD, a subsidiary of French bank Societe Generale. The bank lost 22 million euros in that case.

Prosecutors on Friday detained 33 government officials and bankers on suspicion of money laundering and fraud that cost Romania (EURO)22 million ($28.5 million).

The detainees included three Economy Ministry officials, the deputy chairman of the French-owned Romanian Development Bank, and the chairman of a state fund that offers banks guarantees in exchange for business loans.

The officials have been suspended, pending an inquiry, and prosecutors have asked the Bucharest Court to rule later Friday that 32 of the detainees be held under arrest for one month.

Prosecutors raided about 50 homes and offices in Bucharest, Giurgiu and Calarasi in the case and questioned about 100 people.

Anti-organized crime prosecutors say that from 2010 to 2012, two people organized a scam that involved bank employees. They allegedly managed to fraudulently obtain 40 bank loans for fictitious businesses from 16 branches of the Romanian Development Bank and Romania’s state-owned CEC savings bank that were underwritten by the state fund for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Hungarian bank OTP; the Turkish banks Eximbank and Garanti Bank; Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank; Greece’s Piraeus Bank, and Millennium Bank from Portugal also were targeted by the scam, but it was not clear whether they gave out loans.

Corruption is widespread in Romania, one of the poorest countries in the European Union. In recent days, authorities began to prosecute state railway employees who routinely pocketed money from fare dodgers without issuing tickets.

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