Apa Nova, the company that manages the water supply and sewage systems in Bucharest, which is controlled by French group Veolia, is in the middle of this year’s biggest corporate corruption scandal currently investigated by Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
The company’s French managers apparently bribed Bucharest’s high officials to accept higher water prices for consumers in Bucharest and spied on its own employees so that they wouldn’t talk about the illegal activities, according to DNA documents quoted by Profit.ro and Mediafax.
Apa Nova has increased the water price in Bucharest by almost 125% since 2008, which boosted its turnover and net profits, at the expense of the city’s residents. The company has a monopoly to supply water and sewage services in Bucharest for 25 years.
The scandal broke on Thursday, September 25, when the DNA Ploiesti branch searched the Apa Nova headquarters in Bucharest, as well as the Bucharest City Hall and District 1 City Hall headquarters, and picked up several documents. Later that day, DNA decided to arrest three people: Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu’s former counselor, Costin Berevoianu, the National Liberal Party – PNL’s former treasurer, Vlad Moisescu, and local businessman Ovidiu Semenescu. The three were apparently involved in intermediating the bribes that Apa Nova paid to local officials.
According to the report the DNA prosecutors presented in court to justify the 30-day arrest request on the three suspects, Semenescu intermediated Apa Nova’s payments to Costin Berevoianu and Vlad Moisescu, who arranged that the Bucharest City Hall officials and District 1 City Hall mayor Andrei Chiliman would support Apa Nova’s price increase requests. In exchange for his services, Ovidiu Semenescu apparently received contracts from Apa Nova for his firms, which were, in fact, a cover up for the bribes. The total value of the bribes was some RON 55 million (EUR 12.4 million), DNA found.
The former Apa Nova CEO, Frenchman Bruno Roche, allegedly approved the informal payments, according to the DNA document quoted by Profit.ro. Roche was general manager of Apa Nova Bucuresti and Country Manager of Veolia Water Services Romania between 2008 and 2013. Before that, he was general manager of Apa Nova Ploiesti. He is now Country Manager of Veolia Bulgaria.
The prosecutors also found that Apa Nova had its own “secret service” made of former intelligence service employees. These people apparently kept tabs on the company’s employees to make sure that they wouldn’t speak about the company’s illegal activities, according to Mediafax.
DNA placed several of its key witnesses in this case under protection.
Apa Nova holds the monopoly on Bucharest’s water supply and sewage services for 25 years (from 2000 until 2025). Since 2000, the company has increased the price of tap water delivered to consumers 15 fold, as the consumer price index increased fourfold in the same period, according to Ziarul Financiar.
The company had a turnover of EUR 170 million, in 2014, 70% higher compared to 2009. Its net profit doubled in the same period, to EUR 32 million.
Apa Nova issued a press statement on Friday, which says that its water tariffs in Bucharest were only the 17th highest among those of 33 similar operators in Romania. The company also said that the water prices cover for the operating, revamping, development, and modernization costs of the water and sewage networks in Bucharest. It also mentioned that it respected the legal regulations and the terms of the concession contract. However, it made no comment on the corruption allegations presented by the DNA prosecutors.