Most Romanian businessmen who became extremely rich after the Romanian Revolution in 1989 achieved this by robbing the state, said former Romanian mogul Sorin Ovidiu Vantu in an interview for Romanian newspaper Adevarul.
“Our job is to steal from the state! This is what we, businessmen, do, try to cheat the state. This is capitalism (…) Do you think that in Germany or in America business is made by angels? (…) I’ve said it before: this country’s failure was caused by my generation.”
These are just some of the statements Vantu made in this interview.
Vantu, who had been for many years one of the richest and most powerful people in Romania, but also one of the most despised for the way he made his fortune, has served two jail convictions in recent years.
He was recently released from prison, after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence for aiding Nicolae Popa, an old business partner of his, who was being chased by the Romanian police in 2009. Popa was at that time being investigated for his involvement in the fall of the National Investment Fund (FNI), a large mutual fund set up by Vantu, in which more than 300,000 Romanians invested in the late ‘90s and which went bankrupt in 2000.
The Romanian media wrote that Vantu made hundreds of millions of dollars from this fund. Vantu only got a 3-year prison sentence which was suspended, so he didn’t serve time for this.
“If the state had caught me with everything I’ve done, I would have been in prison for life. The state has no idea what I’ve done and what I would have deserved to be imprisoned,” said Vantu in his interview for Adevarul. He added that the prosecutors invented some causes to arrest him.
“I don’t claim that I shouldn’t have been in jail, I deserved it. Thank God, I got away cheap. And not only I. There are many people who you see today in business, politics, administration, who would deserve to serve tens of years in prison,” he confessed.
Vantu, 59, was in 2008 the third richest man in Romania, with an estimated fortune of EUR 800 million, according to local business magazine Capital. He started making money immediately after the Revolution, bringing trucks of contraband merchandise from abroad, which he sold in Romania, and by the end of 1990 he was already one of the country’s richest, as he says.
“End-1990 I had USD 100 million cash in an unfurnished room, in my apartment in Roman (a small town in Northern Romania – e.n.). I celebrated with my wife at that time by drinking a bottle of champagne and making love on the pile of money,” he told Adevarul.
He then moved to financial markets, opened one of the first brokerage houses in Romania, Gelsor, which for many years controlled local share transactions. He employed former secret service (Securitate) officers to help him with his financial schemes and made money from anything from privatizations of state-owned companies, share trading, and setting up new banks and financial institutions which went bankrupt.
After 2000, he started building a media empire, which included TV news stations, newspapers, news agencies, and became an influential player in local politics, from behind the scenes. His empire started to collapse after 2009, because of his legal problems. Most of his firms went bankrupt or were sold.
Vantu is currently active online, where he runs a blog (sov.ro), and he recently launched his personal Facebook page.
(Photo source: Sorin Ovidiu Vantu’s Facebook page)