Romanian court scraps 7-year jail sentence for fugitive real estate tycoon Popoviciu
Romania's Court of Appeal (CAB) scrapped the 7-year jail sentence given in 2017 by the High Court (ICCJ) in the case of fugitive real estate tycoon Gabriel 'Puiu' Popoviciu, currently in the United Kingdom, where he found protection, G4media.ro reported.
CAB also ruled that the case should be re-judged. Both decisions can be appealed within 30 days.
The unexpected decision was based on a small detail that, CAB claims, completely changes the entire picture, according to Gandul.ro: new evidence "not known at the moment when the case was ruled [in 2017]" proved that Popoviciu was not the one who decided on the destination of a bribe (liqueur and whiskey bottles plus promotional materials) given to some anti-corruption officer. The relevance of this detail for the whole case is hard to understand. To put it in perspective, however, the case generates prejudices in the amount of EUR 200 mln, and we are speaking about 224 ha of land in an exquisite part of Bucharest.
The timing of CAB's ruling is key to the extradition request currently being judged in the UK. The latest hearing in the extradition case was reportedly scheduled for May 16 and hasn't reached a conclusion yet, after the UK courts rejected CAB's extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that the defendant was not given the right to a fair trial. However, in May 2022, the CAB was given the right to appeal the extradition refusal.
Popovicu has so far used the services of top extradition lawyers in the UK (such as Edward Fitzgerald QC, who obtained the non-extradition ruling for Julian Assange), plus Hunter Biden, the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
Popoviciu, among others, was sentenced in 2017 for allegedly fraudulently appropriating a 224-ha plot of land in northern Bucharest, from the University of Agronomy (USAMV), with the participation of USAMV management.
The land was granted to USAVM in 1929 by a private owner (Marta Bibescu) on the condition that the land should be used for educational and research purposes. Under a ruling issued in 2019 and re-confirmed in 2020, the 224 ha are taken from Popoviciu (Baneasa Investments) and given to the state, which is entitled to decide on the future use of the land: it can collect rents and other benefits from existing buildings (Baneasa shopping mall, IKEA store, the Embassy of the US) and compensate USAMV with another plot of land.
Cyprus-based vehicles controlled by Popoviciu took Romania to the World Bank's ICSID court of arbitration for alleged poor treatment and asked for USD 200 mln in compensation – but they lost the case (on the procedure, indeed) and had to compensate the state for the legal fees (USD 4.14 mln).
In principle, re-judging the criminal case against Popoviciou (related to the 7-year jail sentence) should not impact the civil case that resulted in the restitution of the 224ha of land to the state.
(Photo source: Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea)