Romanian investor Gabriel Popoviciu, one of the owners of the Baneasa Shopping City mall in Northern Bucharest, was sentenced to seven years in prison, no parole, in a fraud and corruption case over how he received the 224-hectare land on which he built the mall and other real estate projects.
The High Court’s judges reduced the conviction initially ruled by the Bucharest Court of Appeal against Popoviciu, of nine years in jail. The sentence is final, according to local Digi24.
Update: The Police went to Gabriel Popoviciu's house in Bucharest but haven't found him to take him into custody. He is believed to have left the country before the sentence was issued against him, as he had no interdiction in this sense. Popoviciu's last known residence was in Monaco, according to the local media. The Police has included him on the locally wanted list and will ask the court for a European arrest warrant against him, according to Digi24.
The former rector of the Agronomic Studies and Veterinary Medicine University in Bucharest, Ioan Niculae Alecu, was also sentenced to six years in jail for abuse of office. Three other people were convicted to jail in the same case.
Popoviciu was being tried for complicity to abuse of office and bribery and the investigation against him was carried out by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
The prosecutors investigated how the Agronomic University gave Popoviciu a 224-hectare land plot next to the Baneasa Airport in northern Bucharest, where the businessman developed the Baneasa mall and shopping area, the first IKEA store in Romania, as well as office buildings (Baneasa Technology Park) and many showrooms of premium car brands. The developments in the area started in 2005, when Adriean Videanu was mayor of Bucharest, according to Ziarul Financiar.
The university received a minority stake in Baneasa Development, the company through which Popoviciu and his business partners developed the real estate project. According to the prosecutors, the land plot was highly undervalued. Its value was set at USD 1 per sqm while the prices in the area were about EUR 150 per sqm at that time. The Finance Ministry has also filed a motion in this case asking for the land to be returned to the state.
The prosecutors started the case against Popoviciu in 2005-2006, after a denouncement made by local real estate tycoon Gigi Becali, who was also after the same piece of land. The High Court asked the prosecutors to close the case in 2008, but the investigation was reopened in 2009. DNA sent the case to court in 2012.
Gabriel Popoviciu is one of the richest and influential people in Romania. He was the son-in-law of former Communist deputy prime minister Ioan Dinca, according to local Realitatea.net. After the 1989 Revolution, he and his ex-wife went to the US, where they also got American citizenship. They returned to start businesses in Romania in the early 1990s, when Popoviciu benefited from his connections to the most important political leaders of the day.
He and his business partners Radu Dimofte and Nicolae Badea became some of the biggest owners of street commercial space in Bucharest. They also brought to Romania the Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King franchises and owned several important hotels in Bucharest. In recent years, Popoviciu and his business partners have divided their assets, according to local media reports.
(Photo: caption from the Romanian Police's website)