Romanian court rules that the land under Bucharest’s biggest retail area and U.S. Embassy returns to the state
The Bucharest Court of Appeal has ruled that 224 hectares of land in Bucharest’s Baneasa area, where some of Bucharest’s biggest retail projects and the U.S. Embassy are located, must return to the state. The decision is not final and can be challenged, according to Digi24.ro.
The land targeted by this sentence currently belongs to Romanian investor Gabriel Popoviciu, who was convicted to seven years in jail, in August 2017, for having illegally obtained it from the Bucharest Agronomy University in the early 2000s. The High Court of Cassation and Justice ruled at that time that Popoviciu must return the land to the state.
According to the anticorruption prosecutors, the Agronomy University gave the land to Baneasa Investments, a company jointly owned by Gabriel Popoviciu and the University, at a value of USD 1 per sqm while the real value was some EUR 150 per sqm.
Baneasa Investments used the land to develop one of the biggest real estate projects in Bucharest, including office buildings that host the headquarters of several multinationals, the Baneasa mall and the first IKEA store in Romania. The U.S. Embassy also built its new headquarters on a land plot provided by Popoviciu.
Gabriel Popoviciu, who fled to England just before the court ruled in his case, has managed to dodge incarceration and hired international law firms and consultants, including a former FBI director, to lobby for him and denounce alleged abuses by Romanian anticorruption authorities. A letter sent by former New York mayor and Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis earlier this year, proved to be a result of this lobby.
Two firms registered in Cyprus and believed to be controlled by Popoviciu also filed a complaint against the Romanian state at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington. They accused Romania of breaching the bilateral treaty for protecting investments signed with Cyprus and asked for compensations of “at least USD 200 million”, according to media reports.