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Romanian senators vote to investigate state's sale of Petrom

Romania's Senate decided to investigate the state's sale in 2004 of its biggest oil company, Petrom SA, to determine whether the government got a poor deal and if some contract clauses were illegal.

The Senate voted 39 to five, with one abstention, to create a seven-member committee to study the terms of the sale, Senate spokesman Mircea Hamza said. The committee, approved by both opposition and government-allied Senators, will be headed by Carol Dina of the opposition Greater Romania Party, he said. „The commission will start investigating, and they have to report back to the full Senate by March 26,” Hamza said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Romanian prosecutors who specialize in combating organized crime and terrorism started an investigation last month of eight men, including four government employees in charge of asset sales, on grounds of threatening national safety. Petrom was one of the sales under investigation. Four of them, including a Credit Suisse Group manager, two government officials and a Bulgarian man, were jailed preventatively for 20 days on November 29. Prosecutors said yesterday they want a 30-day extension of the preventative jail term.

All eight men deny the allegations. Credit Suisse in 2004 was hired by Romania's government as an adviser on the sale of Petrom to Austria's OMV AG for €1.5 billion ($2 billion). The inquiry is the first criminal investigation involving international investment bankers in Romania since the break with communism in 1990. It comes as the country prepares to join the European Union on January 1. (Bloomberg)