Bass Systems SRL is one of the companies connected to the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc which the Kishinev Anti-corruption Prosecution Office conducts an investigation on. The former leader of the Moldavian Democratic Party is under suspicion of money laundering at a very high level and was placed under a search notice. The criminal investigation started after Moldavian authorities were tipped off by Swiss authorities, „during a spontaneous information exchange” in June 2019, and also following the research report on the activity of the economic agents affiliated to Vladimir Plahotniuc.
Bass Systems is one if the biggest IT company on the market in Moldova with an annual turnover of approx. MD 650 million (USD 36.5 million) and a profit of lei 157 million (USD 9 million). On August 28th 2019, two months after Plahotniuc fled Moldova following a change of government leadership, rumour has it that Bass Systems’ shares were sold to S&T AG, a company based in Austria. 26% of S&T AG shares are controlled by the Taiwanese giant Ennoconn corporation which deals with electronic devices.
According to local media, Plahotniuc tried to transfer his shares in Bass Systems to S&T AG Technological Group (Austria) and allegedly succeeded in doing so for 51% of the shares. But the whole operation got stuck after the prosecutors stepped in and, in October 2019, a lien was placed on the assets (and bank accounts) amounting to MD lei 55 million (USD 3 million), including the quota of 100% of the shares in Bass Systems (amounting to MD lei 2,950,000 – which is USD 170,000) and other companies controlled by Plahotniuc.
During Plahotniuc’s time in power (2016-2019), the company benefited from state contracts amounting to MD lei 437 million (USD 24.5 million), according to MP Dan Perciun. In most of the cases, the company was the sole bidder. Bass Systems was awarded contracts by the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Railway Company (on behalf of which the contract was signed by Vladimir Cebotari, who later became the vice-president of the Democratic Party, ruled by Plahotniuc).
Despite the Bass Systems shares transfer being blocked by prosecutors, at the end of February 2020, according to a press release posted on bass.md, Bass System SRL was absorbed by the S&T AG Austrian group. Meanwhile, the bass.md website was closed.
Based on Taiwanese media reports, S&T AG paid EUR 5,739,000 for 51% of the shares in Bass Systems SRL. Before that transaction, another one was carried: 72% of the Bass Systems shares were transferred by Assentis Holding Limited to Onisim Popescu, the manager of Bass Systems. This prior transaction was confirmed to us by Ion Păduraru, a lawyer for Bass Systems. „Assentis Holding Limited was also owned by Mr. Popescu. Respectively, in the perspective of finishing the transaction with S&T AG, Onisim Popescu returned as full direct owner of Bass Systems”, the lawyer stated.
But how was the final transaction even possible given the shares and assets being frozen? Mystery solved: on February 17th 2020, the anti-corruption prosecutor Alexandru Cernei signed an ordinance which allowed all Bass Systems shares and money in two bank accounts (some tens of thousands of dollars) to be used free of any legal charge. According to the lawyer Ion Păduraru, though, the amount of MDL 50 million (USD 2.8 million) remain blocked.
Alexandru Cernei, the prosecutor, refused to explain his decision, stating for Europa Liberă only that „there is nothing new concerning this file”. Cernei issued the ordinance following two requests sent by Onisim Popescu, who mentioned that neither him personally or any other representatives of the company were involved in money laundering activities.
The now suspended head of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office, Viorel Morari, explained to us that Cernei’s decision has no legal ground.
For two reasons: first of all, Plahotniuc benefitted financially from companies such Vanguard International LTD and Vanguard International Group LTD which relied on Bass Systems’ money and, second, no harm was done to Bass Systems’ business activity despite shares being seized. „We should ask ourselves, why the need to sell the company? Maybe to make impossible any recovery of the prejudice?”, Morari said to us.
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