EBRD to fight legal decision to impose external administration over Giurgiulesti port operator

EBRD to fight legal decision to impose external administration over Giurgiulesti port operator
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest March 4, 2021

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said in a statement on March 3 that it intends to fight a legal decision given by the Court of Appeal in Chisinau to impose external administration over Danube Logistics (MD), the operator of Giurgiulesti International Free Port in Moldova.

A bailiff in Chisinau imposed external administration over the company on February 25 at the request of entities controlled by Azeri businessman Rafiq Aliyev — the initial investor who struck the deal to take over the port from the Moldovan government back in 2005.

Aliyev, jailed in 2005 shortly after the sealing of the contract in Moldova, claims that his then employee, Thomas Moser, took advantage of the situation and took over Danube Logistics (MD) by a contract (Master SPA) that also made the EBRD a final (and major) economic beneficiary of the Moldovan company.

Aliyev and Moser are now fighting for control of Moldova’s only port on the maritime Danube at the southern tip of the country, the landlocked country’s only access to international waters. 

Aliyev and his brother Farhad Aliyev (at that time Azerbaijan’s minister of economy) were arrested in October 2005 on suspicion of plotting a coup against Azerbajani President Ilham Aliyev. Rafiq Aliyev was then stripped of his properties.

However, in 2013, on the eve of Eid al-Adha, President Aliyev pardoned and released the brothers.

On his release from prison, Aliyev initiated legal actions to recover his assets, including Danube Logistics (MD). Most of his assets were returned to him after his sentence was reversed. How Moser managed to keep control over Aliyev's assets in Moldova remains unclear.

While Aliyev has failed so far to get control over Danube Logistics (MD) in various foreign courts, following his attempts to invalidate the contract sealed in 2011 by Moser in his dual capacity as Aliyev’s representative (as the seller) and the owner of Dutch-registered Danube Logistics Holding (as the buyer), he was awarded compensation of $10mn (MDL177.4mn or €9mn). from Moser for mismanagement.

Moser, and the EBRD in past statements, referred to the court decisions in Moldova as part of a “raider attack” — a term used in the former Soviet Union to refer to the takeover of a company with support from corrupt judges.

Most recently, in February the Supreme Court of Justice in Moldova rejected appeals by the EBRD, Danube Logistics (Moldova) and Danube Logistics Holding (The Netherlands) against the decision by which Moser and his former colleague Ala Aydov were obliged to pay Bemol Retail damages.

The EBRD says in its March 3 statement that it is defending its rights as the largest senior secured creditor of Danube Logistics (MD) and the main final economic beneficiary of Danube Logistics Holding (MD).

On the same day, Bemol Retail, part of Azpetrol group controlled by Aliyev, published a response defending the court’s decision. The response includes all the court rulings issued in Moldova and a ruling by a court in Amsterdam that says it has no jurisdiction over the case in Moldova.

The EBRD is the primary economic beneficiary (65%) of Dutch-registered Danube Logistics Holding, the owner of Danube Logistics (MD), as an effect of a contract signed in the Netherlands (Master SPA) in 2011 by which German citizen Moser became the legal owner of Danube Logistics (MD).

The Bank thus switched from being the major creditor of Danube Logistics (MD) under the original 2005 deal, to a major economic beneficiary under the 2011 contract, making the case rather complex. 

While not part of the legal battle between Aliyev and Moser, there are still questions about the original 2005 concession contract for Giurgiulesti port signed between Aliyev and the Communist regime of former Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin. The deal gave Aliyev a 49-year contract to manage the port, plus other economic benefits, in exchange for paying back Moldova’s debt to the EBRD and promises to invest certain amounts of money in the port.

The deal itself has been criticised by Moldovan civil organisations, as it reportedly provided disproportionate benefits to the investor in the form of a VAT waiver for imported fuel.