A Game of Rogues
In 2015, Paul Philippe Lambrino (the self-styled Paul of Romania), Dan Andronic (the owner of a widely circulated Romanian daily newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei), and Remus Truică (ex-Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase) were all indicted by DNA prosecutors for swindling the Romanian citizens out of 135 million euros through illegal restitution of State land.
PressOne investigated the claims and reconstructed this ‘game of rogues’. It started with state employees earning several hundred euros a month and went all the way to one of the richest men in the world - Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz.
Chapter 1: From Flunker to the Prime Minister's Flunky
In the early 2000s, the ambitious Remus Truică, who was yet to turn 30, started a home business on Banu Manta Street in Bucharest’s wealthy Sector 1.
If we are to believe his ex-wife, Irina Orțan, Truică started the business with money from his in-laws.
Years later, after a contentious divorce, Irina would ironically comment on Remus Truică's rise in the Establishment: in 1996, when they first met, he’d failed his physics exams in college, spent his time womanizing and once they started dating she wore the pants in the relationship.
It’s hard to imagine what Remus Truică’s life would’ve been like if fate had not cast the prosperous, yet controversial, businessman Alexandru Bittner in his path.
Bittner - who former President Traian Băsescu labeled as a co-conspirator, along with Adrian Petrache and Gabriel Oprea, was in Adrian Năstase’s "personal mafia" – is credited with the “creation” of Remus Truică.
Bittner's part in the story is tied to a company set up by Truică that was beginning to show some profit: Total Net.
Overnight Truică’s bankrupt boutique that was set up with his in-laws' money - Ruxandra and Sebastian Orțan (a well-off couple with equally well-off friends, including Israeli businessman Emil Nell Cobar) - became an Internet café before it ballooned into the role of Internet service provider (ISP).
Truică's business, growing by the day, took on Alexandru Bittner and Emil Nell Cobar as partners. Capitalizing on an injection of state contracts and funds, Total Net was sold to its competitor, RDS-RCS, a larger ISP and cable TV company.
That's all that Truică (photo) needed to walk the short distance from Banu Manta street to Piața Victoriei with a position in the Government: Bittner recommended him to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase. Năstase offered him not just any job, but as his Chief of Staff.
The former Mrs. Truică would recall, in two separate interviews, the day Remus called her with the good news.
In an interview with Adevărul she said that Truică called her while she was out shopping with her mother. She cried and refused to accept the idea, telling him it would mean the end of their life as they know it.
However, in the other interview for România Liberă, Irina Orțan recalls that the call came while she and Remus were shopping, and that, when told of his new posting, he replied, "Well, what am I supposed to do there [in Government]?”
What we do know for sure is that Remus Truică eventually became Adrian Năstase's right hand man. At the time, Năstase was the most powerful man in Romania. In February of 2002 Truică is mentioned in the press as Chief of Staff, working side by side with another of Năstase's disciples - the young head of the Prime Minister's Control Department, Victor Ponta.
Chapter 2: Where We Meet the "Merchants of Venom"
Let’s fast forward to December 2002.
It's snowing in Bucharest, the capital of a Romania whose President, for a third time, is Ion Iliescu, and a Government run with an iron fist by Adrian "Himself" Năstase.
On that snowy day a plane lands in Bucharest carrying a dark-haired man with a chiseled face and glasses. To Romanians his name bears no meaning, but in his native Israel, he is a notoriously successful political consultant.
We see him again, a few days later, at a restaurant in the northern part of the capital where he's clinking glasses over a meal with Mayor Traian Băsescu and one of his most trusted aides, Vasile Blaga, the head of the Democratic Party in Bucharest.
The traveler’s name: Tal Silberstein.
A specialist in the art of ‘selling’ politicians, a kingmaker of sorts – Tal Silberstein (photo) helped Ehud Barak become Israeli Prime Minister in 1999 with resounding victory over Benjamin Netanyahu. Since then, he had clients in Austria, Bolivia, Israel, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Italy. In 2002 he helped Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada become President in Bolivia, and later played a role in the successful elections of Bulgarian PM Sergei Stanișev and Serbian ex-President Boris Tadic.
Tal Silberstein teamed up with another renowned Israeli strategist, Arthur Finkelstein. The latter was nicknamed the "Merchant of Venom" by the American press after his favorite electoral tactic: negative campaigning.
Finkelstein and Silberstein have a motto for their formula: “Keep it simple! Keep it relevant! Repeat!” Their technique is based on identifying an adversary's flaw, which is then systematically attacked through repeated messages, even if the flaw is nonexistent.
In 2009, Tal Silberstein managed Traian Băsescu's presidential campaign. It is rumored that he was the mastermind behind a well-known scene during TV debates when Băsescu attacked Mircea Geoana, his presidential adversary, for paying a late night visit to controversial businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vântu.
Up to that point, Băsescu was said to be unhappy with Silberstein’s high fees. Apparently Adrian Năstase - who Silberstein advised in the Presidential elections in 2004 - and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, who Silberstein aided during the former's time as Prime Minister, had deeper pockets.
In an interview published by Jurnalul Național in 2008, Silberstein recounts that he maintained a good relationship with Adrian Năstase, despite losing his campaign in 2004.
Silberstein's connections not only touch the political spectrum, but the upper echelon of obscure business circles. Specifically that of Benjamin "Beny" Steinmetz – a 59-year-old Israeli billionaire on the Forbes 500 richest people list.
Nicknamed "Blood Diamond", Steinmetz has a fortune estimated at 1.53 billion dollars made from diamond mines and real estate.
Chapter 3: Where "Mademoiselle Chante Le Blues"
Let's backtrack to our main protagonist.
Remus Truică's appointment to Năstase's antechamber gave him room to spread his wings. In February of 2002, he and Irina hold their civil marriage while six months later they hold a lavish wedding complete with limousines and white-clad horse riders. According to tabloid reports they spent 40,000 euro on music alone.
The wedding is just the first act, though.
Four years later, Truică would get a do-over: a second wedding party for himself and Irina organized at Snagov Palace. This one reportedly cost over a million dollars.
His megalomania is displayed in the business he directs from Victoria Palace (The Romanian parliament). In 2003, he is found at the center of a scandal over several hectares of forest in Snagov, in which he suddenly became the overnight owner.
Apparently, the shady dealing cost him his post as Adrian Năstase sacked him in the summer of 2004 under the guise of Government "reorganization". But that did not seem to slow down Truică; to the contrary.
Truică can be substantiated in Monaco, some six years later. Exemplary of his ascension: he celebrates his birthday on the 10th of July by paying 80,000 Euro for a private concert given by the internationally renown French singer and actress, Patricia Kaas. She sings for him as he falls for her.
Patricia Kaas would later publish a book, stating the qualities of her lover, "a millionaire gentleman with long lashes, matte skin and an irresistible smile.”
The love story ends, writes Kaas, when Truică simply stopped calling her.
"I was his, but he chose to stay with his wife. He doesn't write, nor does he call. I was such a fool! But no, no! We all deserve to live, to dream, to cheat even. I am disappointed, but I lived a beautiful love story. There are no fairytales; there are no fairies and no Prince Charming. Our story was simply too good to be true."
Patricia Kaas on Remus Truică
Kaas was wrong: Truică divorced his wife in 2011 as the separation came wrapped in a scandal involving the custody of their twin girls and the family's wealth.
Chapter 4: Where the King's Nephew Thinks Only of His Inheritance
Ever since arriving to Romania in 1990, Paul Philippe Lambrino aka “Paul of Romania”, had one purpose: to prove his lineage in Romania's Royal Family.
Son of Mircea Carol (Charles) Lambrino and Hélène Nagavitzine, an opera singer better known as Lena Pastor, Paul was born on August 13, 1948 in Paris.
He attended a Jesuit school until he moved to London with his father and his new wife at the age of 13. The young Paul acquired a taste for commerce, and in the mid 70’s he became an art dealer.
In 1988, while living in Madrid, he published a book about his paternal grandfather, King Charles II, the licentious King of Romania from 1930 to 1940.
A year after his arrival in Romania in 1991 he goes to court for national validation of a 1955 judicial decision pronounced in Lisbon regarding his father's right of succession to King Charles II.
The Romanian trial came to a conclusion in 2012 with a favorable ruling: Mircea Carol Lambrino, born from the "morganatic" marriage between Charles II and Zizi Lambrino, was recognized as son of the King who ruled Romania between 1930 and 1940.
Despite the ruling, no court of law was able to settle the question regarding the effect on Paul Lambrino's claims towards any inheritance from the Royal Family.
Mircea Carol Lambrino died in January 2006 at age 85.
It is unknown whether he learned of his son's mission, which began in 2002, to start a veritable treasure hunt all in the name of the "royal family".
Paul Lambrino's first target was the Băneasa Farm, and he petitioned for it at the Bucharest Mayor's Office in February 2002.
In 2003, he even asked for Peleș Castle, as well as Scroviștea Manor, both administered by State Protocol and Patrimony Administration (RA-APPS).
Paul didn't hide his proceedings from the press: he organized a press conference where he thanked Prime Minister Adrian Năstase for "supporting the event".
Unfortunately, 2003 and 2004 were less than profitable for the self-proclaimed Prince.
But the next year would be more favorable.
It’s now 2005, a few months after Adrian Năstase’s loss in the Presidential elections. Călin Popescu Tăriceanu is Prime Minister and the centers of power have shifted.
The political strategists were first to see it as Tal Silberstein had already moved his “task-force” to Tăriceanu's entourage.
Remus Truică is also riding the coattails of the new government since he had befriended Silberstein during their PSD days. As it turns out, a lot of the people who worked with Năstase just so happen to surround Prime Minister Tăriceanu, as well.
One of the new faces, however, belongs to Nela Păvăloiu, businesswoman and advisor to Tăriceanu. In 2005 her company, Ilko Star, establishes business partnership with Paul Lambrino in connection with his succession rights. An inquiry dated 2014 by Antena 1's Observator shows that in 2006, the Prince had ceded 30% of his rights to the firm owned by Nela Păvăloiu.
Eventually, she admits the extent of Paul's claims are outrageous, but doesn't discourage him.
On the contrary: she introduces Paul to Remus Truică, who she represents as Tăriceanu's advisor, with ample political connections among the day's elite.
To conclude: November 2006.
That is when Remus Truică takes on the Paul’s business. His firm, Reciplia SRL, represented by himself, buys all the legal representation rights for the properties claimed by Paul Lambrino.
Reciplia is only represented by Truică, mind you. The company is an offshoot of the larger offshore affiliate, Reciplia LTD, behind which we’ll find companies owned by Tal Silberstein and Arthur Finkelstein; The Merchants of Venom, remember?
Paul Lambrino sold his legal representation rights - which included properties that that weren't even legally claimed – for the sum of 4 million euros.
In the contract, Reciplia - primarily Remus Truică - agreed to offer legal assistance for the claims. The total value of the properties the Prince desired were estimated to be worth 4 billion euro, not 4 million.
Let's meet another character of intrigue.
Journalist and political consultant - a contradiction and professional oxymoron that Dan Andronic (photo) perfected into an art form.
Son of caricaturist Adrian Andronic, he was hired in 1992 at the newspaper his father worked for, Evenimentul Zilei, when he was 22 years old. Four years later he was head of the Political Section and married one of his colleagues, Anca Alexandrescu, the daughter of journalist Horia Alexandrescu.
They would both end up in Adrian Năstase's entourage: she was the communications advisor, while he was consulting on behalf of Bogdan Teodorescu's political consultancy firm.
In 2005, with the new liberal-democrat Government (PD-PNL) in place, Dan Andronic becomes primary advisor to Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, thereby joining a circle of trust that includes, amongst others, Remus Truică and Tal Silberstein.
In 2006, Andronic and Silberstein would later join forces in a brand new consulting firm: First One Communications. In 2007, Andronic even becomes Tăriceanu's campaign manager. He and Silberstein were undoubtedly the Prime Minister's right hand men.
Regarding Tăriceanu, Tal Silberstein would later remember him as his favorite client:
"Prime Minister Tăriceanu is, probably, the person I like working with the most. (...) On the day of his no-confidence vote, when he had no chance of winning over the Parliament and his term was clearly over, Dan Andronic and I were the only people he allowed into his office. For weeks he had rejected any compromise offered by PSD or his own party members. He would not play politics just to hold on to his position. A few hours before the vote, as we sat in his office waiting for the guillotine to fall, he enthusiastically called us over to look at something on his computer screen. Dan and I both jumped out of our seats, thinking he might’ve found an optimistic piece of news on the Internet. We burst into laughter when we saw the Prime Minister was simply taken in by a rare, vintage car. That's what not losing your sense of humor truly means."
In 2007, Andronic meets Paul Lambrino through Remus Truică. He is presented to the Prince as an influential, trustworthy friend and as Tăriceanu's campaign manager.
Thanks to Truică, Paul Lambrino's entourage expands. It will include Robert Roșu, known as “the alligator litigator”, who worked for Țucă, Zbârcea & Associates and offered legal counsel to the group as well as Andrei Marcovici, another advisor to Tăriceanu and administrator of Reciplia SRL.
And so, the plot thickens.
Chapter 5: Where the Game Is Won
Let's fast forward.
We're now in December 2015 with local TV channels in a breaking News frenzy: PAUL OF ROMANIA AT THE DNA (Anti-Corruption Directorate).
Placed under criminal investigation by the DNA in Brașov, the Prince suffered a coronary infarct on the way to his hearing and winds up in the cardiology unit of the regional emergency hospital.
Paul's stroke seems to be justified: he's under investigation for his involvement in the illegal land restitution in Ilfov Country, together with Remus Truică, Dan Andronic, Tal Silberstein, Andrei Marcovici and others.
Prosecutors uncovered how, in 2006, Truică suggested Paul Lambrino recover his inheritance leveraging Truică’s political and justice system connections. Truică apparently mentioned the name of a High Court judge, a friend of a lawyer who, in turn, was his friend. That lawyer was Robert Rosu, who mediated their meetings at the Țucă, Zbârcea & Associates Law Firm.
Năstase's former Chief of Staff was indicted for asking between 50 and 80% of any amounts recovered from Paul’s supposed inheritance. Paul agreed, especially since he had sold his litigation rights for 4 million euro.
The money, specifically the 4 million euro, apparently came from Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz, friend of Tal Silberstein. Steinmetz was among the shareholders of Roșia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC). He is also named a suspect in this investigation.
Of the dozens of properties that made up the contract between Paul "of Romania" and Reciplia SRL, the members of the Truică-Andronic-Lambrino gang concentrated on just one: the land belonging to the former Băneasa Royal Farm, which now belonged to the Institute for Research and Development in Plant Protection (ICDPP).
Why the Băneasa Royal Farm, specifically?
Truică was familiar with illegal business in the Băneasa region, dating back to 2004 when he was Chief of Staff. He was illegal beneficiary of 10 hectares of land from the Snagov forest, which was, by law, a protected natural area.
It was that scandal, according to the press at the time, which persuaded Adrian Năstase to sack Truică. According to România Curată, Truică got the director of Romsilva, Ion Dumitru, to sign off on the land deal (Dumitru was jailed for corruption), together with the Prefect of Ilfov, Teodor Filipescu, and the Mayor of Snagov, Teodor Biriș.
In 2006, Paul himself received 47 hectares of Snagov Forest with an estimated value of 14 million euro - a deal that is also under investigation by the DNA. A large part of the forest was also sold to Truică. On that land, the college kid who flunked his physics exams built himself a palace.
That forest never belonged to the Royal House, though. A fact confirmed by Adrian Vasiliu, the Royal Family lawyer. In spite of this, the District Committee from Ilfov still validated Paul Lambrino's request 10 years ago.
The Truică-Lambrino group focused their claims of the Băneasa land, which included the Royal Farm, because it was in the most desirable part of Bucharest. But it did not come easy.
Basically, the restitution application signed by Prince Paul addressed to the Bucharest Mayor's Office in November 2007 was rejected by the ICDPP operated by the Agricultural Sciences Academy.
DNA prosecutors say that, all the while, Dan Andronic kept in touch with Paul on behalf of Truică, promising it would all go through, thanks to the pressure he was applying in his newspaper and other the media contacts.
Articles were published in the mass media stating that the ICDPP was ordered to return the property to a specialized committee of the Mayor's Office led by Adriean Videanu.
The Institute promptly asked Paul for supporting documents, in order to analyze the application. The requested documents weren't sent. Nonetheless on September 26, 2008, through Decision nr. 30, the Administration Council of Agricultural Sciences Academy voted to return the land to Paul Lambrino.
The same day, the Băneasa Royal Farm, stretching over 17 hectares, was formally given in restitution.
According to prosecutors, the scam took place as follows:
The director of ICDPP, Horia Iliescu, negotiated directly with Remus Truică for a 17-hectare land plot, more than half of the 28 hectares held by the Institute.
Iliescu, now deceased, was given approval by the General Secretary of the Agricultural Sciences Academy, Gheorghe Sin (who later received a suspended jail sentence in the ICA case). Prosecutors found Truică tried to convince the President of the Agricultural Sciences Academy, Ioan Cristian Hera. Hera refused outright, so the next person down on Truică's list was Sin.
Once Sin and Iliescu were ‘bought-in’, the director of the Institute convened the Administration Council in order to convince the other four members to give up the farm to Paul Lambrino. Truică himself, along with Robert Roșu and Paul Lambrino, participated in the first meeting.
Witnesses testified that between the two council meetings, Truică visited the institute with a foreign national, image advisor – most likely Tal Silberstein – to impress the staff there.
Further testimony reveals that there was no doubt as to the eventual return of the farm as it was discussed as fait accompli.
During the final meeting on September 26, 2009, ICDPP Director Horia Iliescu convinced the other four members of the council to sign off on the deal. Truică was so sure the deal would go through that he sent Roșu in his place.
The Administrative Council was made up of the ICDPP Science Director, Florin Oancea, a representative of the Agriculture Ministry, Elena Leaotă, the current Scientific Secretary of ICDPP, Ana-Maria Andrei and Gheorghiță Dragomira.
DNA Prosecutors found that Iliescu only made up his mind once Truică had paid for a trip abroad for four people. That was all, according to the DNA, the Institute’s higher-ups needed to sign off on the deal.
Subsequently, in 2008, members of the council updated their mandatory wealth and property declarations. Florin Oancea for instance, who is a suspect, opened a savings account for 52,000 lei (approximately 14,000 Euro) in 2008.
The lands given out by the Institute were then sold, piecemeal.
A Digi24 inquiry uncovered that the Băneasa Royal Farm had been evaluated at 390,000 euro. Investigative experts found the real value to be approximately 135 million euro.
After the restitution was made the 17 hectares changed address so Beny Steinmetz could bypass the 6.5 million euro notary taxes.
So, instead of no. 8 Ion Ionescu de la Brad Street, which was the initial address, the Institute was found on Șoseaua Gheorghe Ionescu Sisești nr. 8 A. The decision belonged to the local Mayor's Office.
Even with the change, notary taxes were still as much as 2.5 million euro and Steinmetz refused to pay. The transaction was delayed until January 2009, when because of the financial crisis, real estate prices in the area dropped to 54 euro per square meter.
At that moment, Reciplia started to sell parcels: 2.4 hectares reach Hercules Properties SRL, a firm registered in Panama, whose owner is Andrei Mihai Băjenaru, a confidant to businessman Puiu Popoviciu. Băjenaru paid 530,000 Euro for his piece.
Both Andrei Mihai Băjenaru and Puiu Popoviciu are under investigation for the sale of the land, where a commercial center now resides.
Reciplia SRL, represented by Truică – which is just a front for the Israeli businessmen involved – retains over 14 of the 17 hectares obtained through Paul of Romania.
If we take into account the losses estimated by the investigators - over 135 million euro - the Israeli businessmen, lead by Beny Steinmetz, retain an area worth over 110 million euro. This is after paying for the four-person trip, legal fees and the 4 million euro to Paul.
As for the rest of the land...
On February 11, 2010, the 2.4 hectare lot bought by Hercules Properties is split into seven smaller pieces, which are sold to different buyers, according to the DNA.
The seven parcels of land are then used as collateral for a loan that’s never repaid, amounting to banking fraud - and another case that involves Remus Truică.
According to press reports, Truică's personal wealth is estimated at 35 million euro, an apartment in Monaco, a villa in the Caribbean, 22 hectares at Snagov, jewelry and fine art.
King Michael, who is the legal heir to the Royal Family fortune, has been given Peleș Castle, the Săvârșin estate and 17 hectares in Prahova Valley.
Paul Lambrino, “of Romania”, received the 17 hectares from the Băneasa Royal Farm, 47 hectares in Snagov Forest, 40,000 hectares in Broșteni (Suceava County), 3,215 hectares in Mănăstirea (Călărași County) and two buildings in Sinaia from the Romanian state.
Paul's list of properties includes approximately 50 buildings, including Elisabeta Palace, Balcic Royal Castle (now in Bulgaria) and the headquarters of the SRI, Romania's domestic intelligence service.
Legal rights for all these plots of land and the various properties belong to Reciplia, owned by an offshore company run by several Israeli citizens.