The Carpathian Cartel

Interest groups made up of senior government officials and front men through whom assets are amassed. Political protection from those in charge of major institutions. Fortunes too big to fit inside our country’s borders, squirrelled away in western European properties.

It’s a state of affairs that Romania has seen time and again since its December 1989 revolution, usually along with media scandals and clashes between rival factions. But now that political battle lines have been eliminated by the formation of an all-powerful coalition, wealth is being accumulated amid a dead calm as faint-hearted prosecutors and journalists in the pay of political parties look on naïvely.

A year ago, we began investigating just such a situation when a French regional newspaper reported that a group of Romanian investors had bought a chateau and planned to convert it into a luxury hotel. Although the French publication mentioned a group of Romanians, it only gave one name: Benjamin Gont, apparently a cover through whom they were operating.

We travelled to France to unravel the story of the chateau bought by the mysterious Romanian investors and came back to Romania to follow the money. In the process, we stumbled across a network formed and protected by politicians backed by top-level coalition government figures. It had taken control of the country’s best-known tourist resort and was using it as a private cash machine.

But this isn’t just a tale of unexplained wealth. At its core lies the zeal of public office-holders to scale the social ladder. The protagonists are a shady élite that sprang up out of nowhere and can’t imagine sharing power or even breathing the same air as ordinary folk.

A French chateau, a 1,000-square-metre palace plonked right in the middle of a conservation area, a road built for one man, rigged auctions, name days celebrated in ceremonial state palaces guarded by Protection and Security Service officers… All in one story:

The English version of this article and the English subtitles of the video are available thanks to Peter Shortall.

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