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BREAKING NEWS

Romanian government moves forward with sovereign wealth fund plan, despite critics

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The Romanian government is moving forward with a plan to establish a sovereign wealth fund, a revised draft bill showed on Friday, a main policy goal of the ruling Social Democrats that critics see as a potential avenue for corruption.

The fund would hold a mix of cash and equity in some of Romania's most profitable state companies, generating income and helping finance domestic investment.

The fund was blocked by the Constitutional Court last year following a challenge by opposition politicians, concerned that its resources risked being misappropriated and its board appointment process politicised.

However, the court still gave the government the possibility of approving the fund through an emergency decree.

A revised draft bill released by the finance ministry on Friday showed the fund’s portfolio would include controlling or minority stakes in 28 companies in the transport, pharmaceutical and energy sectors and cash of 9 billion lei (£1.6 billion) to be disbursed in stages.

"Setting up the fund aims to create a public vehicle for financial investment and intermediation in shares and project participation, a ... segment currently not covered on the Romanian financial market," the draft bill said.

The companies are both listed, such as state-owned gas producer Romgaz, nuclear power producer Nuclearelectrica or oil and gas group OMV Petrom, majority-controlled by Austria’s OMV and unlisted, like hydro power producer Hidroelectrica.

Their overall nominal accounting value stood at 10.1 billion lei.

The ministry has estimated the consolidated budget will lose 4.7 billion lei in 2019 in dividends that will pour into the fund as opposed to the budget as they currently do.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the European Union's most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

Critics said domestic-focused funds in general can fall prey to a misallocation of resources or outright corruption, citing the example of Malaysia's 1MDB, which is the focus of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Grant McCool)

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