Mystery British link to Romanian oil deal

A company set up last year has bought half of a huge refinery owing £1.75bn, writes Paul Lashmar
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The Independent Online

A mysterious off-the-shelf British company has bought half the shares in one of Romania's largest oil refineries, raising concerns over the billions the refinery owes the Romanian government.

Balkan Petroleum, regist- ered at Companies House in July last year, has acquired 48.9 per cent of the company controlling the Rafo refinery, near the city of Onesti. Registered at a flat in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, Balkan Petroleum lists two directors, no shareholders and does not apparently have an office, phone number or anyone who can answer press enquiries.

The sale of the refinery has caused concern in the Romanian media. After 50 years as a state business, it was privatised in 2001, but the business owes £1.75bn to the Romanian Treasury. It has been suggested in the Romanian press that the sale of the shares is a device to move responsibility for almost half the debt outside Romania. Balkan Petroleum is also believed to be effectively controlled by two well-connected but controversial Romanian businessmen. Vasile Frank Timis has past convictions for heroin-dealing, and Ovidiu Tender has been linked to a money-laundering scandal.

Balkan Petroleum lists David Grannell and a specialist company formation agency as its original directors.

Mr Grannell, a 41-year-old ex-merchant navy officer, is a chartered accountant and di-rector of the London account-ants Bowker Orford. He told The Independent on Sunday his only involvement in Balkan Petroleum was to set it up and he has since resigned. He declined to say who runs the firm.

Mr Grannell has connections with companies closely linked to Romania and is listed as director of Inktrend, a British firm founded by Stephen Roman, a 50-year-old Canadian. Mr Roman was formerly a director of Gabriel Re- sources, a Canadian company set up by Mr Timis to exploit Europe's biggest gold deposit, in Rosia Montana, Romania.

Mr Grannell is also chief financial director for another Canadian company, European Goldfields, also set up by Mr Timis, which holds the mining rights in a large part of Transylvania. Although not a current director, Mr Timis is believed to own 24 per cent of its shares.

Just over a month ago, Mr Grannell was replaced as a director of Balkan Petroleum by two Romanian citizens, Liana Radu, 35, and Marian Iancu, 38.

Mr Timis, a buccaneering figure in eastern Europe's natural resources industry, runs five international public companies. But when he floated Regal Petroleum on London's Alternative Investment Market in 2002 he was revealed to be a convicted heroin dealer. He says he escaped from communist Romania 25 years ago to seek his fortune overseas. But he was later convicted in Australia of heroin possession with intent to supply.

Regal Petroleum has links with Halliburton, the oil-services company once headed by the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney.

Mr Tender's name was linked to a money-laundering investigation after the arrest by Dutch police of Lt-Col Willem Matser, a key adviser to the Nato general secretary, Lord Robertson.