Harvard Puts Romanian Timberland Associated with Bribery Case Up for Sale

UPDATED: Feb. 12, 2014, at 9:13 p.m.

Harvard has put a large portion of its controversial forest holdings in Romania up for sale, according to documents filed in the country at the end of January. The documents advertising the sale were posted in Romanian provinces two days after Dragos Lipan Secu, a former contractor for a University subsidiary, was arrested on charges of bribery and money laundering.

Scolopax, a Romanian company owned by Phemus Corporation, a subsidiary of the Harvard Management Company, posted the fliers at the end of January in 21 Romanian provinces. The Crimson obtained one of the fliers Wednesday morning from the Rise Project, a Romanian investigative group. The fliers were first posted on Rise’s website yesterday and carry the seal of the Romanian government. They are dated January 23, 2014.

Secu allegedly committed the crimes while purchasing timberland on behalf of the University between 2007 and 2009. University spokesperson Kevin Galvin wrote in a statement in late Januray that Secu’s relationship with Harvard ended in 2012. Romanian authorities say Secu conspired with sellers to artificially inflate the price the timberland in exchange for a series of bribes, including 4.45 million lei, or $1.3 million, a 2007 trip to the Canary Islands, and a Chrysler Sebring car.

None of the documents obtained by The Crimson indicated that the sale was related to Secu’s legal trouble.

“This transaction is part of a process that started in November of 2013, prior to the recent reports in the media,” Galvin wrote in a statement on Wednesday night. “The transaction does not affect our commitment in Romania, but because of the ongoing transaction process, we are not in a position to comment any further on this matter.”

Scolopax is attempting to sell over 32,000 hectares, according to the documents. It is unclear what percentage of Scolopax total holdings this figure represents, but in 2010 Sven Rutgersson, a Scolopax official, said that the company owned “around 35,000 hectares of forest and 2,000 hectares of farming land.” According to data from Romania’s Environment Ministry sent to Ziarul Financiar, a Romanian financial newspaper, those holdings made Scolopax the second-largest owner of forestland in the country, behind the government.

Under Romanian law, companies wishing to sell forestland in the country must make the plots available for purchase by the government before putting them on the open market, according to Paul Radu, a reporter with the Rise Project.

Scolopax’s assets totaled more than $126 million in 2011, according to University tax filings. It began purchasing timberland in Romania in 2005, a few  years after the University first began investing in timberland in 1997.

In the last year for which records have been released, Phemus Corporation has assets totaling more than $4.2 billion.

—Staff Writer Christine Y. Cahill can be reached at christine.cahill@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cycahill16.

—Staff Writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at matthew.clarida@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida

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