Romania says nothing illegal about awarding highway-building project

BUCHAREST – Romania yesterday defended a $2.5 billion highway deal with US construction giant Bechtel, being looked at by the European Union, saying it was done transparently and did not breach the law. A European Commission spokesman said in Brussels that the EU has been monitoring events surrounding the awarding of the contract but said no official investigation was under way by Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. The Commission spokesman said it has been monitoring «specific or exceptional procedures that may have been followed which merit our attention» in the contract for a road linking Romania to Central Europe, which was awarded without a tender process. «At the moment the only thing I can say is that we are looking at the facts and making our mind up on what has happened,» the EU spokesman added. Privately owned Bechtel is one of the companies playing a large role in the reconstruction of Iraq. It is the third time this week that the Romanian government has come under fire from Brussels. Verheugen has already requested clarification on foreign baby adoptions and the EU Parliament’s rapporteur for Romania, British MEP Emma Nicholson, has called on the EU to suspend negotiations on the country’s membership. Romania hopes to enter the EU in 2007. Officials of the EU delegation in Bucharest quoting Jonathan Scheele, the head of the delegation, told Reuters the EU’s executive body is examining the Bechtel deal but gave no details. «It was a perfectly transparent process… it’s called ‘direct entrusting,’ it was correct and observed the Romanian legislation,» government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe told Reuters. Neagoe said the government has not yet received notification from the EU Commission regarding the investigation into the project which would be the biggest ever infrastructure investment made in Romania since the 1989 fall of communism. Last year, the government offered state guarantees for external credits of about $2.5 million for the project – a four-lane highway designed to link the Transylvanian city of Brasov to the western border with Hungary. Romania awarded the contract to privately held Bechtel and its partner, Turkish construction firm Enka Insaat, in December, when Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said the 415-kilometer (260-mile) highway would be completed by 2012 and would create 10,000 jobs. «I can’t comment, I don’t know (about the examination),» Tanasescu told Reuters. San Francisco-based Bechtel has also defended the way the deal was negotiated, saying such contracts were common practice in the industry and often speed time to construction, while government officials say it is of crucial importance. «The project is important for the development of the areas where the motorway will go through. Any kind of infrastructure brings investments, new jobs and clearly adds value for the people living in the area,» Tanasescu said. «It’s a long-term investment objective, with important added value for Romania’s development,» he said.