Iosif Dan, a top advisor to Romanian President Ion Iliescu, explained in a recent interview with the Center for Public Integrity why he had accepted money from a petroleum company vying for a piece of the country's oil-privatization action.
"I have taken some money from these boys, as a loan, and this seems perfectly okay to me," Dan said. "Should I have gone to a bank that would give me money with … interest instead of going to these people? They are my friends."
The frank and surprising interview took place in the Cotroceni Palace, the headquarters of the Romanian Presidency. Dan is just one of several top Romanian officials who have connections to the oil industry.
With proven crude oil reserves of about 950 million barrels and with the largest refining capacity in Central and Eastern Europe, Romania, a nation of 22.6 million people, plays an important role in the European oil economy.
From the end of the Second World War until December 1989, when Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, the Romanian oil industry was entirely State-run. Since then, it has been gradually privatized and restructured and its refining capacity downsized.
Romania is scheduled to join the European Union in 2007. Privatizing the country's main oil company, the National Petroleum Society, Petrom, is considered a vital part of that process.
Petrom is the biggest national oil company in central and eastern Europe. It is the main crude oil producer in Romania and accounts for roughly a third of Romania's natural gas needs. It also has 700 retail stations and 146 depots, part of a national network that accounts for more than half of the total number of gas stations in Romania.
In 2003, Petrom's annual revenue was more than $2.7 billion. The company also does oil-field exploration in Kazakhstan, Iran and India and has a chain of gas stations in Hungary and the Republic of Moldova.