Airport auction with a clear favourite – Lagardere Travel Retail

The new auction for the lease of commercial premises at Chisinau International Airport is, in fact, a new trap. A trap for society, which is once again being told, in a triumphalist tone, that the government is preparing a competition “with the participation of as many serious investors as possible.” While everyone’s eyes are focused on the rhetorical “fireworks” of the dignitaries involved in the scheme, behind the curtain, everything is ready to pave the way to victory for the French company “Lagardere Travel Retail”, the one for which this fraud was conceived from the start, as early as 2023.

False statements to cover up the fraud at the airport.

Even if factors in government and parliament are now trying to simulate a real contest, this only accentuates the fraudulent nature of the first attempts, when, despite all the warnings and compromising material in the press, they gave assurances that the rules were as clean as a whistle at the airport and that everything in the opposition press was false. Some MPs from the ruling party even promised that they would make interpellations if the auction proved to be rigged in the interests of one company. So, the government the contrary, has opened the back door even wider to favour the French firm.

A brief retrospective of the failures of botched auctions.

The first auction for the lease of commercial premises at the airport was announced on 18 January. The press found that the authorities had formulated several dubious conditions in the auction terms of reference. Specifically, the participants had to have an experience that “matched” that of Lagardere Travel Retail from France. Moreover, it was found that the French company had opened a subsidiary in Chisinau only two months earlier, which showed that it had known about the forthcoming auction in advance. Equally dubious was the fact that the new LLC had its headquarters in a room in a dormitory, which no reputable company with serious plans can afford. Although the authorities furiously denied this information, on 19 February – the day of the auction – it all came true. Only “Lagardere Travel Retail” submitted its bid, and just minutes before the deadline, the Moldovan company LeBridge, which was later revealed to have done so under pressure, also submitted its bid.

A few days later, the representative of the French company, Baptiste Duguit, held a press conference in Chisinau, where he announced that he came to Moldova under the influence of the charms of President Maia Sandu. He also said that the three-year deadline for the lease of commercial premises at the airport was too short.

The announcement for the second auction was made on 4 March and the contest was to take place on 29 March. Again, too short a deadline for such a serious and important contest. Even though the authorities tried to insert an – equally outrageous – clause this time to exonerate the members of the auction committee from any liability, this did not change the flawed nature of the auction. This time, no one else wanted to take part in the mock auction, not even LeBridge, so much so that the only application submitted was that of the already notorious “Lagardere Travel Retail”. In a final attempt to give the French the commercial premises at the airport, the authorities extended the auction period by two weeks, but this time with only one bidder – Lagardere Travel Retail. In the meantime, a series of revelations have appeared in the press about the government’s contacts with this company as far back as 2023, confirming that the so-called auction was a front for an illegal deal.

Legal cover for auction fraud.

Even after this noisy scandal, which had become the subject of investigations by the National Anti-Corruption Centre and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, the government did not give up its intention to offer the French company the airport premises. Moreover, through legislative changes, it has created the legal conditions to offer these premises through direct negotiations and for a longer period (as requested by Baptiste Duguit at the press conference).

Recently, through an amendment launched by Radu Marian, chairman of the parliamentary Committee for Economy, Budget and Finance, the airport was included in the list of state assets that cannot be privatised. It is precisely this amendment, which in no way affects the airport’s fate, that frees the authorities’ hands to give the French company what they want, regardless of the fate of the auction. After the amendment was rushed through both readings, the Public Property Agency also announced a new auction, which no longer matters, since everything is already sealed.

The toxic nature of airport commercial premises.

After several months of scandal surrounding the commercial premises at the airport, these assets have become toxic and, although they represent business interest, in the hands of the current government they represent a real poisoned apple for any investor. Businessmen, especially the “strategic” ones, to which the government in Chisinau frequently refers, never risk their money and reputation. Especially since, at any moment, the scheme at the airport could materialise into a high-profile criminal case.

P. S. According to the latest sociological survey, more than half of the population is convinced that the airport auction is organised in favour of the company “Lagardere Travel Retail” and that it has been compromised by the government, which pursues its own interests through this auction.

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