A Romanian court sentenced businessman Nelu Iordache, known as “the King of the Asphalt” on Wednesday to prison for defrauding millions of euros of EU funds allocated for a highway project.
The Bucharest Court of Appeal handed Mr. Iordache to 11 years and 9 months in prison for three separate charges at the end of a lengthy trial.
He received 6 years and 9 months for embezzling some 5.5 million euros of EU funds which were for the construction of a segment of highway in western Romania. He siphoned off the money to other companies he controlled. Some money was used to buy land or for personal use, prosecutors said.
The court sentenced him to 6 ½ years for embezzlement “with serious consequences” and 4 ½ years for making false statements. He got a further two years for fraud.
He is ordered to pay 5.5 million lei in damages to a Portuguese company that was involved in building a 22-kilometer stretch of the highway from Arad to Nadlac at the Hungarian border.
Prosecutors also ordered 14.1 million lei be confiscated for the embezzlement charges. A number of his assets will remain frozen, according to the verdict.
The final ruling was almost double a lower court sentence in 2017 ruling.
The one year and nine months he spent under house arrest will be deducted from his sentence.
Mr Iordache has blamed former Premier Victor Ponta and others of destroying his business.
Taken off a plane
In July this year, Mr Iordache, 54, was dramatically taken off a plane that was about to fly to Rome.
The Ryanair Bucharest-Rome flight was taxiing on the runway ahead of take-off, when the pilot was informed by authorities that they wanted to detain a passenger.
The pilot stopped the plane and announced there was a problem with “documents.” The businessman was detained and driven for questioning at the anti-corruption prosecutors’ office.
The case started after his Romstrade company partnered several Portuguese firms to build the highway in western Romania.
Conflicts arose between the sides. The Portuguese companies reported the Romanian company to the European Commission which triggered an investigation.
The businessman was acquitted in another corruption case related to the modernization of the Transalpina highway.
Mr Iordache founded Blue Air, a low-cost airline in 2004 He planned to build an airport south of Bucharest for low-cost flights, but the project was abandoned.
In he was one the richest Romanian businessmen with an estimated wealth of some 150 million euros.