Stefan Candea, Vlad Lavrov and Vitalie Calugareanu
The connection between Oleg Voronin and the trade in ovules and surrogate mothers is called BIOTEX. We investigated the relations between a Moldovan company working in the area of artificial insemination and the son of the Moldovan Communist president and found a series of links. The company BIOTEX is advertised on the Internet as intermediary in vitro fertilization, providing a large database on surrogate mothers. The business in mothers is administered by an Italian and a Russian German that operate in Chisinau and Kyiv. Their clients come from Italy, England, Germany and Belgium. The business is also extending in the United States. BIOTEX is also the name of a company registered in Chisinau at the same address as other companies where the president’s son Oleg Voronin works and even lives. The company’s employees include a number of persons close to Voronin, including his bodyguard, murdered last year.
“Neither as minister of health, human nor woman, could I accept selling or donating a child. Such practices must be criticized because they are beyond ethical norms. (...) I think we will not even have such laws in our country. The child is a source of happiness for a mother and the mother should be always near her child”. When Minister of Health Larisa Catrinici made the statements last yearend, she did not know that a group of journalists was investigating the activity of a network of baby traffickers, working in Moldova as well. The network was then legalizing the documents for taking out of the country twins born by a surrogate mother from Chisinau for an Italian couple living in Rome.
The network advertises on the website http://russurrogate.com which gives telephone numbers with Moldovan code. One month after launching the investigation, the Moldovan phone numbers were replaced. The administrators of the business establish and act as intermediaries in the relations between surrogate mothers and potential clients from the West for payment. The clients are couples that cannot have children, do not have time or are not ready for a pregnancy. The mothers are recruited from Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Uzbekistan. The contacts section includes phone numbers and email addresses for English, Italian, French and Spanish speaking persons. The posted name of the company is BIOTEXCom. The site was registered on June 30, 2007 by Igor Rusu from Chisinau. Asked what connection he had with the given site, Rusu said that his firm provided host services for the site http://russurrogate.com. Obviously scared, Igor Rusu refused to tell us the official name of the company with which he signed the contract for hosting the site http://russurrogate.com, but said he was not sure the given company worked legally.
Intermediaries for newborns
We contacted the company BIOTEX by email, posing
as potential clients: a British couple interested in the services provided by surrogate mothers. We were contacted by Nicola, an Italian who identifies himself as ‘Nicola Colucci’ on the website russorogate.com. During several months, we exchanged emails. He told us he was an intermediary, while the real administrator of the business was Albert Mann. Nicola sent us a model of the VIP package contract: EUR 30,000 for a child born by a surrogate mother selected from the company’s database, all costs included. Everything can be arranged in this business, even the birth of a child by a surrogate mother with a sperm donor that has no connection with the couple that pays. Nicola told us all the operations can be performed in the company’s clinics in Chisinau or Kyiv. “We are very successful and even our rivals come to us and pay us for mothers because we have a lot of surrogate mothers, all young and healthy.” He boasted that in November 2008 an Italian couple got the twins born by a surrogate mother in Chisinau. It took time to legalize the documents because the passport of the newborn was to be obtained at the Italian consulate in Bucharest. Nicola said the company had contacts at the consulates in Chisinau and could easily obtain documents for the newborns. All this happens at a time when the surrogate mother services are illegal in Moldova. Nicola travels from Taranto - Italy to Chesterfield - England and back, to popularize and expand his Chisinau business. “We plan to expand the business in UK and the U.S., where the prices of our services are double.” Nicola said he got married in Moldova and lives in Chisinau, as the business administrator Albert Mann.
“It’s easier to find donors in Ukraine, than a free restaurant table in downtown Kyiv!”
We asked Nicola to arrange a meeting with Albert Mann to discuss practical details and to see the company’s clinics. Our reporters met Mann in Kyiv and in Chisinau. He avoided showing us his offices. The meetings were held in cafes. In Kyiv, he showed us a renowned clinic, Isida, saying he was cooperating with it. But the discussion was held in a cafe, where Mann told us optimistically about the development of his business: “I am definitely not going to pay more to surrogate mothers because of the crisis. It’s easier to find donors in Ukraine, than a free restaurant table in downtown Kyiv!” When we met in Chisinau, Mann became suspicious and did not show us any clinic. We only had a conversation in a pizzeria. He said he wanted the complete medical analyses of the couple to know how to proceed. “I often lost time with my rivals, who posed as clients and wanted to know more details about my business,” Mann told us during the meeting. We asked Nicola and Mann if BIOTEX had any links with Oleg Voronin. Nicola felt lost and asked Mann to answer. Mann said that the press reports are nonsense and that they have nothing to do with Voronin. He gave us names of companies and foundations where to transfer the money. When we checked later, we established that most of the companies were inactive or inexistent. Becoming more suspicious, Mann told us he does not treat the patients in Moldova because it is illegal. He did it in the past but would not do it again. But he wanted the money to be transferred in Moldova for fiscal reasons. “For me, the company in Moldova is like offshore and I pay no tax,” he said.
Images stolen from another clinic
Mann has worked long in the field as intermediary. Before BIOTEX, he had an identical site only for German speaking people. leihmutterschaft.com was created in 2006 and has the same structure and content as russurrogate.com. The contact phone numbers are also Moldovan numbers. Mann’s contact data can be found on many sites and forums where young women are invited to be surrogate mothers and earn money. By such advertisements, Mann created a database with photographs and details about surrogate mothers from where the Western clients can choose. Mann changes the mobile phone rather often, but the email address remained the same: [email protected]. He speaks Russian and German and holds both citizenships. On a talk forum, he says he is from Köln Germany. An interesting fact is that on both of the sites used by Mann to attract clients, there are images identical to the presentation images of BIOTEX clinic. In fact, the presented clinic does not belong to Mann. The images are copied from the site of the private clinic Nadija located in Kyiv (http://www.ivf.com.ua/eng/). Discussing with Mann, we realized he was afraid not only of losing time with possible rivals posing as clients, but also of remaining with the kid born by a surrogate mother. “In this part of the world, the orphanages are of a very poor quality. I must have guarantees. What should I do with the child if the couple changes their minds?”
The people of the President’s son
We checked at the State Registration Chamber if there
was any company named BIOTEXCom registered in Moldova. The only company with this name in Moldova is BIOTEX-Com SRL based at 5/2 Mesager Street in Chisinau, but which works on 79 V. Alecsandri. In the same office situated on Alecsandri St, we found the companies Moldconstruct Market and Transline, which, according to the Chisinau press, are businesses started by the son of President Voronin. Oleg Voronin has an apartment and several offices in the same building. Moldconstruct Market, where Oleg Voronin is economist, Transline and BIOTEX are all shareholders of FinComBanc, where Voronin Jr. is president of the Board. Another shareholder of the bank is Ion Antoci, who was recently named director of BIOTEX. Antoci is also the administrator of Transline and owns the Romanian company M.S.I. Trading in Romania, which was a screen for Oleg Voronin’s international sugar trade. The press reports said earlier that Oleg Voronin’s companies in Romania were used in massive sugar import-export operations. The export scheme included Asociatia ZAHAR from Moldova on the one hand and the company owned by Voronin, Kaolin-Impex, and M.S.I Trading located in Iasi on the other hand. In 1997, Asociatia ZAHAR and MSI Trading created a company in Bucharest – Asociatia Zaharului Moldova – Com. The same scheme included Gota Zahar firm owned by a young Iraqi from Baghdad, Muhammad S. Jamal.
The phone calls at BIOTEX are now answered by Andrei Mankovski, an employee of the company that owns 54% of shares in Transline. The same companies, the same persons in the same offices, all connected with the president’s son. Contacted by phone repeatedly, Makovski refused to meet us. He said he worked as ordinary engineer at BIOTEX and could not comment.
We wanted to establish if the company that advertises on the site offering surrogate mother services, BIOTEXCom, and the Moldovan company BIOTEX – Com are one and the same. As Oleg Voronin’s businesses are knotty, we checked the documents of BIOTEX. We did not find the names of Voronin and of the foreign intermediaries in the extract issued by the State Registration Chamber in November 2008. Yet, there was the name of the former bodyguard of Oleg Voronin Ghenadie Scripcaru. Shareholder and administrator of BIOTEX-Com, Scripcaru was deputy warrant officer at the police brigade “Fulger” – the special service of the Moldovan Ministry of the Interior – and employed as personal bodyguard and driver of the president’s son. Voronin’s bodyguard was murdered last spring in mysterious conditions while at work. The 32-year-old man was killed in the car on the night of March 31, 2008 in front of Flamur bar in Ciadar-Lunga town (Gagauzia region), being stabbed two times. According to the document issued by the State Registration Chamber, Ghenadie Scripcaru held 15% of the shares in SRL BIOTEX-Com (the rest of the shares were owned by Margarita Malcoci). The legal address of the company is the home address of Scripcaru. Nobody asked Scripcaru’s mother about the dividends and shares that her son owned in BIOTEX, though she is one of his heirs. This makes us think that Scripcaru was only a front man for his boss.
BIOTEX Com was also mentioned in the Moldovan press as administrator of certain businesses of Oleg Voronin. Ziarul de Garda said BIOTEX administered a hunting sector in Anenii Noi district, 30 kilometers east from Chisinau. Vip Magazin named this company in connection with Oleg Voronin’s businesses started before his father became president, though according to official documents BIOTEX was incorporated in 2002.
We asked employees of the company about BIOTEX’s involvement in the surrogate mother business, but nobody wanted to make comments. We contacted the company’s employee Andrei Mankovski at home, but all in vain. We left our contact data at BIOTEX-Com, saying we wanted to talk to Mr. Antoci, but no one called back. We sent an official notification to Ion Antoci, but received no answer. Oleg Voronin staff ignored our requests.
A bodyguard killed while sleeping in the car
Ghenadie Scripcaru, the bodyguard of Oleg Voronin, was killed in the car on the night of March 31, 2008 in front of Flamur bar in Ciadar-Lunga with two knife stabs. The police said Scripcaru was sleeping, while waiting for two persons that accompanied him and went into the bar. As it was reported, Scripcaru was stabbed by two young persons from Ciadar-Lunga, who stole his car, an Audi A6. The car was found the second day, while the young persons were arrested two days later in a deserted house. It is interesting that Scripcaru had his gun and US$2,000 on him, but the robbers did not take them. It is also curious how an armed, well-built and well-trained bodyguard was killed by two young persons under the influence of alcohol. And why did not they run in Transnistria with the car, as it was a distance of less than 100 kilometers until there, but preferred to move in the opposite direction?
We went to the home of Ghenadie’s mother Agripina Scripcaru in Cuhurestii de Jos village of Floresti district. When she saw us she started to cry: “I will tell you everything I know, maybe I will feel better as, since Ghena died, my heart is full of needles,” the grieved women told us. The house was old, very modest. She looked at the picture of Ghenadie near the mirror and started to wail. Ghenadie was her second killed son. She sat on the coach, looked in my eyes and asked me how old I was.
Agripina Scripcaru told us that Ghenadie did not get on well with his wife Angela lately and “lived practically all the time at Oleg’s villa in the forest in Holercani. He was a kind of boss there, but in fact he was Oleg’s bodyguard. He was taking his daughter to the school and back. Once, he brought a very expensive car from Germany and Oleg’s daughter wanted to drive it. Ghena allowed her and she crashed the car. After that, he was sent to work in the forest for Oleg. He often told me he will take me there to show me how wonderful the places where. He went home only to see his daughter, Adelina. Oleg employed many of Ghena’s friends from the village, at his recommendation. He helped them, but now no one of them wants to talk to me.”
Though it is a year since her son died, the woman knows nothing about the results of the investigation. “I asked them to allow me to burry him here, in the village, but they said he was not mine, but belongs to the state. His wife, her mother and an aunt opposed vehemently. I can’t say nothing as Oleg buried him nicely! And the funeral repast was nice! But why no one talks to me? Don’t I deserve knowing what happened to my son? They did not show me even the autopsy report. I cannot understand how he could fall asleep in the car. There is a man from the village, Valeriu Verdes, who was hired by Oleg after Ghena asked him. He did not tell me anything either. But I feel he knows everything. In childhood, he slept on our brick kiln, ate maize porridge made by me and told me ‘mother’. Now he does not want to say anything. At the funerals, Oleg gave them a bag with money. I’m not joking! A bag with money with zippers in the middle. The money was taken by Valeriu’s wife. She purchased all the necessary stuff”.
On visit to Oleg
Several weeks after her son’s death, Agripina Scripcaru visited Oleg Voronin at his office: “He was kind to me. He gave me 19,000 lei. I made a monument to Ghena and a 40-day funeral feast from that money. He made me passport and made a copy of it for himself. He promised he will open a bank account for me and I will receive money monthly. But he did not do this! He gave me to eat and ordered that a car took me home.”
She went to Oleg Voronin again later, but he did not want to see her. She wanted to complain that the father and mother of her son-in-law beat her daughter. “They made rude comments about Ghena and my daughter wanted to protect him. They said that when I visited Oleg the first time, he gave me 60,000 lei. This is not true! I was afraid I could be killed for money that I do not have. I wanted to ask him that he told them I did not have money and to leave me alone. I told this to one of Oleg’s secretaries and did not have problems afterward.”
She does not know much about the tragedy, only what she heard. But she has a lot of questions. “He went to Sanatauca, took her (his wife – e.n.) and their daughter there and then came to me and brought me fish. I wasn’t at home. He said somebody called him and he had to go to Ciadar-Lunga to bring trefoil seeds ... He did not wait for me! That night, he was killed. I don’t understand how she (his wife – e.n.) got from Sanatauca to Chisinau. When I found out about the tragedy, she was already there (in Chisinau – e.n.). I don’t understand why the two men that accompanied Ghena entered the bar without him. It is strange that Ghena fell asleep in the car... I heard that Oleg sold that car and bought Angela a new, black Mazda.
First deputy prosecutor general Vasile Pascari told us that late in January, the Comrat Court sentenced the offenders Dumitru Axenti and Roman Ivanov to 25 years in jail each for murdering and robbing the adjutant warrant police officer Ghenadie Scripcaru. His mother knows nothing about the sentence. Pascari assured us the murder “has nothing to do with the victim’s job”.
On Thursday morning, the BIOTEX site was erased from the Internet. After few hours, he reappeared, this time under a new IP registered in Ukraine. Registrant information shows BIOTEHCOM and Alibert Tocilovsky as owners of the site, with contact information from Kyiv. The email address of Alibert Tocilovsky is the same with Albert Mann’s address ([email protected]). Actually BIOTEX changed only its website host country, one letter in the company name and the last name of the manager.
The journalistic investigation was financed as part of the Scoop project (through the Danish Association of Investigative Journalism - FUJ). The investigation was conducted in cooperation with www.CRJI.org during several months, with the assistance of journalists from Bucharest, Chisinau and Kyiv.