Friday, September 16, 2005

Remembering Virgil Sahleanu

This month marks 5 years since the assassination of Trade Union leader Virgil Sahleanu in Iasi under the apparent orders of the former manager of his employer TEPRO. It's a sad, but powerful story that probably never made it outside Romania and the Czech Republic (the company that owned TEPRO were Czech).

In 1998, TEPRO, a Romanian producer of steel tubes and pipes, was privatised and bought by a Czech company, Zelezarny Veseli, who were one of TEPRO’s competitors prior to the buyout. The parent company then allegedly started out on a program of asset stripping TEPRO, running down the factory and preparing to shut it down. Ioan Hariton, the secretary of the union which now bears Sahleanu’s name said “The Czechs took our products and stuck the Zelezarny label on them selling them as if they had produced them. Moreover, they refused orders for certain products, recommending that potential partners sign contracts with Zelezarny Vesely. They actually wanted to occupy the international markets where TEPRO was selling its products and lead our factory into bankruptcy.”

The trade union, now headed by Sahleanu, started fighting in the courts (on the basis that Zelezarny weren’t abiding by the agreements they signed in buying up TEPRO) and demanding the reinstatement of 1200 sacked workers. For his trouble Sahleanu himself was fired and had to continue fighting from outside the company. But fight he did, and successfully, winning the reinstatement of the workers, and eventually an agreement to reverse the privatisation. The company sued him and on his way to court one day he was attacked by two men and stabbed three times.

Charged and convicted with involvement in the murder were (as well as the two assailants themselves) the former manager of TEPRO, and the manager and employees of a private security firm. In addition, Frantisek Príplata, a Czech investor/businessman who was acting as adviser to the new management of TEPRO, was convicted by a Romanian court of “inciting murder”. Even after his appeal was turned down, he remained out of jail on the grounds of ill-health, during which time he fled across the border to Hungary on foot, and thence home to the Czech Republic. The government in Prague won’t extradite him, saying "Czech law forbids Czech citizens from being extradited. The only exceptions are EU countries, and Romania is not in the EU." I'm not sure what that means come Romania's accession, but I imagine Mr Priplata is a tad concerned.

Links to the latest versions of the story (and frankly from where I culled more or less all of the above information) can be found here, from Romanian Indymedia, and here, from the Prague Post.

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