Gabriel ‘Puiu’ Popoviciu is one of the most influential players on the Romanian real estate market, with business interests spanning numerous sectors. His business connections and important political connections are largely unknown, glimpses into his extensive network only emerging in occasional press reports and, most recently, investigation reports.
On Thursday the Bucharest Court of Appeal sentenced real estate mogul Gabriel ‘Puiu’ Popoviciu to nine years in jail for complicity to abuse of office and bribery. Popoviciu was prosecuted in 2012 by the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) in a case involving the illegal purchase of a state-owned plot of land that at present hosts the headquarters of many major companies.
The 224-hectare plot was owned by the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (USAMV) and as such could not be sold. However, following a series of agreements with Ioan Niculae Alecu, USAMV provost at the time, Popoviciu purchased the land at a price that way way under the market value. Specifically, according to the DNA prosecutors, the land was bought via SC Baneasa Investments SA, a company owned by Popoviciu, at the price of USD 1 per sq. meter, while the market price was around EUR 150 per sq. meter. Alongside Popoviciu, several officials, including former Bucharest Prefect Mihai Ion Luican, and Cornel Serban, the former head of DGIPI, the intelligence service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were also sentenced to one year and two years and six months in prison, respectively. Popoviciu was sent to court in 2012 following a denounce by George Becali.
Puiu Popoviciu is arguably one of the most controversial and well-connected figures on the Romanian real estate market. He started building his business empire immediately after the 1989 Revolution, following a stint in the US. He opened under franchise ownership restaurant chains Pizza Hut (1994), Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1997. In 2010 he opened the first IKEA store in Romania also under franchise agreements.
Moreover, together with his business partner Radu Dimofte, he is behind one of the major real estate projects in Bucharest, which includes Baneasa Mall and other office and residential buildings located north of the city. The project is valued at around EUR 2 billion.
Popoviciu is a key player on the hospitality sector, and ranks among the most important hotel owners in the capital. He controls the Howard Johnson Grand Plaza, Ramada Plaza and Ramada Parc hotels. He is also behind restaurant Casa Doina as well as companies Alltrom and Comaliment.
According to the local press, Popoviciu is also behind a controversial project involving another plot of land owned by the state, located in the city center, part of the Tineretului Sports Complex. The plot of land was passed from state property to private ownership, following a series of transactions involving companies controlled by Popoviciu under disadvantageous conditions for the state.
A very discrete presence, Popoviciu was featured only once in Top 300 Capital, back in 2003, and his fortune was estimated at USD 100 million.
Puiu Popoviciu is the son-in-law of Ion Dinca, the former Communist Party official. His name was connected to that of numerous politicians, such as former Economy Minister Adriean Videanu, Traian Basescu and Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
According to reports by local press, Puiu Popoviciu registered most businesses on the name of his 80-year-old mother.