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EU questions Romanian highway contract

The British daily "Financial Times" reported on 5 February that the European Commission is investigating Romania's awarding of a $2.5 billion contract to U.S.-based Bechtel to build a 450-kilometer highway between Brasov and Oradea.

The "Financial Times" reported that Bucharest-based EU diplomats have complained that no tender was offered for the contract and the selection process lacked transparency. It quoted a senior European Commission official in Bucharest as saying that "the whole affair stinks."

The diplomat warned that the case threatens Romania's chances of being granted the status of a "functioning market economy" by the EU, and that Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen is reportedly examining the case.

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Ministry and Bechtel representatives have denied that the process lacked transparency, Mediafax reported. The spokeswoman said the contract was awarded under a emergency government ordinance, following an agreement signed in Bucharest between the United States and Romania.

(RFE/RL 6.ii.04)

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