Interview with: Gabriel Albu, Founder Attorney

Albu Legal

Recognized as a leading law firm and earned a Tier 1 ranking, Albu Legal proved consistently top-notch professional capability. What is the success of the team you coordinate based on?

The designation of Albu Legal in Tier 1, as a market leader in the field of white-collar crime, by the prestigious top The Legal 500, is a great recognition for our team, a great honor and at the same time a great responsibility to remain consistent with our principles, to maintain and even exceed the best of standards.

It is an important honor for us, especially given that we only practice in the white-collar crime field, and this field is not rated as such in the important legal directories, except for The Legal 500.

Behind this success lies, first of all, responsibility and genuine care for our clients. These, combined with agility, vision and tactical acumen on the cases we manage. Passion, dedication, skill, a team with diverse legal backgrounds, many hours of hard work, of course, that are fully rewarded with the trust of our clients and partners.

And it was of great comfort to us to see, so soon after the formal establishment of our law firm, that our strive was rewarded both in substance, with the trust of our clients and amazing development of our client base, both domestic and international, and formally, by recognition, among others, by the most prestigious legal directory rating the white-collar crime practice.

Since the establishment of the firm, we have managed many important white-collar crime cases for high profile clients, in an integrated way, both from a defensive perspective and from the perspective of defending the rights of victims of crimes. Our philosophy was to put together complementary resources, with diverse backgrounds (criminal law, procedural-criminal law and in the extra-criminal branches that form the “substance” of the cases we manage, be it financial-fiscal, administrative law, civil service, public procurement, community law, European funds, civil, commercial, corporate, banking etc.), in order to better manage the criminal cases of increasingly sophisticated business law, from the perspective of all actors involved. All these resources help us to process all the cases involved in an integrated, thorough, multidisciplinary and very high professional standard, and through this philosophy, we have always addressed a sophisticated clientele.

Although we are a formally “fresh” firm on the Romanian legal market, the team has significant experience, dating back to the beginnings of this field of professional practice – white-collar crime – in the Romanian law market. The lawyers who now form Albu Legal are recognized in this very complex field of law and have been involved in a very important number of important profile cases in the last 20+ years, providing assistance especially for corporations (both multinational companies and domestic companies), as well as for important businessmen, dignitaries or high-ranking civil servants.

Experience is another key factor for success. We have been involved in high-profile cases of this nature, the most complex of their kind in our country. Since the establishment of the firm, we can say that we have been one of the very top options for high profile clients, especially in the corporate environment, being recognized as market leaders in the complex field of white-collar crime. Our practice has focused and continues to focus on cases of tax evasion, EU funding, money laundering, capital market offenses, public procurement, privatization, bank fraud, corruption, other professional offenses, embezzlement, fraud, usually investigated by the specialized units of the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice, namely the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) and the Department for Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).

How do you see the local market evolution and the Romanian judicial system?

The local white-collar crime market is maturing, along and together with the judicial system itself. Not so long ago, in context of making the anti-corruption fight the top political priority in Romania, one may have said that this practice are was the undisputed star. But that was also the time of excessive practices.

The contemporary Romanian judicial system is obviously still rather „young”, at “history scale”. It is a system subject to many (re)organizations and pressures to “deliver” results, it is a severely underfunded and pretty much outdated in terms of its logistics. The criteria for entering the system, for promotion, its “deliverables”, are all topics that should be subject to serious public debate and decisions accordingly.

Such a system, young and subject to all kinds of pressures (political, public, the EU Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification, etc.), by definition, delivered (and could not do otherwise) both remarkable results, as well as some particularly questionable ones. It is precisely the quasi-general finding of this reality that should constitute an invitation to reflection for all those responsible for proceeding with the appropriate remedies.

The decrease of the pressure to deliver was a very good thing for the judicial system and was correspondently great news, in my view, for the white-collar crime practice. Nowadays, cases are handled at normal pace, without excessive use of custodial measures or asset freeze, and in a much more reasonable and professional way. This allows legal professionals to actually apply their skill in the process and makes the use of talented lawyers a thing worth having.

What do you do differently from your peers in the industry?

I believe that the lawyers of our firm are, put together, a unique combination of talents, involving both international and domestic experience, corporate, in-house and public sector, experience in dealing with sophisticated corporations, as well as individual clients, exposure to highest level of courts and specialized prosecution units, as well as the relevant regulatory agencies, such as the National Tax Agency, financial intelligence unit/ AML, Financial Supervision Authority etc.

Our lawyers have a long-standing practice in the field, at the highest level of cases. We are familiar with the complexities of the cases in this line of practice, in which we have been successfully active for a very long time. Also, through our professional practice and the background of our lawyers, we have the experience and understanding of both sophisticated phenomena specific to the corporate world, of cross-border/ international issues, and a very good understanding of the resources and mindset of the judiciary.

Logistics wise, we make it our priority to stay on top of optimizing our processes, IT systems, in terms of security and getting the most useful tools to be able to bring value for our clients, while controlling costs.

But I would say that what recommends us is the true dedication, creativity and client care, that we take the time and pay the attention to correctly and thoroughly understand the situation, its ramifications and its possible evolution, in order to offer clients the continuous guarantee that they are the beneficiaries of the best professional services.

We know very well that cases of this type have very high stakes, crucial: freedom, professional life, family life, business, image, social position and, sometimes, even health. On a “Richter scale” of issues that can affect a business or a person, involvement in a criminal or related process is close to the “seismic maximum”. And we act with utmost respect of this reality.

Within your sector, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for clients over the next 12 months?

The white-collar crime sector is closely linked to the economy and the dynamics of the business environment, but it is also strongly linked to the state’s (criminal) policy and to the “appetite” of the judiciary for one type or another of cases. We faced an unprecedented health crisis, coupled with the geopolitical situation in Ukraine, now large scale inflation and a marked slowdown in the global economy. I tend to believe that we will witness, in the mirror, probably even worse, some of the post-crisis situation of 2008-2009, when, both on the downwards and upwards trend of the economy, the recurrence of white-collar crime cases has increased.

In more particular terms, what we are seeing right now is a significant volume of cyber crime cases, in context of a huge part of the economic life and work moving online.

In this kind of effervescent environment, from so many perspectives, what we see important is increasing safety, from that of the IT systems, of the working environment, of accounting processes and many more. In a nutshell, prevention and devising and adapting internal processes and procedures. Including through the use of true white-collar crime lawyers, who are actually involved in true cases and have the actual practice.

We do want to contribute to the creation of a culture of criminal risk prevention in the business environment. But, obviously, in order to be fully effective in prevention, we must and will remain very active in the area of defense in criminal proceedings in order to be in a continuous contact with the way in which the judiciary shapes its practice.

Can you give me a practical example of how helped a client add value to the business?

We have been and are involved in some of the most of the high-profile cases of business crime. Beyond some of the well-known cases, due to their importance and/ or the profile of those involved, a large part of our caseload concerns important matters that do not reach the public’s attention.

As an example of those I public domain, the case known as ‘Rompetrol II’ is probably the most complex case of this period, just as, without much chance of error, we can say that the ‘Rompetrol I’ case was probably the most complex case of its time (2005 -2006).

After an investigation carried out for over 13 years and roughly 3.000 volumes worth of investigatory material, the case received at the end of 2019 a resolution for full dismissal of the charges and the lifting of freezing orders against assets worth 2 billion plus USD. This resolution was upheld in July 2020 by the Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice.

I had the immense responsibility of coordinating the defense of the KazMunayGas/ Rompetrol companies in the case and this involved the approach of all the numerous chapters of accusations and, inherently, the treatment of this very wide subject. The topics of investigation, the sequence, the pace and the volume of the activities involved in the investigation involved both an exhaustive treatment and at the highest professional level of the case, as well as a very good coordination of the various activities.

The case concerned accusations of economic crime brought against the former shareholder and management of the Rompetrol group before KazMunayGas took over the business, but with implications to the current activity and title over the assets. The accusations concerned, in essence, alleged irregularities in the privatization procedures of Petromidia and Vega Refineries, irregularities regarding issuance of bonds convertible into shares, issues related to the listing of shares on the Bucharest Stock Exchange, as well as various corporate and commercial operations within the Rompetrol group of companies and between them and third parties.

The case stands out in the judicial landscape by its particularly high level of complexity, by its deep multidisciplinary nature (it deals, in substance, with issues of tax law, privatization, administrative law, capital market, international trade law, civil law, commercial and corporate law, M&A, financing, as well as a number of technical issues specific to the petroleum refining and distribution industry), through the multitude of technical issues, with a significant number of related scientific evidence, as well as an impressive amount of evidence, of thousands of volumes.

All of this required coordination of a significant team, both legal and technical, follow-up with a very steady pace of the investigation, addressing an immense volume of issues, documents and investigation acts.