US firm contests Romanian rail freight sale bid

OnmiTRAX, a private US rail firm, on Monday slammed the sale of Romania's rail freight operator as "non transparent" and called for an extension of the deadline.

"OnmniTRAX emphasises non transparent aspects of the process and a privatisation calendar which did not allow bidders to submit legitimate bids because it only allowed one week to conduct due diligence on over 10,000 documents," the company said in press release.

OnmiTRAX was one of the three bidders for a 51-percent stake in CFR Marfa, alongside a consortium made up of Romanian company TFG (Transferoviar Group) and Austrian investment fund Donau-Finanz and CO KG Austria and the Romanian railway group (GFR), the leading private rail freight operator in the country.

But earlier this month Romania's transport ministry said the US firm failed to submit a non binding offer as requested so only the two other bidders were allowed to go further.

The winner is to be announced on Thursday.

The privatisation of CFR Marfa was among the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union under an agreement on financial help in 2011.

A first tender failed last month, after the same three candidates submitted documents which the ministry said were incomplete.

The government launched a new tender, relaxing terms and conditions.

Candidates were allowed to participate if their turnover in the last three years exceeded 20 million euros ($27 million) instead of 100 million euros required previously.

Romania has repeatedly failed to respect the timetable for the privatisation and has obtained a delay of three months from the IMF and EU, up to the end of June, to privatise the business.

CFR Marfa employs about 9,000 people and carried debt of 1.5 billion lei (347 million euros). It holds considerable property assets.

In 2011, the last year for which data is available, the company made a net loss of 93 million lei on sales of 1.107 billion lei.