January 31, 2019 / 12:56 PM / 22 days ago

Auction of ex-Romanian dictator Ceausescu's car falls flat

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - For almost a quarter century, Nicolae Ceausescu held Romania in a vice-like grip - and its tax authority was hoping to draw on the late Communist dictator’s notoriety on Thursday to help sell one of his cars.

But Thursday’s auction of the bespoke off-roader made especially for Ceausescu in 1977 - featuring plush leather seats and an electric trap door - failed to attract a single buyer.

Tax authority ANAF set a starting price of 137,500 lei (25,483 pounds) for the sky-blue ARO 304, but did little to promote the auction.

One of a fleet of up to six produced especially for Ceausescu by now defunct local carmaker ARO Campulung during the late 1970s, it has been lingering behind closed doors in a hangar on the outskirts of the capital Bucharest, and viewings have been by appointment only.

Ceausescu used the car for hunting trips and official visits.

Romania struggled under one of Eastern Europe’s most repressive Cold War-era regimes. Up to 2 million people are believed to have been killed, imprisoned, deported or relocated between 1945 and 1989. Historians estimate up to 100,000 people, including priests, teachers, doctors and politicians, died in jail.

Ceausescu took power in 1965 and was tried and executed, along with his wife, on Dec. 25, 1989 as Communist regimes crumbled across eastern Europe.

ANAF said the car - confiscated from a businessman who bought it during a sale of state assets in the early 2000s and is currently serving jail time for corruption - would be auctioned again at a later date, with a lower starting price.

Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but remains one of the bloc’s poorest and most-corrupt states, with entrenched bureaucracy and graft that date back to communist times.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Sinisa Dragin; editing by John Stonestreet

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