THE PUBLIC Procurement Office (ÚVO) has excluded Doprastav and the Prague-based Strabag construction companies from future public tenders due to their participation in a 2004 cartel agreement in a highway construction public tender. The ÚVO has not specified how long the companies will be not able to compete for public orders, but it could be three to five years, the SITA newswire wrote.
“This is not any unexpected thing,” Transport Minister Ján Počiatek said in response to the ÚVO’s step, as cited by the TASR newswire. “It is important that companies, which were part of the cartel, are punished.”

The verdict of ÚVO is not final, as both companies can challenge it. Doprastav refused to comment on the verdict, as it had not received it by July 8, according to the Sme daily.

The ÚVO is also expected to decide whether to ban four other companies involved in the cartel agreement: Mota Engil, Skanska Praha, Inžinierske Stavby and Betamont. The Antitrust Office (PMÚ) fined the companies in 2006 for forming a cartel when competing for a highway construction order in a public tender over the Mengusovce-Jánovce stretch of the D1 cross-country highway. The six companies were ordered to pay an aggregate fine of almost €45 million by late April, but they challenged the verdict. Only Skanska did so on time, when it paid its share of €8.98 million, Inžinierske Stavby paid €3.2 million two weeks after the deadline.

The verdicts of the ÚVO may clear up the situation in the construction market, as without the ÚVO decision it was not clear whether or not these companies can compete for public orders and whether the punishment in the form of exclusion from public tenders has already lapsed. The National Highway Company, the procurer of highway construction, has already excluded these companies from ongoing tenders. The last significant tender, in which one of the cartel participants is competing, is the tender to construct a stretch of the R2 dual carriageway between Zvolen and Pstruša. Skanska submitted the lowest bid, of €74 million.

The decision of ÚVO to prevent companies from participating in tenders has come as a surprise, as there were hints that the cartel is time-barred and that the companies can, in fact, compete, Sme wrote.