JUST WHEN it looked like Slovakia's squeaky-clean and scandal-free Campaign '06 might put voters to sleep, the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) livened things up with a cut-rate building sale to a party supporter.
The state-owned Letecké opravovne (Aircraft Repair Facility) in Banská Bystrica, administered by the Defence Ministry, on February 1 sold two buildings on Skuteckého Street in this central Slovak city to businessman Dušan Hraško for Sk7.9 million (€210,000).
Hraško, according to the database of the Fair Play Alliance (www.fair-play.sk), donated Sk500,000 to the SDKÚ in 2001 through his Teleko & Telecooper firm.
The Pravda daily reported that Teleko & Telecooper had received Sk120 million in state contracts under the Mikuláš Dzurinda government; Hraško himself admitted to having sponsored the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in the past, and to having received contracts from the HZDS-led government (1994-1998) for work on the buildings of parliament.
Meanwhile, Dušan Túry, head of the Aircraft Repair Facility that ordered the sale, is a member of the SDKÚ, while his brother Vladimír is chairman of a local branch of the party.
Daniel Janšo, co-owner of the Lux Reality Invest real estate company that prepared the offer for Hraško, is also a member of the SDKÚ, while his son Daniel is on the party's candidates list for general elections, albeit in 137th position.
The Defence Ministry, which administers the repair company, is led by SDKÚ nominee Martin Fedor.
Robert Fico, the leader of the social democratic opposition Smer party, was the first to bring the sale to light on May 24. "It's a fraudulent sale run by the SDKÚ. It's a tunnel, a pure tunnel," he said, using a term Slovaks employ for asset stripping.
Fico claimed that the market value of the real estate was about Sk47 million, but did not produce any data to support the estimate.
The SDKÚ denied any wrongdoing, with MP Milan Hort accusing Smer of dirty campaigning. "Like in many cases that have gone before, this is absolute nonsense. Smer's only programme is wrecking reforms and scandalizing and heaping dirt on the SDKÚ."
Dušan Túry said the repair facility had received four purchase offers, and that the basic criteria had been that the purchase price not be lower than an official evaluation, which pegged the property at Sk7.5 million.
He said the connections between the parties to the transaction and the SDKÚ had not influenced the sale. "It's just a coincidence, even if it does look a little strange," he said.
According to Fico, the connections were not a coincidence. "It's a textbook example of how to get a large amount of money from the state to use for personal or party purposes," he said.
At the beginning of 2006, Slovakia's two state-owned aircraft repair facilities and two military repair shops were transformed into joint stock companies wholly owned by the Defence Ministry, which is under the SDKÚ. Túry said that following the transformation the Banská Bystrica firm had run into financial problems, which in turn forced it to get rid of property that could bring in some quick funds.
"In other circumstances we might have been able to sell it for more money," he said, without specifying how much. "We didn't even have money for salaries, and our account was overdrawn."
The evaluation of the Banská Bystrica property, according to Pravda, was performed by the same firm that prepared the project for the Defence Ministry for the sale of the Vojenské stavby military firm - the Výskumný ústav riadenia hodnoty podniku (Research Institute for the Management of Company Values).
Vojenské stavby was sold in July last year to Project One, a firm close to the SDKÚ, for Sk26 million, and a promise to pay Vojenské stavby's Sk74 million in debts.
Although Project One did not have construction listed as one of its business areas, it promised to renew and reconstruct Vojenské stavby's buildings and land in Bratislava and Banská Bystrica, and to construct "residential, cultural and social units as well as mid-sized industrial and retail complexes".
According to Pravda, the accounting of Project One contains the figure Sk22,532,727, which is precisely that of a debt that the SDKÚ rid itself of in 2003 without ever explaining how.
Milan Kopernický and Dušan Ježík, board members at Project One, both figured in companies in the past with SDKÚ treasurer Igor Kucej.
Lawyer Martin B, who spent several months in pre-trial custody in 2004 in a major organized crime bust involving the Takáč gang in Bratislava, also sat on the supervisory board of Project One from 1999 to 2004.
5. Jun 2006 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson