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Airport sale denied crucial approval

THE SLOVAK antitrust bureau, or Protimonopolný úrad (PMÚ), failed to produce a ruling by the August 15 deadline on whether to confirm the sale of majority stakes in the Bratislava and Košice airports to the TwoOne consortium, opening room for the new Fico government to scrap the results of last year’s privatization tender.

The PMÚ said yesterday that it needed more time to examine the deal, allegedly because one of the members of the consortium had not responded to an invitation to comment on the bureau’s findings.

According to the terms of the sales contract signed with the previous Mikuláš Dzurinda government, TwoOne, which is led by Vienna Airport and includes Slovak corporate raiders Penta Investments and Austria’s Raiffeisen Zentral Bank, was obliged to submit the PMÚ’s approval to the government today. The fact that it did not do so allows the government to scrap the contract.

While Prime Minister Robert Fico has long criticized the sale of the airports, particularly for giving control over Bratislava airport to its competitor in Vienna, 60 kilometres away, the government has not yet said what its next steps will be.

The Transport Ministry has said it will not comment on the issue until it receives the PMÚ’s decision, but Transport Minister Ľubomír Važny told the Hospodárske noviny daily that the state might consider a long-term lease on the facilities.

The airports, for which TwoOne was to pay over Sk11 billion, could also be sold to the Abertis consortium, which includes the J&T capital group, and which finished second in the tender.

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