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FICO SAYS ECONOMY MINISTER JUST TOLD THE TRUTH

Jahnátek will probably keep his job

ECONOMY MINISTER Ľubomír Jahnátek was slammed by critics and defended by supporters after he told a magazine the state should use bribery to secure arms deals.

ECONOMY MINISTER Ľubomír Jahnátek was slammed by critics and defended by supporters after he told a magazine the state should use bribery to secure arms deals.

In an interview with the Trend weekly on March 22, the Economy Minister answered a question about whether state companies can include bribes in their accounts by saying: "Look, we are talking here about non-traditional forms of doing business. These non-traditional forms really exist. We would be lying if we did not admit this fact. But I think that this is possible for state-owned companies as well, it just has to be recorded somewhere on the books."

After that statement, the parliamentary opposition parties decided to hand in a proposal to oust the Economy Minister. They will submit the proposal on April 10.

Meanwhile, representatives of the ruling Smer party came to Jahnátek's defence. Prime Minister Robert Fico said that Jahnátek had simply told the truth.

"He did not commit anything, he just talked about things openly," Fico told the media on March 24. "Mr. Jahnátek spoke very openly about the practices in arms sales to Third World countries, and at the same time he said that our companies, whether private or state, have to cope with these practices. And such straight words sometimes may take your breath away. He told the truth, though. And for saying that, he gets persecuted? I think this is sad."

Smer MP Jozef Burian shared Fico's opinion. He backed up Jahnátek in an interview on state TV channel STV on March 25.

"Me personally, I think that in the given territory there are firms which have this market monitored... they can also ensure through their lobbying the sale of these arms to Third World or other countries," Burian said.

When asked whether they should do it even if it takes the form of a bribe, Burian nodded and answered: "For Slovakia, it is important that employment is secured in this very vulnerable segment, and I do not think that these practices are good or bad, I'm just saying that this is the actual state of things."

But the opposition sees Jahnátek's words as reason for his resignation.

Former Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, the chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, said on March 26: "Mr. Minister has disqualified himself and failed morally. He failed because he himself announced that he was covering up corruption in private companies. He encouraged, directly or indirectly, the corruption of state companies."

Pál Csáky of the Hungarian Coalition Party said: "What Mr. Jahnátek has done is a violation of all written and unwritten standards of democratic states. He casts this republic down to the level of the Third World."

Jahnátek was criticised not only by the opposition, but also by political scientists and observers of the Slovak political scene. Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the non-governmental Institute for Public Affairs, is convinced that Jahnátek harmed the reputation of Slovakia abroad with his statement.

"He admitted corrupt practices, and thus he has sent a signal that Slovak arms traders use such methods. In this way, our country has become less trustworthy," he told The Slovak Spectator.

The economy minister himself does not see any reason for his resignation. He claims his words were misinterpreted by Trend.

"I am sorry that such a renowned magazine as Trend used [the statement] and did not publish it in the context in which it was said," he said.

Jahnátek said he was only talking about procurement contracts. The notion of "dirty money", or a bribe, was only used by the journalist, he said.

"I just responded to that by saying that it is used in the world but the state can do business only through lawful means, and legal means include just the procurement contract," he said.

When journalists from Trend argued they kept the recorded interview, he responded that he had also recorded the interview, and that his record was authentic and not manipulated.

"Our recording is definitely the correct one. What the other one is like, I do not know," he said.

However, he refused to give his recording to the media.

Police spokesperson Martin Korch told media that police investigate corruption suspicions only when they receive a relevant accusation. Slovak police do not consider Jahnátek's statement about the arms trade to be enough.

The proposal to recall minister Jahnátek is the first of its kind in this term. The possibility that the opposition could succeed with their proposal to recall Jahnátek is almost zero, according to insiders.

The opposition is 11 votes short of being able to recall him. It has just 65 MPs and the proposal to recall a minister must be supported by at least 76 politicians.

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