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Mansion-building Defence Minister's luck running out

Defence Minister Pavol Kanis's explanation last week that he financed a luxury villa in Bratislava from gambling proceeds and a loan from an unnamed business friend has failed to quiet calls for his resignation. If anything, the minister's explanation has fueled speculation that he built the four-storey residence from ill-gotten gains.
The house in question has been valued at between 10 and 15 million Slovak crowns ($200,000 - $300,000) by real estate experts, a figure that Kanis has called "misleading".


A mock tank driven around Bratislava by the Young Democrats Party bore the slogan "Gambler - Liar - Minister".
photo: Ján Svrček

Defence Minister Pavol Kanis's explanation last week that he financed a luxury villa in Bratislava from gambling proceeds and a loan from an unnamed business friend has failed to quiet calls for his resignation. If anything, the minister's explanation has fueled speculation that he built the four-storey residence from ill-gotten gains.

The house in question has been valued at between 10 and 15 million Slovak crowns ($200,000 - $300,000) by real estate experts, a figure that Kanis has called "misleading". The embattled minister did admit, however, at a December 7 press conference that he had so far invested five million crowns ($100,000) in the unfinished building, a sum he had raised through two loans from the Stavebná sporiteľňa savings fund and a two million crown loan from a friend "who moves in industrial circles".

Kanis estimated monthly payments on his loans at 20,000 crowns - a tough bill to meet on his 40,000 crown gross monthly salary alone, but one made comfortable with the 350,000 to 400,000 crowns he claims to have made yearly from gambling.

"It's a question of luck," he said at a December 7 press conference. "I've been a professional at this for years. I bet on currency movements. If someone understands these matters, he can make good money, which in some months is much better than a minister's salary."

Regarding his savings fund loans, Kanis refused to answer specific questions, but said instead that "the public should be informed what products the financial sector is offering."

These explanations, as well as an audit of the minister's finances and property, were sufficient to convince the leadership of Kanis' Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) of his honesty. The SDĽ met on December 11 to discuss the matter, and will take it up again December 16.

But at least one SDĽ figure - vice-chairman Branislav Ondruš - declared himself dissatisfied, and said that "I'm not asking him to convince the SDĽ leadership, but to convince the public. It's dangerous when public servants take loans from unknown businessmen."

The same line was taken by an SDĽ youth group, who in an open letter called on Kanis to resign his ministerial post and parliamentary mandate. Noting that the party itself had told the public in November it was launching a crusade against corruption in politics, the young Democratic Left members said it was "scandalous" that a leftist minister was building an expensive house while advising voters to tighten their belts.

"This makes it very difficult to convince the public that the SDĽ cares not only for its members but also for all decent and hard-working people," the letter said.

Even stronger were the tactics of the Young Democratic Party, whose members dressed up a sports utility vehicle to look like a tank and drove it around Bratislava's SNP Square bearing the slogan "Gambler - Liar - Minister".

With even other members of the ruling coalition calling for Kanis to resign, Prime Minister Dzurinda is maintaining that the Defence Minister is the SDĽ's problem, not the government's. But Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Pavol Hamžík has said that Dzurinda will soon have to change his tune given the pressure applied recently in Brussels by Slovakia's western partners in NATO.

"The Prime Minister was in Brussels, he heard accusations from our partners, Americans and others, about personnel policies at the Ministry of Defence," the Deputy Prime Minister said. "The information he came back with from Brussels is much more serious than any scandal over the building of Minister Kanis' home."

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