Business Briefs

Telecoms minister questioned over bribe allegation
Vaškovič says VÚB sale likely by June
Molex forecasts more jobs as new hall opened
Union Banka calls for diplomatic help in SPP case
Prime Minister makes call for "labour police"
Čierny: State could run into guarantee problems
SLSP profit swells on previous year

Telecoms minister questioned over bribe allegation

Telecoms Minister Jozef Macejko found himself in hot water after an April 18 statement he made on the private station TV Markíza alleging that he had been offered a bribe of three million Slovak crowns ($62,000) to sell a piece of state property through a mediator rather than directly.
The minister said during the broadcast that he had refused the bribe, but also refused to name the person or firm which had offered him the money.
He was later asked by the Attorney General's Office to explain the statement. The minister has not yet divulged the information as to who was behind the offer.

Vaškovič says VÚB sale likely by June

Deputy Finance Minister Viliam Vaškovič said April 19 that a commission appointed by the Privatisation Ministry for the privatisation of state bank Všeobecna úverová banka (VÚB) would be selected by May 24.
The two parties interested in the bank, Italy's Banca Commerciale and France's Societe Generale, have been carrying out due diligence at VÚB. Vaškovič said that the process would be finished by May 14 and that final bids would be tabled afterwards and a winner selected by June 11. The contract would be signed by early July, he said.
Another state bank up for sale, Investičná a rozvojová banka (IRB) is expected to be sold in the same month. The Hungarian finance house OTP is due to finish due diligence at the bank by the end of this month.

Molex forecasts more jobs as new hall opened

Molex Slovakia, daughter firm of American connectors-maker Molex, opened a new production hall in Kechnec near Košice April 24 and immediately predicted its Slovak workforce would swell from the current 156 to between 1,000 and 1,500 within five years. The firm began operations in Slovakia in April 2000. The new jobs would help cut the 26% unemployment rate in the Košice region.
The plant will be the company's largest production unit in Europe. Molex has invested approximately 400 million crowns to date in the new plant, transfer of production from abroad, and staff training.

Union Banka calls for diplomatic help in SPP case

Czech bank Union Banka, in legal dispute with the Slovak gas firm SPP over the settlement of bills of exchange amounting to 350 million Czech crowns ($10 million), said April 24 that it objected to the alleged intervention of the Slovak government and parliamentary officials in its lawsuit and asked Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kavan to intervene to ensure the law was enforced.
Union Banka spokesman Josef Rericha said the bank objected to comments from Slovak Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, who said that the bank had benefited from the 1999 murder of former SPP boss Ján Ducký, who signed the disputed bills of exchange.
SPP has said the bills are invalid, and that it will not honour them. Union Banka says it took the bills in good faith.

Prime Minister makes call for "labour police"

During a meeting with the Košice district labour office April 24, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said it was "high time" Slovakia establish a 'labour police' which would have sufficient powers to investigate and prevent people from claiming unemployment benefits while working at the same time.
He also suggested increasing the difference between the minimum wage and social benefits to motivate unemployed people to take jobs.
Slovakia's current unemployment rate hovers around 20% and many economists have suggested that the rate is kept artificially high by benefit fraud. They argue that there are many people who claim unemployment benefits and work the 'black' market, thereby receiving undeclared income. The practice is widespread and actively tolerated by many employers, they say.

Čierny: State could run into guarantee problems

Jozef Čierny, head of the state guarantees section at the Finance Ministry, said April 24 that the state would have to pay out almost 10 billion Slovak crowns in debt for which it has issued guarantees, 2.2 billion crowns ($45 million) more than it has in reserves. The state has guarantees totalling 150 billion crowns, including interest.
The shortfall will be made up for by money from privatisation proceeds. Čierny also warned that the state could be liable for further debt related to the ŽSR rail firm and the SE electricity utility, which he said without debt restructuring faced cross default by the end of the year.
State energy distributors have threatened to cut supplies to state rail company ŽSR unless it pays its debts. Distributor SSE is owed more than 500 million crowns.

SLSP profit swells on previous year

Slovenská sporiteľňa bank, which last year was privatised by the Austrian finance house Erste Bank, recorded a preliminary net profit of 2.4 billion crowns ($50 million) in 2000, a major reversal on the 5.7 billion crown loss it posted in 1999.
The bank said the turnaround in its fortunes had come about largely because of state transfers of classified loans from its portfolio in a 100 billion crown clean-up operation in the sector.

Compiled by Ed Holt from SITA and press briefs

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