The new owners of shipping firm Slovenská plavba a prístavy (Slovak Shipping and Ports - SPaP) on May 28 became the little-known firm Dunajservis Slovensko. The decision - a controversial one, for many observers - had been made by a privatisation commission, and was confirmed by members of the FNM state privatisation agency after a tender in which other bidders had offered far more money than Dunajservis' 311 million crowns ($6.1 million).
The Slovak firm Emteco had offered 1.1 billion crowns for SPaP, reported FNM spokeswoman Tatjana Lesajová, although payments were to be structured over 11 years; Charles Capital of Prague had bid 385 million crowns, but said it would pay only one million now, and make up its mind how much of the remaining millions to turn over after doing a thorough audit of the shipper.
Other interested buyers were the German firm Gerhard Meyer, the Russian Lukoil Arktik Tanker, and the Slovak Konzorcium and Penta Group firms.
Observers were at first surprised that Dunajservis had won, as the firm is less than a year old and has no name in shipping circles. Its 100% owner, the firm Gammapolis, has head offices in the tiny central Slovak village of Pohronský Ruskov, and according to the business register among other things is licensed as a "retailer for direct consumption of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages" - in other words, as a pub.
Then it was discovered that the legal representative of Dunajservis, Ladislav Petrežil, also sits on the supervisory board of the Istrofin investment group, having taken over his seat in 1999 from Jaroslav Haščák, now on the board of directors of Penta Group. In 1999, the seat of business of both Penta and Istrofin was the same address - Križková Street 9 in Bratislava.
Although Haščák denied any connection between Penta and Petrežil, other members of the Penta Group did not. Xaver Gubáš, an analyst with P67 brokers, a member of Penta Group, said the day after the transaction that "our goal will be to separate anything from SPaP that is not its core business into separate units, and then to sell them off or find a strong strategic investor."
Many questions still surround the tender, beyond the issue of whether Penta actually submitted two bids - for one, that the FNM accepted 311 million crowns even though the equity capital of SPaP is 2.55 billion crowns; for another, that the FNM tender allowed bidders only two days to conduct due diligence on SPaP; and finally, that the sale to Dunajservis was opposed by FNM head Jozef Kojda.
"The price [offered by Dunajservis] wasn't ideal," said the FNM's Lesajová, adding that it had nevertheless been the best bid, and that the heavy repairs needed to SPaP's fixed capital considerably lowered the real value of the company. She noted that the land on which SPaP's buildings sit, along a valuable stretch of the Danube River in downtown Bratislava, was actually owned by the city, and had not been sold in the tender.