The number of leasing companies on the Slovak market has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years, bringing the current total to 60 firms. The majority of the turnover generated by these companies comes from car leasing, which is why a recent surge in crime, particularly car theft, has hurt the bottom lines of many leasing firms.
The problem lies in the fact that it is easy for criminals to use fake identification in leasing a car and then selling it to a third party. Leasing companies have no way to prove the authenticity of prospective lessee's documents. To add insult to injury, the law works against the companies if they find their stolen cars and want their property back.
"Almost every leasing company that I know has had this problem," said Roman Pašteka, a sales representative at LB-Leasing, a Bratislava based company. "There is no way we can prove whether the person's identification documents are original or fake. My company has lost four cars in the last two years, from which we suffered a financial loss of about two million Slovak crowns ($43,400)."
According to Pašteka, the laws governing the leasing business in Slovakia contain many holes. "Our legal advisors have told us that under the Business Code, if another entrepreneurial subject buys a car from a criminal but we are able to trace it back to our firm, the courts would most likely decide to let the entrepreneur or firm which bought the car keep it," said Pašteka.
In order to address such legal flaws, as well as to represent the interests of the growing leasing community, the Association of Slovak Leasing Companies (ASL) was founded in 1992. The association currently has 44 members. Miloš Randák, head of the ASL, told The Slovak Spectator on February 16 that the association concentrated on the protection of its members and on the improvement of the legal system.
Randák said that the ASL regularly went to parliament to try and persuade MP's to support legislative changes to improve the verification of the owner's name in 'technical documents' (vehicle registration documents which also attest to the soundness of the vehicle). The ASL also negotiated with ministries responsible for transport and car registration. "We communicate with the Transport Ministry and the Interior Ministry, but changes are slow to come," Randák said.
According to Randák, fraud has become easier to pull off since a 1997 amendment to the law on road transport. Before, said Randák, police registered the owner of the car on the vehicle resigstration paper as well as ownership documents. Under the new law, the names of car owners (in this case leasing companies) don't appear on the vehicle registration papers, making stolen cars easier to sell.
Companies associated in the ASL regularly exchange information, warning each other about suspect buyers on the market. The ASL also keeps a "Black List" with details on entrepreneurs who have attempted to cheat ASL members in the past.
But this list may soon be outlawed. "There is a bill on personal data protection being prepared in parliament," said Randák. "We are concerned that if this bill is passed it will make our Black List illegal. This happened to our colleagues in the Czech Republic." He added that all types of cars were subject to theft, beginning with less expensive Škodas up to luxury cars like Mercedes.
Marián Tibenský, general sectretary of the ASL, has been frustrated by the unwillingness of the Transport Ministry and Interior Ministry to change the situation. "Our aim was to achieve a simple administrative change," he said. "The police should register the name of the owner on the technical document. It would save them a lot of work as they would not have to deal with as many [theft] cases as they do now, and it would help us a lot."
The ASL has no data mapping out this kind of crime, but members can refer to the Black List when granting leases. The list was meant for internal use only, and the ASL has no intention to make any details public. According to Tibenský, the list contained names of suspect individuals, unreliable customers, and regular non-payers.
There has been no movement by Slovak authorities to change the current situation. The last statement on the matter was a March 1998 letter to the ASL from Ivan Noška, then head of the transport department at the police presidium (a senior police body).
Noška wrote that "the law does not suggest the registration of the owner in any of its articles." While agreeing that registering owners in the technical documents might help, Noška opined that "the current legal code doesn't specify either the obligation or right to inspect ownership relations [of the holder] towards the car."
The Slovak Spectator contacted the police hoping to obtain a more current statement, but the current head of the department, Bohumil Strapek, was on a work trip outside Bratislava. His team were not permitted to give statements to the media without his approval.