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VSŽ share sale approved

The Financial Markets Office on February 6 unfroze a transaction it halted last year involving the sale of 21 per cent of shares in steel maker VSŽ; the sale was to go forward by the end of the week.

Just days before the decision, John Goodish, head of steel maker US Steel Košice, met Economy Minister Ľubomír Harach for 90 minutes to discuss the VSŽ share case. US Steel had declared an interest in the shares but had been unable to come to terms on with the Economy Ministry, which was reportedly asking too high a price.

The shares were subsequently sold on the Bratislava bourse an hour before trading ended on the last business day of 2001 to three investment firms - Penta Group, J & T and Istrokapitál - arousing suspicions the deal had been arranged long before. Said Goodish: "This is a country and a government which has committed itself to transparency, but this was a transaction that according to the world was not transparent."

The Attorney General's office has said it is investigating the deal on evidence of possible insider trading.

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