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Nafta Gbely deal revised

Slovakia reached an agreement to revise the heavily criticised 1996 privatisation of oil and gas storage firm Nafta Gbely, whose little-known owner will return most of its stake, the FNM state privatisation agency said on March 17.

Under the cabinet of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, the firm Druhá Obchodná had acquired a 45.9% stake in Nafta at a fraction of its market price. The government of Mikuláš Dzurinda said it had found enough legal violations in the deal for a court to return Nafta to state hands.

"We have a preliminary agreement that Druhá Obchodná will return to the FNM 40.9% of its 45.9% stake," FNM spokeswoman Alžbeta Šimonovičová said.

Vladimir Poór, the owner of Druhá Obchodná and a top figure in Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party, had originally proposed that Druhá Obchodná return its stake in exchange for the 500 million crowns ($12.3 million) it was bought for.

The local daily paper Sme reported on March 17 that some of the key strategic assets of Nafta had been transferred to other companies. No one was immediately available at Nafta to comment on the issue.

One equity analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "It seems that the gas storage tanks under construction, Nafta's main potential growth asset, are only 25% owned by Nafta itself. We have to wait to see if there will be any other forms of compensation once the deal is disclosed."

The FNM spokeswoman gave no further details on the deal.

Nafta accounts for 3.9% of the capitalisation of the Bratislava Bourse's official SAX index. On March 16 it closed down 2.9% at 340 crowns.

The government of Vladimír Mečiar had been accused by the then opposition of promoting "crony capitalism" in which state assets were sold, often at generous prices, to political allies in return for future favours.

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