State vows to retake Nafta Gbely despite apparent Majský purchase

The cabinet has announced it is proceeding with plans to have the 1996 privatisation of gas storage company Nafta Gbely declared invalid, despite a surprise announcement by Slovak financier Jozef Majský on March 2 that he had bought a controlling stake in the firm.

Well-known Bratislava lawyer Ernest Valko, who is representing the FNM state privatisation agency, said that he had submitted a complaint on the validity of the Nafta Gbely sale to a regional court on March 5.

A 46% stake in Nafta was sold in 1996 to Slovak businessman Vladimír Poór for 500 million Slovak crowns, about one seventh of its market value at the time. In early February, the cabinet revealed that it would try to have the purchase contract between Nafta and Poór's firm Druhá Obchodna cancelled.

The cabinet claimed that the contract was invalid and that several laws had been violated during Nafta's privatization. But before it could have the case brought before the courts, Majský revealed he had bought Poór's stake in Nafta. Majský refused to reveal the conditions of the contract as well as the sum he paid.

Despite the court challenge, FNM President Ľudovít Kaník has not excluded the possibility of an out-of-court settlement between the involved parties. However, he stressed that the initiative must come from Majský, and said that the state was willing to allow Druha Obchodna to keep only as many shares as it could have bought in 1996 at market prices for the 500 million crowns it paid.

Under such an agreement, Druha Obchodna would have to return a roughly 38% stake in Nafta.

Kanik told journalists on March 5 that the FNM has not yet held any talks with Majský, and expressed doubt that Majský in fact owned any Nafta shares. "Majsky will first have to prove that he really owns the stake in Nafta Gbely, because our information indicates that the shares have not been transferred to him so far," Kaník explained.

Martin Lengyel, spokesman for Prime Minister Dzurinda, said that Kaník and Dzurinda were determined that Nafta Gbely be returned to the state, regardless of the commercial activities of private companies and individuals associated with Nafta Gbely.

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