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EDITORIAL

Jozef Majský: Too big for his breeches

Slovak multi-millionaire Jozef Majský is trying single-handedly to spark the so-called 'third wave' of privatisation, in which foreign firms are supposed to swarm companies privatised by Slovaks. It's difficult to know whether to laugh at his audacity or disapprove of his nerve.
Here are some recent media headlines: Majský looks to buy private VTV cable channel; Majský buys gas storage company Nafta Gbely; Majský offers state a role in gas company. Who is this guy?
Jozef Majský is fabulously, absurdly rich. As head of the Sipox holding company, which he founded in 1990, Majský has interests in everything from media to textiles to trucks.


The Newest Oil Sheikh
Slovak financier Jozef Majský revealed recently that he had become the owner of a controlling share in gas company Nafta Gbely, and has applied to OPEC for membership.

Slovak multi-millionaire Jozef Majský is trying single-handedly to spark the so-called 'third wave' of privatisation, in which foreign firms are supposed to swarm companies privatised by Slovaks. It's difficult to know whether to laugh at his audacity or disapprove of his nerve.

Here are some recent media headlines: Majský looks to buy private VTV cable channel; Majský buys gas storage company Nafta Gbely; Majský offers state a role in gas company. Who is this guy?

Jozef Majský is fabulously, absurdly rich. As head of the Sipox holding company, which he founded in 1990, Majský has interests in everything from media to textiles to trucks.

He is also a charlatan of Falstaffian proportions. Nafta Gbely was privatised in 1996 for one-seventh of its market value. Knowing full well that cabinet wanted first to have the Nafta sale declared invalid by the courts and then to take back the shares for the state, Majský went ahead and bought a controlling stake in the firm himself.

Then, having just outmaneuvered cabinet by spending about 500 million Slovak crowns on the Nafta purchase, Majský told The Slovak Spectator the deal was not about money but about saving one of the country's most important firms "and putting it to work for the economy and the present government." In fact, Majský said, he was so concerned about the state of the nation that he was preparedto arrange a 400 million Sk loan for Slovakia.

That, of course, was not all. Majský is also graciously prepared to offer the state a top management role at Nafta Gbely, and will soon be submitting a proposal to cabinet saying which ministers should occupy which posts at the gas company.

One must struggle to remember that Majský is old friends with former Nafta Gbely owner Vladimír Poór, the man who privatised the firm in 1996 for a fraction of its market value. Majský has done his best for his old friend, saying the Nafta scandal should not be blamed on the unfortunate Poór but on the scoundrels at the national privatisation agency who sold it to him.

Poór has recently been having some fun of his own, offering the state a chance to buy back its original share in Nafta for the 1996 purchase price after Majský had already bought the stake. Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Mikloš dismissed Poór's offer abruptly, explaining that the state had no interest in buying back a company that had been assiduously tunnelled for three years.

Jozef Majský is obviously a man with a sharp sense of humour. He palled around with parliamentary deputies from the HZDS party of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar at every meeting of the HN business club in 1997, and then spent 1998 with his arm draped around the shoulders of politicians from the Party for Civic Reconciliation (SOP), a HZDS opponent. Now, in 1999, he is glad-handing the cabinet and promising to put his considerable fortune and talents to work 'for the good of the current government.'

Mr. Majský is obviously not serious about befriending the current government, or he would have kept his hands off Nafta and would not have been so imperious towards members of the cabinet. His recent behaviour is that of a con artist who pats a dog on the head while stealing its meatiest bone.

There is every chance that Majský will get bitten over the Nafta case. The interest of foreign investors in the firm is high, and the government is determined to grab any investment money for the state. But if personal charm - and money - count for anything, Majský may yet manage to leave the dog with no dinner once again.

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