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Cabinet postpones VSŽ share sale decision

CABINET has again postponed a decision on the sale of a 16 per cent stake in steel-maker VSŽ from the portfolio of the National Property Fund (FNM) privatisation agency.

The Slovak government was set to decide the matter on June 19, along with a draft proposal for the privatisation of power producer Slovenské Elektrarne, which was also postponed.

The FNM is proposing to sell the stake directly to US Steel, which currently owns 25.5 per cent of the company, but this proposal has been criticised for not awarding the shares to the highest bidder in an open tender.

However, the government came under even harsher criticism last year over the non-transparent sale of a 21 per cent stake in VSŽ by then-state oil transport monopoly Transpetrol, which took place on the Bratislava stock exchange in the final two hours of trading for 2001.

That stake fetched a share price significantly below what US Steel said it had been offering, and ended up on the books of financial speculators Penta Group, J&T and Istrokápital, who have also expressed interest in the current stake sale.

"I think that in the sale of VSŽ shares, there are also other criteria, for example whether the majority shareholder plans a long-term development of the company, or whether there exist connections between the core business and other activities performed by VSŽ," said Deputy PM for the Economy Ivan Mikloš, explaining his support for US Steel's bid.

Cabinet has not yet set a new date for the decision.

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