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SECOND-RUNNING PARTY CONTAINS ENERGY AND MEDICAL BUSINESS INTERESTS, TIES TO MEČIAR-ERA STATE STRUCTURES

Who is Smer?

WHILE many political commentators see Slovakia's second most popular party as largely a means to power for its charismatic leader, Robert Fico, a closer look at some of the party's candidates for September elections reveals business interests in the health and energy sectors, as well as ties to figures in the 1994-1998 Vladimír Mečiar administration.
There is lawyer Robert Kaliňák at number seven, who since July 4, 2000 has been on the supervisory board of IT firm Corinex Global. The related firm Corinex supplied IT to state gas utility SPP during the tenure of SPP chief Ján Ducký, who was murdered in January 1999.
Corinex, which with SPP formed a firm named DataGas, was accused by incoming Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák of overcharging SPP by 30 per cent for IT equipment, a charge the firm's leadership denied.


HOW MUCH do Slovak voters know about the man behind the man, Smer leader Robert Fico?
photo: TASR

WHILE many political commentators see Slovakia's second most popular party as largely a means to power for its charismatic leader, Robert Fico, a closer look at some of the party's candidates for September elections reveals business interests in the health and energy sectors, as well as ties to figures in the 1994-1998 Vladimír Mečiar administration.

There is lawyer Robert Kaliňák at number seven, who since July 4, 2000 has been on the supervisory board of IT firm Corinex Global. The related firm Corinex supplied IT to state gas utility SPP during the tenure of SPP chief Ján Ducký, who was murdered in January 1999.

Corinex, which with SPP formed a firm named DataGas, was accused by incoming Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák of overcharging SPP by 30 per cent for IT equipment, a charge the firm's leadership denied.

Smer candidates have other links to the former leadership of SPP. There's Igor Federič at number 22, who served as SPP's divisional boss of investment affairs under Ducký. There's also Roman Václavík, Smer's shadow economy minister, who was left off the candidate's list but remains a member of the party's top echelon. Václavík was head of business affairs at SPP under Ducký, and urged the Dzurinda government to delay the privatisation of SPP, finalised this year.

Peter Oremus at number 28 was head of the SPP branch in Nitra from 1989 to 1998.

Smer candidates also have energy interests other than SPP. Ľubomír Vážny, at number 10, was on the board of directors of the SPP-owned gas firm Nafta from 1996 to 1997 at the same time as financier Juraj Široký, who is supplying premises to the newly-formed HZD party under former Mečiar ally Ivan Gašparovič. Široký has also been chairman of the board of RST-Rusko-Slovenský Tradind (sic) since 1995, where Vladimír Lexa - father of ex-spy boss Ivan - is chairman of the supervisory board.

Ivan Lexa was extradited from South Africa to Slovakia on July 18 to face charges in eight criminal cases stemming from his time at the head of the SIS.

Jana Laššáková, Smer's number 25, has been on the board of electricity sector construction firm Energovod - Slovakia since 1994, as well as active in the firms Energokonzult and Energo Banská Bystrica.

"I can't say whether these people were involved in the energy field only under the Mečiar government," said Boris Zala, Smer vice-chairman, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator July 31. "But I would say they were attracted by Smer's [energy sector] policy, rather than that they came and formed the party's policy."

Smer leader Fico has promised to re-open negotiations on the energy docket of talks with the European Union, calling the current government's promise to shut down the aging Bohunice nuclear plant from 2006-2008 "the biggest nonsense this cabinet has done".

Smer has also vigorously opposed the Dzurinda government's privatisation of SPP this year, and has promised to complete the construction of the Mochovce nuclear power plant, which the current government has rejected as too expensive.

Other Smer candidates have connections state organs under the former Mečiar government as well, from Igor Šulaj at number 11 who was head of business operations at the ŽSR state railways, to Maroš Kondrót at 13 who was tied to SIS secret service staff as well as energy sector interests (see article front page), and Jozef Burian at 15 who was head of investment at the VSŽ steel maker while Július Rezeš was head of the firm.

Monika Beňová, at number 2, was head of the pro-HZDS Rádio Koliba under the Mečiar government, while Fedor Flašík, head of Smer's election team, authored the HZDS' infamous 1998 election campaign.

The last main shared characteristic of Smer candidates is their business or professional background in the medical sector. The first 32 candidates include three people with medical degrees, two of whom own part stakes in medical centres. Then there are five candidates who do business in pharmaceuticals and medical equipment through such companies as Biotika and Slovakofarma, where again the HZDS' Vladimír Poór played a former role.

What do these connections mean for the country, given that second running Smer is widely expected to play a major role in the government formed after September 20-21 elections?

"Smer does not represent the interests of any HZDS-related economic group," said Zala. "The connections are purely coincidental. You found them because you were looking for them. You would find the same connections with structures in [1994 PM Jozef] Moravčík's and [1998-2002 PM Mikuláš] Dzurinda's governments. These people are businessmen, and businessmen want to get along well with each government."

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