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VSŽ probe called off

AN INVESTIGATION into the shadowy sale of shares in former steel maker VSŽ last December has been called off due to what police say is a lack of evidence of insider trading.

Since February, officials from the Bratislava Regional Investigation Office have been examining records on the trade from the Finance Ministry, the Bratislava Stock Exchange and the regulatory Financial Markets Office, based on complaints of non-transparency and insider trading.

Late last December, in the final two hours of trading for 2001, a 21 per cent stake in VSŽ was sold from oil pipeline operator Transpetrol, then operating under the Economy Ministry, in an anonymous trade on the Bratislava exchange, eventually ending up on the books of corporate raiders Penta Group, Istrokapitál and J&T.

In the deal, which raised local and international outcry and calls for the resignation of Economy Minister Ľubomír Harach, Penta and associates paid Sk160 per share, while VSŽ itself claims to have offered Sk200 per share. Transpetrol had originally paid Sk206 per share.

The Bratislava Regional Prosecutor's Office has yet to examine the investigators' decision.

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