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STATE OFFICIALS AND CORPORATE CEOS EXCHANGE ACCUSATIONS OF CORRUPTION

Recent scandals open a political Pandora's Box

THE RECALL of the head of the National Security Office (NBÚ), Ján Mojžiš, and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's theory of a "group" aiming to destabilise the country have brought to light some of the ties that may exist between top politicians and large businesses.
Dzurinda announced at a press conference on August 5 that he knows about the existence of an interest "group" that works to discredit the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) and his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party.

THE RECALL of the head of the National Security Office (NBÚ), Ján Mojžiš, and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's theory of a "group" aiming to destabilise the country have brought to light some of the ties that may exist between top politicians and large businesses.

Dzurinda announced at a press conference on August 5 that he knows about the existence of an interest "group" that works to discredit the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) and his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party.

Later that month, opposition MP Robert Kaliňák, head of the parliamentary defence committee, released a list of seven state officials, journalists, and entrepreneurs whom Dzurinda allegedly had in mind. NBÚ boss Mojžiš was among them.

The PM did not confirm the accuracy of Kaliňák's claims; however, within weeks, he started an intensive campaign to oust Mojžiš from office, citing "a complete loss of trust" as his grounds.

The cabinet finally sacked the NBÚ boss on October 2; the name of his successor will be known by the end of the month.

Mojžiš says he had to leave office because he stood in the way of corporate interests promoted by the PM. To illustrate his case, he mentioned a private conversation he had with Dzurinda back in early 2002.

"In a one-on-one meeting, [Dzurinda] asked that the NBÚ change its position on [the governmental data network] Govnet," said Mojžiš in an interview with the daily SME.

"He argued that [parliamentary] elections [in September 2002] were getting close, there was Sk800 million (€19.4 million) allocated for Govnet in the state budget, and people were getting nervous," Mojžiš said.

According to Mojžiš, Dzurinda did not specify whom he meant by "people".

Controversy has surrounded the history of Govnet. The cabinet of former PM Vladimír Mečiar decided that the firm Kochman Information Systems & Services (KISS) should act as the system integrator for the project.

After parliamentary elections in the fall of 1998, when Dzurinda replaced Mečiar in the prime ministerial seat, the cabinet started reconsidering some of the allegedly disadvantageous commitments made to KISS.

In July 1999, Tibor Tóth, then head of the Government's Office and current MP for the SDKÚ, said that a member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) party board had offered him a bribe of Sk120 million (€2.9 million) to sign amendments to the contract the government had signed with KISS, to ensure that KISS kept the job. The KDH rejected any such claims. The government tried to find a way out of obligations toward KISS.

"The conclusion of the Government's Office was that it was not possible," former Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik told The Slovak Spectator. The Education Ministry and the Government's Office shared responsibilities in dealing with Govnet.

"At that time the new law on the protection of classified information came into force, thus introducing the system of security checks. The head of the Government's Office asked this company to undergo the security check. It was revealed that there are certain security risks, and Mojžiš warned the government about it," Ftáčnik said.

After KISS was found unsafe to access classified information, the cabinet had the option to either terminate the contract with the threat of paying large penalties to the firm, or allow KISS to handle the non-confidential part of the project, while hiring someone else to deal with the rest.

Ftáčnik was in favour of the latter. His then mother party, the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), was suspected of close ties with the firm Šped-Trans - since March 2000 a KISS shareholder - whose representatives were also SDĽ members.

"I do not think there were any contacts between the firm and the party," said Ftáčnik, stressing that he felt "absolutely no pressure" from the party regarding the project.

In a recent interview with SME, former NBÚ boss Mojžiš said that Dzurinda shared Ftáčnik's views on Govnet.

"He wanted me to change our position so that the confidential part would be separated, and KISS could perform the non-confidential part of the contract, worth Sk800 million (€19.4 million), in 2002," said Mojžiš.

The NBÚ head did not fulfil the request. Later, Mojžiš said, the head of an IT company called an anonymous friend of his and offered to give the security office leader a bribe of Sk150 million (€3.6 million), which he refused.

Dzurinda has said that all allegations against him are untrue, but decided not to sue Mojžiš.

"It's Mojžiš's move. If he knew about corruption, he should have filed a criminal complaint," said the PM for the TA3 news channel.

Mojžiš claimed he decided not do so as the act would be impossible to prove.

In April 2002, weeks after the alleged conversation between the PM and Mojžiš, the NBÚ chief recommended to the cabinet that the agreement with KISS be terminated due to security threats. The government approved his proposal.

KISS director František Petro said that at KISS "they can only laugh" at Mojžiš's recent claims that Dzurinda lobbied in the firm's favour.

"When deciding about the fate of Govnet, Dzurinda had in fact accepted the attitude and proposals of Mojžiš, and tried to use the NBÚ report on Govnet to stop the project," Petro said in a statement provided to the SITA news wire on October 6.

Petro also pointed out that the government's decision to withdraw from the agreement will cost Slovak taxpayers Sk400 million (€9.7 million) per year in contractual penalties.

At the time the decision about dropping KISS had been made, KISS representatives said what some officials are suggesting today: that Mojžiš's conduct is influenced by his contacts in the business sphere.

Petro was quoted in April 2002 by SME as saying that IT firm Ditec, allegedly the only firm that has successfully gone through the security check done by Mojžiš's office, was behind his decision.

Petro also said that Ditec is supposed to win the new tender for Govnet. The company denied claims that it had the security check, but did not rule out that it might be interested in participating in Govnet.

Ditec CEO Peter Lukeš is, according to MP Kaliňák, also a member of Dzurinda's "group".

Coalition representatives have mentioned Mojžiš's alleged above-standard relationship with Lukeš as a reason for removing him from office.

When defending his support for Dzurinda's efforts to sack Mojžiš, New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) boss Pavol Rusko referred to a meeting between Mojžiš and Lukeš that he also attended last November.

Economy Minister Rusko told private TV Markíza on October 10 that he found it suspicious that he was called to a meeting with the NBÚ boss in which Lukeš was also sitting behind the table. Rusko also listed some other factors determining his distrust in Mojžiš.

"The NBÚ had opened a certain tender. Three companies were approached; three submitted offers into the tender worth Sk7 million (€169 000). All three belonged to Lukeš," Rusko claimed.

Ditec has asked Rusko to apologize for his "untrue" statements, reported the state-run TASR news wire. Rusko replied by saying that he has all the necessary documents and does not plan to express regret.

The company refused to comment on any of the issues for The Slovak Spectator.

It previously came into the spotlight in February 1999, when the daily Národná obroda, at the time a part of Rusko's media empire, published a story on its deals with the state-run Slovak Railways (ŽSR).

According to that article, in the years 1997 and 1998, ŽSR paid Ditec at least Sk615 million (€14.9 million) for an administration IT system. Ditec boss Lukeš and ŽSR general director Bartolomei Sinai had signed the deal.

Michal Lazar, who had previously been the director and co-owner of Columbex, a company co-owned by Ditec, later replaced Sinai in the seat of ŽSR boss. The international law firm Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey prepared an analysis of all problematic agreements for the ŽSR, reported Národná obroda.

"According to their legal analysis from August 8, 1997 (a copy of which Národná obroda has at its disposal) all agreements between ŽSR and Ditec are void, because their content and purpose contradict the law, evade the law, or contradict standard practices," wrote the daily on February 15, 1999.

The analysis had been submitted to the board of directors of ŽSR in August 1997; however, ŽSR, led by Lazar, nevertheless paid Ditec the last payment as late as December 1998.

Národná obroda later toned down its statements about Ditec, saying some of the claims made were based on inaccurate information.

However, Lazar is also included on the list of members of the "group" presented by Kaliňák.

Another member of that group is entrepreneur and head of the Israeli chamber of commerce, Miloš Žiak. He is also included in a slimmer version of the group - Dzurinda allegedly named only him and Mojžiš to the Attorney General Milan Hanzel, when he testified about the group's activities.

Žiak, who works on the board of directors of the pension fund VSP Tatry, said personal conflicts with intelligence service director Ladislav Pittner are the most likely reason for the PM's claims.

In an interview published in the daily SME, Žiak said the first clash came in 1993 when Pittner said that, after the fall of communism, the new ruling forces made certain agreements with representatives of the old communist regime that had to be respected by those that came to power later.

"At that time, I publicly asked Pittner to explain what agreements he had with the ŠtB members," said Žiak.

According to Žiak, the second dispute occurred before the 1998 parliamentary elections after Pittner had allegedly made anti-Jewish remarks in an interview with the Domino fórum weekly.

In reaction to Pittner's statements, Žiak declared that if Pittner were on the ballot of the Democratic Coalition Party (SDK), he would not give it his voice.

"I think [the group] was created based on orders from ŠtB members to fire Mojžiš. I don't think I'm important; I'm just Jewish," said Žiak.

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