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Rusko mired in controversy over old debts

ECONOMY Minister Pavol Rusko signed several bills of exchange for millions of crowns after he accepted political office. The bills of exchange obligate the minister to cover old debts from his days at TV Markíza, the television station he founded in the mid 1990s.

On July 28, Plus 7 dní, a Slovak weekly, published a copy of one of Rusko's bills of exchange. Made out for Sk9.5 million (€244,000) and signed by Rusko two years ago, the bill obligates the minister to businessman Ľubomír Blaško.

According to the daily SME, Rusko also signed another bill, this one obligating him to Andrej Kollár from 1. garantovaná company.

Minister Rusko is under media fire for entering into financial agreements with private businesses while in office as Economy Minister. Critics complain that such activity constitutes a conflict of interest and could jeopardize Rusko's ability to make objective decisions on behalf of Slovakia's economy.

Rusko makes no secret that he still has a personal interest in TV Markíza. When he ends his political career, Rusko hopes to buy back his stake in the company, which he sold to František Vizváry before entering politics, the SME daily reported.

Rusko's explanation for the bills of exchange has changed. At first he said that TV Markíza stakeholder Media Invest was responsible for the debt, having borrowed the money to buy Markíza stakes from businessperson Silvia Volzová.

Later Rusko said that he incurred the debt partly to finance the activities of the now defunct Národná obroda daily, and partly to finance "loans which we secured to purchase Volzová's stakes". Rusko also said that the debts [owed to Volzová] were already paid back from dividends that Media Invest received from TV Markíza.

Rusko told the daily Pravda that the bills of exchange are related to business activities dating from a time when he was not yet a minister. When asked whether the firms were related to his previous activities in TV Markíza, Rusko responded: "Partly yes and partly also with other business activities. I am a businessman."

In addition to being economy minister, Rusko is the party boss for the ruling New Citizen's Alliance.

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