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WATCHDOG CALLS FOR CHECKS INDEPENDENT OF PARLIAMENT

Shopping around for cash: party funds in SK

THE FAIR Play Alliance, a political watchdog association, has concluded that Slovakia’s party financing system is broken, and it’s citing figures recently published on parliament’s website as proof.According to the annual report of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), it got the most donations of any parliamentary party last year. Annual reports were reviewed by the Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Budget and Currency on June 17, and then published on parliament’s website.

THE FAIR Play Alliance, a political watchdog association, has concluded that Slovakia’s party financing system is broken, and it’s citing figures recently published on parliament’s website as proof.According to the annual report of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), it got the most donations of any parliamentary party last year. Annual reports were reviewed by the Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Budget and Currency on June 17, and then published on parliament’s website.

The two most generous contributions to the HZDS came from individuals. Rudolf Trávniček, an 82-year-old pensioner who lives in a one-room flat, gave the party Sk7.2 million. And, last year, businessman Jozef Oceľ donated Sk4 million.

According to several media reports, Ocel’s company, Agrospol, has a tax debt amounting to more than Sk1.1 million. Moreover, the Hospodárske Noviny financial daily wrote on August 4 that Agrospol was included on the list of debtors recorded by the Slovenská Konsolidačná agency, whose website states that the company owes almost Sk13 million in back taxes. Slovenská Konsolidačná was founded to recover troublesome claims.

Monika Zakariásová, spokesperson of the HZDS, stressed to The Slovak Spectator that the HZDS has published copies of donation contracts on its website.


“The party does not check the property or the past of its donors. How they manage their finances is none of our business,” Zakariásová said.

However, Zuzana Wienk of Fair Play expressed grave doubts about the gifts.


“There is a lot of suspicion around who is really financing the HZDS and whether they are legal or illegal sources,” she told The Slovak Spectator.

Wienk added that according to the law, the signature of the party’s statutory, who signs notarised contracts for the HZDS, should be added. The statutory is Zdenka Kramplová.


“This contravenes the law too,” Wienk added.

Trávniček, the allegedly wealthy pensioner, told the Sme daily on July 31 that he put seven million crowns in a plastic Tesco bag and gave it to an acquaintance who delivered it to the HZDS.

“The party’s treasurer brought the money to party headquarters together with a notarised donation contract,” Zakariásová confirmed.

The treasurer of the party is Milan Urbáni, who is currently on holiday.

The HZDS annual report revealed other questionable gifts, too, which were picked up by The Fair Play Alliance, such as Sk50,000 the HZDS accepted from Transpetrol, a joint stock company, in January 2007. The state owns a share of this company, and a 2005 law bans parties from accepting gifts from any company in which the state has a financial stake.

According to Wienk, when the state owns a share in a firm, there is a high risk of political influence through the placement of the party’s nominees on the firm’s board of directors.


“There is also the risk that these firms’ finances will be used to support chosen political parties,” Wienk added.

The Alliance requested on July 31 that the Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Budget and Currency investigate the legitimacy of this gift.

Wienk also noted that the parliamentary committee found no fault or mistake during debate on reports. Neither did the auditor, who checked the HZDS annual report, find any flaw.


Auditor Peter Mičieta explained his mistake by saying he did not know about the law on political parties banning gifts from such firms.

“How could I possibly have known that?” Mičieta told Hospodárske Noviny on July 31.


But Wienk pointed out that the legal duty of the auditor is to be familiar with all relevant laws, not just the law on accountancy.

The HZDS acknowledged its mistake, too, when it returned the money to Transpetrol. According to Zakariásová, a later check found that the donation contract with Transpetrol was concluded by a district branch of the HZDS. However, the report notes that the HZDS got a similar Sk50,000 gift from Brantner Nova, a company in which the town of Spišská Nová Ves has an 8 percent share. So far, the HZDS has not commented on this gift.

Moreover, the HZDS owes large amounts of money to private persons. Martina and Ľuboš Micháleks from Považská Bystrica each lent the party Sk19,709,589.50. Last year, Martina Michálková told the Hospodárske Noviny she did not know much about the debt, as her husband was in charge of financial matters.

“The debt is being repaid in accordance with an instalment plan,” Zakariásová asserted.


Jozef Burian, the committee’s chairman, stated in a press release on August 4 that the committee intends to re-examine the HZDS donations, especially the gift from Transpetrol, within the next month.

The HZDS faces fines of up to Sk100,000 for having received a gift from a company with a state-owned share.

Wienk pointed out that the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) also received Sk50,000 from Brantner Nova. After the information was published, KDH immediately announced it would return the money and train its representatives in what gifts to accept. Parliament did not notice this mistake last year, either.

“In Slovakia, control is very formal, and in fact finds only such flaws,” Wienk said. “It does not investigate any evidence that could suggest unfair financing of political parties.”

It is therefore possible for parties to conceal questionable financing without fear of punishment, Wienk said.

The control of financing of political parties should be removed from parliament’s authority, she added. Wienk supports the creation of an independent institution which would have authority to check bank documents and to co-operate with prosecution and police.

None of the political parties has yet reacted to this proposal.

However, the HZDS spokesperson questioned both the motives of the Fair Play Alliance and Zuzana Wienk.

“From what resources is the Alliance financed, and whose interests does it represent?” Zakariásová asked.

Wienk stressed that the Alliance is a non-governmental watchdog.

“We publish all our sponsors and subsidies on the internet,” she responded.

In April 2004, the watchdog reported that in the Social Democratic and Christian Union's annual party report, donors were listed who, when contacted personally, denied having contributed anything to the party.


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