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Health care debt money misused after 2006

A FINANCE Ministry report presented to Slovakia’s cabinet on July 8 has finally silenced the Fico government’s claims that its predecessor misused funds in paying off debt in the health care sector. The ministry’s auditors said they found “no serious deficiencies” in the accounts of Veriteľ, the state company used to retire Sk36 billion (€1.2 billion) in bills owed by hospitals and health insurance companies between 2003 and 2006. According to documents obtained by The Slovak Spectator, serious questions remain over how the Ministry of Health under the current government spent at least a quarter of the Sk650 million (€12 million) that was left over from the liquidation of Veriteľ in June 2006.

A FINANCE Ministry report presented to Slovakia’s cabinet on July 8 has finally silenced the Fico government’s claims that its predecessor misused funds in paying off debt in the health care sector. The ministry’s auditors said they found “no serious deficiencies” in the accounts of Veriteľ, the state company used to retire Sk36 billion (€1.2 billion) in bills owed by hospitals and health insurance companies between 2003 and 2006. According to documents obtained by The Slovak Spectator, serious questions remain over how the Ministry of Health under the current government spent at least a quarter of the Sk650 million (€12 million) that was left over from the liquidation of Veriteľ in June 2006.

Just before Christmas 2006 – and only 10 days before the debt was to have expired under the statute of limitations – the Health Ministry sent Sk149 million to Technopol of Bratislava. The company claimed it was owed the money for equipment supplied to a Bratislava hospital in the early 1990s. Technopol did not have long to celebrate the early Christmas gift, however. A day after receiving the money, on December 22, the company sent Sk130 million to another firm, Proomont, as payment for having recovered the debt for Technopol. The generosity of the recovery fee aroused suspicion at Slovakia’s Tax Directorate. When Technopol demanded the directorate repay Sk20 million in VAT based on its Proomont payment, the tax authority refused because it doubted the legitimacy of the debt recovery contract. It also suspected Technopol of having conducted the operation to reduce its tax base, saving it up to Sk20 million in taxes.

“We cannot comment on information we received in the course of any tax proceedings, but I can say that in the case you mentioned, the approach of the Tax Directorate was motivated by its concern to protect the economic interests of the state,” said Miroslav Dobák, spokesman for the Tax Directorate.

Proomont, in its turn, channelled the state funds further through various companies and individuals, thereby also ridding itself of the obligation to pay VAT and income tax on the money. For example, Proomont deposited Sk25 million with the Penta-AA company of Stupava at the end of January 2007, thereby passing on to Penta-AA the obligation to cover the VAT and income tax charges. On January 27, however, that company was transferred to a new owner, Zdeňek Šimovič.

According to a document from the police Organised Crime Unit (ÚBOK), dated March 2007, “Zdeněk Šimovič is unemployed and is registered with the Labour Office as an alcoholic and an individual unfit to undertake legal obligations, from which it is clear that he is being used as a front-man by other individuals.”

Two months after it received the state money, Proomont also underwent personnel changes, including a complete change in management. Its new supervisory board consisted of three people from Nové Zámky in south-central Slovakia with no history of business activity. When The Slovak Spectator went in search of them, at the address of Ladislav Hrabovský the building was under demolition. No one knew Anton Dráfi at the apartment building he listed as home, and according to the land registry records, he owns no property there. The address of the third person, Melinda Jobová, is an overcrowded and rundown building on the outskirts of town inhabited by Roma. “Melinda doesn’t live here any more,” said an older woman from a second-floor balcony.

Proomont’s new board chairperson, Angelika Urbanová, is a divorced mother of four. She used to live in the village of Pohranice near Nitra, but according to her former neighbours moved to Nové Zámky a few years ago.

On taking up her new role, Urbanová immediately filed for liquidation of the company. Three months later – unusually quick for the Slovak court system – Proomont was erased from the business registry, even though its basic capital had never been paid up. The company’s original principals were also interesting in their own right. Filip Zubčák, a member of Proomont’s supervisory board from 2004 to 2007, appeared on the ‘mafia lists’ that were leaked from the Bratislava police in 2005 that allegedly listed the members of the Slovak capital’s major organised crime groups. Zubčák allegedly belongs to the ‘Piťo’ gang based in the suburb of Lamač. “Keep digging”, he said when contacted by The Slovak Spectator, and then hung up. His father Zdenko used to work for Technopol.

Vladimír Mošovský, who represented Technopol and Proomont in their dealings with the Ministry of Health on the basis of a power of attorney, has been charged with fraud in the Czech Republic.

At the beginning of 2007, ÚBOK investigators took on the Technopol debt case for possible tax evasion. By sending the Sk130 million to Proomont, the police said, “among other things Technopol reduced its tax base by Sk109.5 million, producing a possible income tax savings of Sk20.8 million, and also led to an unjustified VAT rebate request in the sum of Sk20.8 million.”

ÚBOK asked for cooperation from the Ministry of Health “in view of the unusual conditions for recovering the aforementioned debt (such as the 12 day deadline for recovery and payment of the debt, the amount of the compensation, the reduction of the tax base, the amount of the VAT rebate request) and other circumstances, as well as the network of companies involved in the ensuing invoicing, the financial transfers and the cash withdrawals.” However, two written ÚBOK requests for information in May and July 2007 were ignored, a reminder at the end of July was not answered, and the letter that finally arrived from the ministry’s financial department at the end of August did not contain the requested documents.

Ministry spokesperson Zuzana Čižmáriková denied that her superiors had not cooperated with ÚBOK investigators. “We gave all relevant information to [ÚBOK] on their request,” she said.

Finally, on September 16, 2007, acting on the orders of Police Vice-President Michal Kopčík, ÚBOK turned the investigation over to the police Anti-Corruption Unit, where it was abandoned.

“Operational and investigative work was done in this case,” said police spokesperson Andrea Polačiková. “No evidence was found that would have supported the filing of criminal charges.”


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