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Legal opinion: Debt 'should not be paid'

THE MINISTRY of Health paid almost Sk150 million on an alleged debt owed to Technopol even though three legal analyses had advised against it. In 2004, Hana Muráňová, then head of the ministry’s legal section, recommended to Rudolf Zajac, then minister of health, that the Technopol debt “should not be paid”. In a three-page analysis she pointed out uncertainties regarding the true owner of the receivable and the guarantee issued by a Bratislava hospital, as well as the fact the matter was still before the courts. A year later, attorney Ernest Valko submitted a five-page analysis to Zajac, in which he stated that the original debt contract from 1990 was “an absolutely invalid legal act” because it was not sufficiently precise and understandable.

THE MINISTRY of Health paid almost Sk150 million on an alleged debt owed to Technopol even though three legal analyses had advised against it. In 2004, Hana Muráňová, then head of the ministry’s legal section, recommended to Rudolf Zajac, then minister of health, that the Technopol debt “should not be paid”. In a three-page analysis she pointed out uncertainties regarding the true owner of the receivable and the guarantee issued by a Bratislava hospital, as well as the fact the matter was still before the courts. A year later, attorney Ernest Valko submitted a five-page analysis to Zajac, in which he stated that the original debt contract from 1990 was “an absolutely invalid legal act” because it was not sufficiently precise and understandable.

The state company in charge of paying down health sector debt, Veriteľ, also commissioned a legal opinion from an international law firm that cast doubt on “whether this receivable even exists.” But following the accession of the Fico government in 2006, the ministry’s approach changed. Veriteľ was in liquidation, but Sk650 million remained on the health ministry’s accounts in unused money. By the end of the year, the funds were gone. Among the recipients of the cash was not only Technopol but also the Spoločná Zdravotná Poisťovňa (SZP) health insurer, which received Sk230 million. Until August 2006, Ivan Valentovič, the new health minister, had been the chairman of the board at SZP.

Of the Sk149 million paid to Technopol, only Sk85 million was principal – the remaining Sk64 million consisted of “extras” such as interest, late-payment penalties, etc. Herein lay a second problem. “The rules of Veriteľ said that the state never paid any extras, and only a certain percentage of the principal of any debt,” said Tomáš Szalay of the Health Policy Institute.

Health ministry spokesperson Zuzana Čižmáriková said that a five-person commission at the ministry had decided how to use the money left over from Veriteľ. A Bratislava hospital, she said, had presented documents proving that it owed money to Technopol. “We reached a deal with them that reduced the interest owed by 50 percent,” she said.

The public never learned that the ministry paid Sk150 million to Technopol. How the money left over from Veriteľ was used was never explained in a report on Veriteľ submitted to cabinet by Finance Minister Ján Počiatek in October 2007. Počiatek’s report omitted the conclusions of an audit team from the Finance Ministry which in June 2007 had concluded that the ministry had “violated financial discipline” in using the remaining Veriteľ funds.

“Our investigation showed that (the Sk150 million paid to Technopol) included interest from the 1991 to 1996 period that never should have been included in the debt-relief process,” the audit team wrote.

Finance Ministry spokesman Miroslav Šmál said the audit team’s findings had been left out of Počiatek’s report to cabinet “because the minister’s report concerned only the activities of Veriteľ during its existence” – i.e. not including the use of its money by the Fico government.


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