Interminable Transpetrol dispute revives

ONE of the most discussed ownership stakes in the history of privatisation in Slovakia is back in the news. It now seems likely that long-disputed shareholdings in the major crude-oil pipeline operator Transpetrol will continue to cause headaches for the Slovak government.

ONE of the most discussed ownership stakes in the history of privatisation in Slovakia is back in the news. It now seems likely that long-disputed shareholdings in the major crude-oil pipeline operator Transpetrol will continue to cause headaches for the Slovak government.

In late December 2009, US investment fund Cappa Fund III announced that it had acquired a 34-percent stake in Transpetrol from a Czech company, Quick Power Plant, the Sme daily reported. It reported that the Czech firm had bought its shares from Slovak businessman Ignác Ilčišin and others.

According to Sme, Steve Richardson, the managing director of American Cappa Fund III, announced the purchase in a press release sent to American media outlets. Cappa has not disclosed the amount it paid for the shares. Richards described the acquisition as a strategic investment decision and suggested that it signalled further investments in the region. However ownership of the shares which Cappa claims to have bought is disputed. The Slovak government believes itself to be the sole shareholder in Transpetrol, following its purchase of a 49-percent stake from Yukos International last year.

A spokesman for the Slovak Economy Ministry, Vahram Chuguryan, told Sme that no foreign company had contacted the ministry. The ministry has repudiated the legal process by which Ilčišin, and subsequently businessmen close to him, claim to have acquired 647 shares in Transpetrol, Sme wrote.

However, Cappa claims to have examined the history of the shares and believes that Quick Power Plant was indeed the actual owner of the shares it bought. In the press release, Richardson says that Cappa is looking forward to working with the Slovak government.

Lawyers acting for the ministry are reported to be analysing the situation in preparation for an eventual claim from the US company. Ministry lawyer Martin Krivák told Sme that it would take action only after the American company officially contacts the ministry.

“If they submit documents proving their ownership, we will certainly take a responsible approach towards them,” Krivák said, as quoted by Sme.

The website of Cappa Fund III suggests that it focuses on energy projects in developing markets. The owner of the fund is Cappa – Capitol Project Partners, Sme wrote.

The dispute between the Slovak state and a group of businesspeople close to Ilčišin started in 1995. It began with a claim on Transpetrol shares by the Humenné-based ILaS company. The claim originated after the tax authority wrongly blocked the company’s rights to real estate in 1995. The company claimed damages based on a letter of intent signed on August 18, 1995, to sell it a production hall. The company originally calculated damages at Sk43.3 million. Based on a contested court action, ILaS eventually acquired 34 percent of Transpetrol shares, then worth over Sk2 billion, from the Finance Ministry in distraint proceedings, but the transfer was later annulled, the SITA newswire wrote.


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