US Interblue morphs into Swiss firm

INTERBLUE Group, the mysterious US-based firm which regularly made headlines in Slovakia because of its central role in a dubious deal under which Slovakia sold it quotas to emit 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide at a price well below that obtained by neighbouring countries for their quotas, has ceased to exist.

Big money is at stake over Slovakia's CO2 emissions. Big money is at stake over Slovakia's CO2 emissions. (Source: SITA/AP)

INTERBLUE Group, the mysterious US-based firm which regularly made headlines in Slovakia because of its central role in a dubious deal under which Slovakia sold it quotas to emit 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide at a price well below that obtained by neighbouring countries for their quotas, has ceased to exist.

The Slovak Environment Ministry will now negotiate any further details or issues surrounding its sale of the country’s unused carbon dioxide emissions quotas with the firm’s successor, Interblue Europe, after the rights of the mystery firm – originally based in Snohomish, a small town in Washington State in the US – were apparently transferred to this new company based in Switzerland.

The Slovak daily Plus Jeden Deň broke the story in its January 12 issue about the demise on December 29 of what has regularly been called a ‘US garage firm’.

On the same day, Environment Minister Jozef Medveď summoned a press conference and announced that Jana Lutken is the authorised representative of the successor firm and that she is willing to meet with the ministry in Switzerland at Slovakia’s general consulate in Zurich. The meeting should take place sometime after January 20, Medveď said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The ministry has been attempting to obtain a bonus payment of €15 million from Interblue Group for spending the original proceeds from the sale of the excess emissions quotas on so-called green projects. The contract with Interblue purportedly included an option that if Slovakia spent the fund within the ‘Green Investment Scheme’ (GIS), the country was eligible for a bonus payment of an additional €1 per tonne, or €15 million in total. The Slovak government has said that its nationwide thermal insulation programme, funded with proceeds from the contract, falls under the GIS scheme.

According to Medveď, the state will do its best to collect the €15 million from Interblue and also continue negotiations regarding the contract in such a way that the country “gets out from the uneven business position which flows from the contract”. The minister also said that Lutken has never told Slovakia that she would not pay the €15 million and this is why the ministry has not been making prompt efforts to cancel the contract, SITA wrote.

Almost nothing is publicly known about Interblue Group. The government has repeatedly brushed off media enquiries about who any additional investors or beneficiaries of its contractual partner in the multi-million-euro deal might be, insisting that it either does not know or that the details are confidential.

Slovakia may have lost as much as €66 million on the sales price that was negotiated with Interblue Group, according to opposition parties. The sale has played a part in the sacking of two Slovak environment ministers, Viliam Turský and Ján Chrbet, both of whom were nominees of the Slovak National Party.

The political ethics watchdog, Fair-Play Alliance, has published several documents on its website such as the certificate of formation of Interblue Group and the initial annual report filed with authorities of Washington State. The latter listed the nature of the business as an “asset holding company”. The state licensing renewal dated July 6, 2009, names the governing people as Jana Lutken and Hans Grop, which according to head of the alliance, Zuzana Wienk, confirms that they were also the owners of the firm, not only the authorised representatives, as reported by SITA.

The 2009 renewal also changed the principal place of Interblue Group’s business to an address in Miami Beach, Florida, which was listed as the address of the executor of its original registration, Alex Hlavacek. The alliance also published a confirmation that Interblue Group was not registered with the Washington State Department of Revenue for tax purposes.

A significant difference between Interblue Group and its successor Interblue Europe is the fact that the US company was a limited liability company (LLC) while Interblue Europe is registered as a joint stock company, the Sme daily noted.

Opposition parties called on Prime Minister Robert Fico to tell the public about the steps that his government will undertake in response to the fact that Interblue Group LLC had ceased to exist. The fact that the company ceased operations does not mean that its business liabilities are gone but that they pass to its legal successor, said SDKÚ MP Pavol Frešo.

Frešo said he is concerned that Slovakia may have additional problems if the legal successor demands that it be allowed to purchase additional emissions quotas at a price lower than that at which neighbouring countries sold their emission quotas , SITA reported. Interblue Group’s contract gave it an option to purchase additional excess CO2 quotas from Slovakia.


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