SHORTLY after the Slovak public finally saw a photograph of the face of the authorised representative of the mystery firm which had purchased Slovakia excess emission quotas at a bargain-basement price, she temporarily resigned from her position due to what she claimed was a concussion sustained during an unwanted encounter with the Slovak media on January 20.
Now one month later, the departure of Jana Lütken – the authorised representative of the US-based Interblue Group and then the identified representative of Interblue Group (Europe), the apparent successor company – from her post seems to have become permanent.
The Slovak public has yet to learn whether there is a successor or who it might be and Slovakia’s Environment Ministry has been reluctant to comment on whether it knows anything more than the public and media.
State officials have also been tight-lipped about what steps will be taken to secure a €15 million bonus payment that it believes it is entitled to from either of the two Interblue Groups. The contract with Interblue included a clause that if Slovakia spent the funds from the sale of its emissions quotas within the ‘Green Investment Scheme’ (GIS), that is, for environmental projects, the country would be eligible for a bonus payment of €1 per tonne, or €15 million in total.
“The Environment Ministry is working intensively on legal steps but we do not consider it appropriate to be publishing the details,” Jana Kaplanová, director of the communications department of the ministry, told The Slovak Spectator.
Lütken is no longer authorised to act on behalf of Interblue Group (Europe), the eTREND web portal reported on February 22 referring to an extract from the Swiss Company Register.
The firm also recently changed its Swiss address by moving to a different street. eTREND reported that this was the second significant change at the company over the past two weeks and speculated that this might indicate that people in the background of the company plan to cleanse the firm or complicate negotiations with Slovakia.
The Fair-Play Alliance, a political ethics watchdog group, said that at this point state officials should not be focusing on Lütken.
“In my opinion it is absurd to be focusing on the person of Jana Lütken,” Zuzana Wienk, the director of the Fair-Play Alliance told The Slovak Spectator. “The ministry has legal tools at its disposal to take action regardless of whether she is willing to negotiate or she isn’t.”
The Environment Ministry has been waiting for Interblue Group (Europe), the new Swiss company that apparently morphed from its US-based form, to submit documentation proving that it is the legal successor to the Interblue Group. The firm was supposed to submit such documentation by the end of January based on an agreement reached by ministry officials with Lütken at their meeting on January 20.
The US-based Interblue Group ceased to exist on December 29, 2009 and the rights and obligations of the firm were apparently transferred to Interblue Group (Europe), based in Switzerland.
In early February the ministry was still declaring its efforts to resume communication with Interblue even after Environment Minister Jozef Medveď received a letter from Lütken in late January informing the minister of her resignation as board member for health reasons.
According to the letter, published by the Sme daily on its website, Lütken told Medveď that a camera crew from Slovak broadcaster TV Markíza had “physically injured” her at the building where the meeting was held and their encounter resulted in a “serious brain concussion”. TV Markíza resolutely denied the claims and rejected any attempts to drag the television broadcaster into the dispute between Interblue and the ministry.
Her letter went on to say that she had to go to the emergency room of a hospital that evening where she was diagnosed with the concussion.
For that reason Lütken said that she was not permitted to work for several weeks and announced that she was resigning her position at Interblue Group (Europe), but perhaps only temporarily.
State officials have been reluctant to answer questions pertaining to Interblue. Prime Minister Robert Fico, when last asked by journalists about Interblue during a visit he was paying to the Culture Ministry, responded by saying: “Do not insult the ground of the Culture Ministry.” According to Sme, he told the media that when he holds an inspection day at the Environment Ministry they can ask their questions there.
The Environment Ministry on January 21, the day following the meeting in Zurich, said the following in an official release: “We want to emphasise that fundamental progress has been made in resolving the issue of Slovakia’s emissions quotas.”
The ministry also said that regardless of what kind of documentation Interblue Group provides, the Environment Ministry had prepared steps to effectively protect Slovakia’s interests.
Wienk, however, said that the way the minister has handled the issue implies failure.
“I view the actions of Minister Medveď as an absolute failure in defending the public interest,” Wienk said. “So far the minister has not published any concrete steps. He claims that he is preparing them but it seems to me that he has contributed only either an unprofessional approach or intentional procrastination.”
Regarding the €15 million bonus payment that Slovakia should receive from Interblue Group for spending the original proceeds on so-called green projects, Wienk said that the ministry should have turned to the relevant body within the United Nations a long time ago, which could assess whether or not Slovakia had met the contract’s conditions and could submit an opinion on the whether the funds were legitimately used under the GIS program.
“If the body confirms that we have met the conditions, the ministry should immediately apply its claim towards either the dissolved firm in Washington or the Swiss firm,” said Wienk. “If the US firm has no successor then the ministry should fill a criminal complaint in the United States towards its authorised representatives for suspicion of the crime of damaging a creditor.”
1. Mar 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová