THE SOAP OPERA that is Interblue Group, and the saga of its purchase of Slovakia’s excess carbon dioxide emissions quotas, continues to run. In the story so far the obscure US-based firm which bought Slovakia’s quotas at a bargain-basement price in 2008 – and at the same time locked Slovakia into a disadvantageous option on future sales – late last year apparently morphed into a Swiss company. During discussions to determine whether the Swiss company really was the legal successor to its US-based predecessor its authorised representative resigned after suffering what she claims was a concussion during an encounter with a Slovak TV crew in January. Interblue’s subsequent silence led Slovakia’s Environment Ministry to announce that it considered the deal with Interblue Group dead. Now, less than a week after that announcement, a new owner has emerged from the murk to insist that the deal is alive and might even progress.
“I have purchased Interblue Group Europe AG as my personal investment and I am its sole owner,” announced Milan Ružička on March 9, adding that the process of registering the changes he announced was currently taking place. “Despite everything that accompanied the transaction I consider this deal a normal one.”
A trio of representatives including the alleged new owner threw a press conference in Bratislava but did not present the media with any evidence to prove that Interblue Group Europe is the legitimate successor of the US-based firm Interblue Group. Despite this, they declared the contract to be still valid.
“On the 20th of February I decided that I consider the contract terminated,” Slovak Environment Minister Jozef Medveď said on March 3, suggesting that no documents confirming a transfer of ownership rights and obligations to Interblue Group Europe, a Switzerland-based company, had been submitted to the ministry up to that date.
František Jakoubek, who described himself at the press conference as Interblue’s project manager, said that the firm is fully aware of its obligations flowing from the contract and is ready to meet them.
The Environment Ministry has so far been unsuccessful in collecting a €15-million bonus payment that it believes it is entitled to from Interblue.
The original contract included a clause stipulating that if Slovakia spent the funds from the original sale of quotas – to emit 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – within the ‘Green Investment Scheme’ (GIS), i.e. for environmental projects, the country would be eligible for a bonus payment of €1 per tonne.
The Interblue trio remained tight-lipped in response to media questions and said very little other than that a meeting was expected to take place between the ministry and the new owners on the same day as their press conference, March 9.
The third member of the trio was introduced as Natalie Goff or Gough (the exact spelling of her name was not confirmed) who should serve as the country’s authorised representative.
Ružička and Jakoubek spoke Czech while Goff/Gough spoke English.
Interblue Group Europe’s previous authorised representative, Jana Lütken, said her resignation was the result of what she claimed was a “serious brain concussion” sustained during an unwanted encounter with the Slovak media on January 20.
The Slovak media has found out very little about the identity of the new owners, and opposition parties have suggested that the firm’s strings are probably being pulled from Slovakia.
According to the Sme daily, the Czech commercial registry features several entries under the names Milan Ružička as well František Jakoubek.
The daily’s website, Sme.sk, posted their photos, as well as that of Goff/Gough, online under the headline “Do you know these people?”
Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the Czech Environment Ministry, Petra Roubíčková, told the Pravda daily that the Czech government’s negotiators on sales of emissions quotas have never heard of Ružička or Jakoubek.
The Czech Republic sold its excess emissions quotas for double the price that Slovakia charged Interblue.
Slovakia’s Environment Ministry spokesperson Jana Kaplanová confirmed on March 9 that a first meeting had been held at the level of legal representatives but that Minister Medveď was not present.
Political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance has called on Prime Minister Robert Fico to take a serious look at the dealings of the Environment Ministry and respond to questions that have remained unanswered about the Interblue contract for many months.
“We as taxpayers are very much concerned by the fact that for many months Environment Minister Medveď has not been able to make an account to the public of the steps he has taken to collect the €15 million which the firm Interblue Group from Washington [State] owes to Slovakia as a bonus for the emissions deal,” reads the letter sent by Fair-Play Alliance director Zuzana Wienk on March 3.
Wienk has previously said that with the passage of time Slovakia’s chances of collecting the money are worsening and that Medveď had not used any of a number of legal options that are available to him.
Fico on March 3 reiterated that Slovakia will not sell a single additional tonne of excess emissions quotas to Interblue Group.
“I assigned a clear task to the minister, and I think that this task has been already met, to make it absolutely impossible for the Interblue company to buy even a single tonne of emissions quotas [from Slovakia],” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “I think we have managed this.”
At the moment, Slovakia can sell quotas to emit 67 million tonnes of carbon dioxide on the emissions allowance market, Medveď said on March 3.
According to SITA, this volume includes 35 million tonnes of emissions allowances which Interblue Group has an option to buy in line with its original purchase contract, while an additional 32 million tonnes come under new quotas.
15. Mar 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová