OF THE TWO “project managers” for Interblue, the US shell company that earned almost €50 million trading 15 million tonnes in Slovak state emissions quotas, Norbert Havalec seems to have been the better businessman.
Havalec (42) has known his partner in the deal, Rastislav Bilas (36), for years. But during the 1990s, while Bilas was studying and riding motorcycles, Havalec was becoming a significant arms trader in Slovakia. He founded his flagship weapons company, Magic Trading Corporation, in 1993, and dealt mostly in small arms and ammunition. In 2001, according to Economy Ministry documents obtained by The Slovak Spectator, he requested a licence to export an unspecified quantity of munitions to Pakistan. According to its own website, however, Magic Trading did 85 percent of its business with the Interior and Defence Ministries.
“He was always a bit of a loner in the arms business,” said a weapons dealer who knows Havalec well. The source said that Havalec had been particularly enthusiastic about the “future soldier” concept, which envisaged the massive procurement of high-tech equipment for the military, such as the contract for new helmets won in 2007 by the Willing company.
“But about two years ago it was as if he got out of the business, and he started boasting that he had something going that was even better,” said the source. At around that time, the Environment Ministry sold Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas for about €5 a tonne, allowing the Interblue firm to flip them to Japanese buyers for over €8 per tonne. Havalec and Bilas each earned half a million euros on the deal.
Havalec did well under the two Mikuláš Dzurinda administrations, but not always without a whiff of scandal. In 2005 his Magic Trading won a Sk50-million deal to supply vehicles to Slovak military missions abroad. But after the Mercedes cars were armour plated, they began to leak oil and were found to be useless. Under the Fico government, the Defence Ministry turned the case over to the police.
But Magic Trading has done well under Fico as well, especially with the Defence Ministry. In 2007 Magic reached a deal with the ministry under which the firm would be given 500 square metres of land under Bratislava Castle, which the ministry valued at a cheap Sk8.8 million, and would also be paid Sk13 million cash in return for some mortars which Magic had supplied. The bargain was called off after the media reported the story.
Magic Trading always knew how to hire the right people. During the Dzurinda era, from 2003-2004, the company board was chaired by Anton Rázga, the former head of inspection with the police force, who went on to perform the same function for the SIS secret service. After he left, Rázga’s spot was taken by Jozef Blizman, the former head of army land forces and the deputy chief of the army general staff. The deputy chief of combat preparation Gašpar Hozman also had a seat on the board.
“The contacts the company had through these army officers to the Defence Ministry guaranteed positive tender results, while its contacts with the police and the SIS ensured that they would always know if some investigation was being prepared,” said a security sector source. “The police and the SIS also have to give an opinion on arms export licence requests, so these contacts were useful there as well.”
Close to Slota
Out of all Slovak politicians, Havalec is probably closest to SNS party boss Ján Slota. The two have known each other since 1996, and last year Slota piloted a Beechcraft B200 aircraft to Croatia that belonged to Havalec’s old company, Financial Public Service. The company is now owned by Havalec’s wife, Katarína Kubaňová.
According to information obtained by The Slovak Spectator, before an army tender for transport aircraft in 2008 Havalec visited a certain Western embassy with a proposal: he would use his contacts with Slota to arrange victory for a particular manufacturer. He was not taken up on his offer and the manufacturer’s bid was later eliminated from the tender.
After the Trend business weekly reported that the material the Fico government debated on the emissions sale had been prepared on Havalec’s computer, the arms trader stepped forward.
In an interview he admitted to having advised former Environment Minister Ján Chrbet on the sale. He claimed he had done this work for free but would not say if Slota had recommended him for the job.
“I prepared an analysis of the emissions market,” he said. “I have nothing to do with the transaction itself.”
According to Bilas, however, Havalec worked as a project manager for Interblue, and earned €500,000 on the deal.
When contacted by The Slovak Spectator for this story, Havalec hung up.
5. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson