AN OIL expert from Texas reportedly gave advice to the Slovak Economy Ministry and former minister Ľubomír Jahnátek while the country sought in 2006 to repurchase 49 percent of the shares of Transpetrol that were owned by an arm of the Yukos company, according to diplomatic dispatches published by Wikileaks.
“Advisor Steve Hellman was present throughout the negotiations and provided critical technical and strategic information to the GOS negotiating team,” wrote the US Embassy in Bratislava, in a dispatch that was first published by McClatchy Newspapers.
According to the cable, Hellman estimated the price of the shares at $120 million. The embassy noted in the cable to the US State Department that Jahnátek was careful not to disclose how high he could go with Slovakia’s offer but that sources at the Finance Ministry had revealed that Jahnátek had authority to spend up to $120 million.
In reaction to the published cable, Jahnátek denied any cooperation with the US in buying the Transpetrol shares from Yukos and described the dispatches as “absolute nonsense”, the Sme daily reported.
“It looks as if the US Ambassador was building a good position at his own foreign ministry,” Jahnátek said about the cables, as quoted by Sme.
He did state that during a visit to the US he met an Under Secretary of the State Department who offered assistance with the Yukos negotiations but insisted that he had refused the help. He also said that he knew Hellman because he had arranged a meeting several times and wanted to be present at the negotiations but Jahnátek said he also refused that offer, Sme wrote. Jahnátek also told Sme that he was monitored by US secret agents to find out whether he wanted Slovakia to own the shares or wanted to sell them to the Russians.
Jahnátek also told Sme that pressure came from the Russian side as well during the negotiations to buy the Transpetrol shares.
“Jahnátek is clearly appreciative of the input provided by Hellman and will continue to look to him and the US Embassy for information as he faces the challenges to the deal in the coming weeks,” the dispatch, as released by WikiLeaks, states.
The US Embassy in Bratislava chose not to comment on the dispatches published by WikiLeaks. The embassy’s press attaché, Chase Beamer, told the Pravda daily that it is no secret that the US paid attention to energy security issues and also provided consultancy to its allies, but added that his response was not directly linked with the information released by WikiLeaks.
The Russian government charged Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the principal in Yukos Oil, with fraud in 2003 and began liquidating the company, with the state-owned Gazprom acquiring many of Yukos’ assets, causing concern in the US that Russia might have complete control over all gas supplies to Europe, SITA wrote, adding that the United States was interested in preventing this.
The Sme daily explained that if Russia acquired the shares of Transpetrol it could have stopped the planned connection to bring oil from the Caspian area and that if Russia had control over the pipeline in Slovakia it would be very unlikely to let competing oil flow through it. Sme added that the Slovak part of the Druzhba pipeline has a strategic significance for the flow of oil from east to west, whether it is Russian oil or Caspian oil, as the Slovak part of the pipeline will be linked to a planned pipeline running to Schwechat in Austria.
23. May 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani