THE AMORPHOUS Interblue Group, and its infamous purchase of Slovakia’s carbon-dioxide emissions quotas, continues to haunt the country. Though the state is believed to have lost tens of millions of euros in a deal struck in 2008 between the Environment Ministry, then controlled by the Slovak National Party (SNS), and Interblue Group, those responsible for the affair – which the current management of the ministry has described as a crime – are yet to face prosecution. The Special Prosecutor’s Office has rejected a criminal complaint lodged by the Environment Ministry under Minister József Nagy, a nominee of Most-Híd, against unnamed representatives of Interblue Group on suspicion of fraud, the ministry’s spokeswoman Beatrice Hudáková confirmed in a memo.
The prosecutor’s office argued that Slovakia had signed a highly disadvantageous contract but that this did not mean that the intention of Interblue Group was to defraud Slovakia, Hudáková reported.
In a highly disadvantageous deal in late 2008, the Environment Ministry sold Slovakia’s quotas to emit 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to US-based Interblue Group at a price of €5.05 per tonne. It was later revealed that Interblue Group had been established just before the contract was signed and that its registered address was an unattended lock-up garage in the State of Washington. The identities of the company’s owners and beneficiaries have never been confirmed. What is known is that immediately after the sale, Interblue sold on the quotas for €8 or more per tonne, netting an instant profit of at least €45 million. Critics of the deal said that at the time of the sale other countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and even Ukraine had obtained much higher prices for their national quotas.
A clause in the sale contract stipulated that if Slovakia spent the proceeds from the original sale of quotas within the ‘Green Investment Scheme’ (GIS) for environmental projects, the country would be eligible for a bonus payment of €1 per tonne, or €15 million in total, from Interblue. However, despite spending millions of euros on a scheme to improve the thermal insulation of apartment blocks, no further money has been received to date.
Meanwhile, the US-based firm was dissolved and re-established as Interblue Group Europe, registered in Switzerland.
According to Hudáková, the prosecutor found that Interblue had not used the “unacceptable nature of thermal insulation [as a GIS]” simply to avoid paying the bonus; nor, the prosecutor decided, was the company’s sudden dissolution intended to serve a specific purpose, she added.
Last December, Nagy said that Slovakia would not try to force Interblue Group to pay the €15-million bonus.
“We will not act from the viewpoint of commercial law since we don’t see any chance of getting the money paid,” Nagy said on December 15, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
However, Nagy did file a criminal complaint against Interblue, without specifying names, on December 21, 2010. It is this complaint which the prosecutor has now rejected.
“The ministry is of the opinion that Interblue representatives committed a crime,” Nagy said, according to a statement provided by Hudáková to The Slovak Spectator. “Probably, it is not possible to prove it [the crime] based on the concluded contract in the way the prosecution states, but based on the ill-willed conduct of the representatives of Interblue Group.”
The Environment Ministry will consult with criminal law experts on its next steps so that a court can decide on guilt or innocence, Nagy added.
Former environment minister Ján Chrbet was sacked for signing the deal, while his short-lived successor Viliam Turský was recalled for his failure to terminate it.
In 2010, Czech hotelier Milan Ružička emerged to claim that he was the new owner of Interblue, which he said he had bought from another Czech businessman, Marek Pleyer, as a private investment. However, Ružička has not been able to provide documentation proving that Interblue Group Europe is the legal successor of the US-based firm.
Jozef Medveď, the Smer party nominee who replaced Turský as environment minister, had declared the original contract void, but Ružička insisted that it was still valid and even suggested he had €15 million with which to pay the green-scheme bonus to Slovakia under the terms of the original contract.
However, the contract also included an option for Interblue to buy further Slovak quotas, to emit 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, at the original price of €5.05 per tonne.
Lucia Žitňanská, who is now justice minister, in August 2009 filed a criminal complaint related to the Interblue deal case, against an unnamed offender. In September 2009, she and other Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) deputies handed over to the general prosecutor an appeal to cancel a contract to sell a further 50 million tonnes of emission quotas.
30. May 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová