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Dubious platinum sale stirs the political waters

THE RECENT sale of state-owned platinum mesh is unlikely to join the list of deals both transparent and advantageous for the state, say critics of a transaction in which the State Material Reserves’ Administration (SŠHR) sold 63,000 grammes of platina mesh in an electronic auction for almost €668,000. The market price of the same amount of platinum is estimated to be €2.425 million. The management of the state institution in charge of the country’s material reserves insists that no laws or regulations were violated during the auction.

THE RECENT sale of state-owned platinum mesh is unlikely to join the list of deals both transparent and advantageous for the state, say critics of a transaction in which the State Material Reserves’ Administration (SŠHR) sold 63,000 grammes of platina mesh in an electronic auction for almost €668,000. The market price of the same amount of platinum is estimated to be €2.425 million. The management of the state institution in charge of the country’s material reserves insists that no laws or regulations were violated during the auction.

Prime Minister Iveta Radičová has pledged to look into the case at the next cabinet session. The controversy was first brought to light by the private television network Markíza on October 16.

“Immediately after I learned about the problem from the media, a control from the government office was initiated,” said Radičová during a political talk show on Markíza on October 30. “On Monday, or by Wednesday at the latest, the results of the check should be on my table.”

The platinum filters were bought by the Heneken company, according to TASR. The owner of the company is alleged to be Michal Hudoba, 27, who ran for parliament in 2006 on the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) slate. A representative of Heneken company submitted its winning bid just one second before the auction ended. Markíza reported that the company does not consider the purchase price low.

The SŠHR is led by Eva Hrinková, who was head of the Government Office when Mikuláš Dzurinda was Prime Minister. Dzurinda has denied any involvement by his party though both people involved in the case are close to it, the Sme daily wrote in its October 28 issue.

Heneken company later sent an explanatory statement to the SITA newswire over the deal claiming that the filters were not of the best quality, were oxidised and needed to be chemically cleaned.

Hrinková was appointed to her position by Economy Minister Juraj Miškov of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and can be recalled by any minister. Although SaS chairman Richard Sulík has called the sale "theft" Miškov not taken any action, Sme wrote.

On October 27 Miškov reacted harshly to Dzurinda's claims that the SŠHR came under the remit of the economy ministry, stating that according to the Competencies Act, SŠHR comes under the remit of the government, not the economy ministry, TASR wrote.

Miškov also said that according to the Coalition Agreement, it was SDKÚ that had nominated the director of the SŠHR.

The Supreme Audit Office, the Office for the Fight against Corruption and inspectors from the Government Office are currently looking into the suspicious sale. Most-Híd, a coalition partner of the SDKÚ and SaS, called for an in-depth investigation of the case, suggesting that if it turns out that the chairwoman of the SŠHR erred then she should resign.

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