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A ROUND–UP OF THE TOP STORIES OF 2011

Troubled deals

For opposition leader Robert Fico of the Smer party, a contract signed in August 2011 to lease space for tax offices in Košice was sufficient reason to initiate a motion of no-confidence in Radičová, which the prime minister survived. Radičová tossed the matter back to Smer, arguing that if it was indeed a scandal involving party cronyism, it was one that began under the previous Fico government.

For opposition leader Robert Fico of the Smer party, a contract signed in August 2011 to lease space for tax offices in Košice was sufficient reason to initiate a motion of no-confidence in Radičová, which the prime minister survived. Radičová tossed the matter back to Smer, arguing that if it was indeed a scandal involving party cronyism, it was one that began under the previous Fico government.

Radičová stated that the problems renting premises for the tax office in Košice began in 2007, when Fico’s government decided to sign a lease contract with the company VSH at a cost of €3.5 million, higher than the price later agreed with Nitra Invest, a firm owned by Ondrej Ščurka, a district official of Radičová’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).

Slovakia’s Tax Directorate signed an expanded €6.3-million rental agreement on August 22 with Nitra Invest, even though the tender process – itself a re-run of a previous deal which cost the then-head of the Tax Directorate his job – had been criticised as unfair by Transparency International Slovensko (TIS) and Fair-Play Alliance, two watchdog NGOs asked by the government to analyse it.

Later in the year, an online auction of state-owned platinum mesh was also added to the list of murky government deals. The State Material Reserves Administration (SŠHR) sold mesh containing 63,000 grams of platinum for €668,000 in the auction in July. But TV Markíza, which broke the story, reported that the market price for that amount of platinum was around €2.425 million. The head of the SŠHR, Eva Hrinková, who was apparently nominated by the SDKÚ, resigned on November 2 and the government ordered the temporary suspension of further electronic auctions by the SŠHR.

More than a year after facing criticism in the media over his cut-price acquisition – from a city council then controlled by his party colleagues – and continued ownership of a large flat in a desirable location in the centre of the capital, Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader Ján Figeľ donated it to charity in late October. Figeľ gave the apartment to the civic association Bol raz jeden človek (Once upon a time, there was a human), the SITA newswire reported.

In late October, Slovakia’s Office for the Fight against Corruption pressed charges against a person identified only as P. H., for manipulating an analysis of the viability of using PPP projects for construction of the D1 motorway between Martin and Prešov. The analysis was allegedly falsified, in order to cast the PPP option in a better light, in March 2010, when the ministry was headed by Smer nominee Ľubomír Vážny, SITA reported.

The Labour Ministry revealed that police had found corrupt practices at the ministry in its distribution of European Union funds. Officers from the specialised anti-corruption unit of the police detained three persons in early September, among them a former advisor to Lucia Nicholsonová, state secretary at the Labour Ministry.

The three individuals were accused of soliciting 30 percent kickbacks from grants awarded by the Social Implementation Agency (SIA), a budgetary organisation of the Labour Ministry that draws upon EU funds. Overall, grants for more than €1 million are under investigation and the suspects may have received kickbacks of as much as €300,000. The ministry announced that Nicholsonová had notified the police in November 2010 of her suspicions about questionable practices within the SIA and that she had fired Tomáš Richtarčík as her advisor two months earlier.

Financial irregularities within so-called social companies, projects initiated by Smer's former labour minister Viera Tomanová, came under the magnifying glass of EC auditors in late 2009, after signs of fraud and violation of procurement rules emerged. Social companies are defined as non-profit organisations which receive 95 percent of their funding from the state and provide job opportunities for socially-disadvantaged citizens. Any profit they generate must be channelled back to the state. In September 2011 the Labour Ministry reported that it and the police were investigating three additional cases of possible corruption within the SIA and social companies and added that criminal prosecutions had been initiated for improper use of EU funds.

Nevertheless, the corruption scandal which attracted most international attention was a fraud involving the 17th Winter Deaflympics, which should have been held in Slovakia in February this year.


Another top stories of 2011:
The government collapses and early elections are announced
Judiciary undergoes changes
Battle over prosecutor drags on
Minister sacked over wiretapping scandal
Corruption still in focus

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