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Austrian firms report being defrauded

EIGHT Austrian companies reported that they had paid €4.2 million to a man who claimed he was an official of Slovakia’s Economy Ministry and had signed business contracts with the Austrians for construction work in the town of Levice that was reportedly worth €127 million. After the Austrian firms signed the apparently bogus contracts they received a request to pay a fee to the individual for mediating the contracts even though Slovak law does not authorise such fees in connection with state subsidies, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote in describing the case.

Outgoing Economy Minister Juraj Miškov (Source: TASR)

EIGHT Austrian companies reported that they had paid €4.2 million to a man who claimed he was an official of Slovakia’s Economy Ministry and had signed business contracts with the Austrians for construction work in the town of Levice that was reportedly worth €127 million. After the Austrian firms signed the apparently bogus contracts they received a request to pay a fee to the individual for mediating the contracts even though Slovak law does not authorise such fees in connection with state subsidies, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote in describing the case.

“[The alleged fraudster] has damaged Slovakia’s good name in the eyes of foreign investors,” said Slovak Economy Minister Juraj Miškov at a press conference on March 26, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The minister said the individual who purported to work for the ministry had solicited €4.2 million from the eight companies, which together employ about 450 people, on the basis of phony contracts for thermal insulation of buildings in Levice. The minister noted that the documents requesting the fees looked like they were from the Economy Ministry but lacked the official state seal.

Miškov added that Slovak laws do not require companies requesting state subsidies to pay any kind of administrative fee and that official documents confirming a contract between a private company and the state are issued by an agency operating on behalf of the ministry but not the ministry itself, the Sme daily reported.

The mayor of Levice, Štefan Mišík, said the information about a thermal insulation project in Levice was nonsense, adding that the biggest current project in the town is worth only €6 million.

“I would build a new Levice for €127 million,” the mayor stated, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny.

Mišík added that no negotiations have been held in the town about new construction projects for some time and that there are no Austrian-owned businesses operating in the town, only Italian and German firms.

The outgoing economy minister called on representatives of domestic and foreign firms to be vigilant of people who try to mediate business contracts and advised firms to notify authorities of any suspicions of fraud.

“We are striving to assure all investors that the entrepreneurial environment [in Slovakia] is stable and attractive and that we will take decisive action if any fraud emerges,” Miškov stated, as quoted by TASR, adding that his ministry will work together with the Austrian Embassy in Slovakia to recover the money that was given to the alleged fraudster.

Slovak police have received two criminal complaints at this point in time. One was filed by Miškov on March 23 after he was informed of the apparent fraud and the second was filed by two employees of the Economy Ministry whose names were reportedly used to solicit the payments.

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