THE AMORPHOUS firm associated with one of the most controversial deals sealed under the first government of Robert Fico, in which Slovak taxpayers are believed to have lost tens of millions of euros, is back – and again wants to do business with the state. The Interblue Group, whose registered address at the time of its infamous purchase of Slovakia’s carbon-dioxide emissions quotas was an unattended lock-up garage in the United States, is now insisting that Slovakia should sell it quotas to emit 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide based on a contract which a nominee of the Slovak National Party (SNS) – then in coalition with Prime Minister’ Fico’s Smer party – agreed to at the time the SNS ran the Slovak Environment Ministry. Slovakia said no to the firm in December 2012, with Environment Minister Peter Žiga saying that he does not have any legitimate partner with whom to negotiate.
The original deal, from 2008, involved Slovakia selling quotas to emit 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to Interblue at €5.05 per tonne – just as Slovakia’s neighbours were cashing in their quotas for around twice that price. The deal resulted in the dismissal of at least two ministers, as well as the SNS eventually losing political control of the ministry. The murky US-based firm was meanwhile dissolved and supposedly re-established as Interblue Group Europe, registered in Switzerland.
Slovakia withdrew from the contract, which guaranteed Interblue the pre-emptive right to purchase additional quotas to emit 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, back in 2010 and now plans to sell its quotas to Spain. Interblue Group Europe is objecting to Slovakia’s withdrawal.
“The ministry in the past has withdrawn from the contract with the company Interblue, seated in the United States, which then was dissolved and Interblue Group Europe has not proved that it is its legal successor,” Environment Ministry spokesperson Maroš Stano told The Slovak Spectator.
The ministry is continuing to negotiate with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Spain in order to reach a final agreement over the price and conditions for the sale of Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas, as well as the use of the funds raised by their sale, Stano said.
The fact that Interblue re-emerged is being considered during the negotiation with the Spanish partner, said Žiga, but the minister refused to speculate about what lies behind Interblue’s latest demand, the SITA newswire reported. Žiga also said that he was not worried by the prospect of arbitration, since Slovakia is being represented by prestigious law firms who have provided sufficient legal basis for Slovakia to proceed in the way it has, SITA reported.
According to Žiga, the current market price for one tonne of AAU quotas has fallen significantly in the last five years and now stands at €0.15, so reporters asked him whether it would not be more beneficial for Slovakia to sell its allowances to Interblue for the substantially higher price set in the contract. The minister responded that the company did not in fact exist.
“I do not have a relevant partner who would demonstrate the relevant legal succession of the American firm Interblue,” Žiga said, as quoted by SITA.
Interblue has chosen Havel, Holásek & Partners as its legal representative. It was the law firm that on May 16 delivered to the ministry Interblue Group Europe’s renewed call for it to fulfil its duties flowing from the contract.
In fact, 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 the government spending millions of euros on a scheme to improve the thermal insulation of apartment blocks, no further money has been received to date from Interblue.
In December 2010, then environment minister József Nagy, a nominee of Most-Híd, 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.
When asked about the possibility of getting the €15 million bonus now, Stano said that the ministry had not yet turned to the courts owing to the complicated legal situation arising from the dissolution of the corporate legal entity, but that it is looking into the options.
The Interblue story
Then environment minister Ján Chrbet, a nominee of the SNS, signed the deal with Interblue in November 2008. 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 – purchased from the state for €5.05 per tonne – 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. Chrbet was sacked for signing the deal, while his short-lived successor Viliam Turský was in turn fired for failing to terminate it. Meanwhile, the US-based firm was dissolved and later re-established as Interblue Group Europe, registered in Switzerland.
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 any proof 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.
Nagy filed a criminal complaint against Interblue, without specifying names, on December 21, 2010, but the general prosecutor later rejected it, arguing that the company’s sudden dissolution was not intended to serve a specific purpose.
10. Jun 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová