DOCUMENTS related to the state’s purchase of the remaining shares of the country’s major gas utility were drafted by the very financial group which is selling the stake, claims opposition MP Daniel Lipšic, raising questions about the government’s claim that the deal was motivated to rein in household gas prices. To support his claim that the documentation for the purchase of the 49-percent stake in Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) from the Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH) was masterminded by the company J&T Investment Advisors, which now under a different name is part of EPH, Lipšic pointed to the electronic document’s file properties, which indicate it passed through computers labelled as part of J&T Investment Advisors, the TASR newswire reported.
The Economy Ministry on September 11 denied the claim and said that the ministry only used information from EPH to incorporate it into the governmental material, which was prepared in cooperation with an advisor. EPH called the situation a misunderstanding.
One day later, Economy Minister Tomáš Malatinský appeared in parliament and said that the name of J&T Investment Advisors made it onto the file properties when one of the draft versions on the reorganisation of the SPP was sent to the gas utility to view it.
Nevertheless, the opposition now demands that the purchase, which the cabinet approved on September 4, be halted and it has collected enough deputy signatures to have a special session in parliament and entertain a no-confidence motion in Malatinský and eventually the government. The vote is likely to be little more than symbolic as the ruling Smer party, which nominated Malatinský to the post, has a controlling majority in parliament.
“We thus call on [Prime Minister] Robert Fico to immediately halt this transaction since it is provable that the documentation was prepared by the financial group J&T,” said Lipšic, a member of the Nova – New Majority, non-parliamentary party, as quoted by the TASR newswire. Lipšic also called on the prime minister to sack Malatinský.
A former interior minister, Lipšic, said that he is considering filing criminal complaints over what he sees as “serious crimes of an economic nature” as well as summoning the parliamentary economy and defence-security committee since “this case also has a significant security aspect”.
According to Lipšic, if Slovakia is ruled by oligarchs and not by the government, it is something the security committee should discuss.
“I do not consider important that in the material, which we are submitting, there could be documentation provided by the company EPH,” Malatinský said on September 11, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “I think we have our conscience completely clean.”
According to Malatinský, the employees of the ministry only used some documents provided by EPH to paste into the governmental document. The minister explained that the basic documents were provided by Miroslav Haško, who previously worked as an expert for mergers and acquisitions for EPH before becoming an advisor to the SPP board of directors , SITA reported.
Yet, one day later Malatinský admitted that the information provided by Lipšic had surprised him and on September 11 he offered only hypotheses about the origin of the J&T Investment Advisors signature in the meta data.
Malatinský explained that in the SPP the material was controlled by Haško and that it was during the final check on his old notebook when the original data from the Economy Ministry was overwritten by J&T Investment Advisors signature, which is now called EP Investment Advisors, SITA reported on September 12.
On September 11, EPH and J&T denied Lipšic’s claims, contending that Haško was working on “brief information related to the problem” and used his old computer software, which is still registered under his previous employer, Investment Advisors, “and this is how his trace made it onto the document”.
“Neither him nor anyone else from the EPH, and nobody from J&T Investment Advisors, is the author of the government material,” EPH officials told SITA.
While Malatinský claims that the “case is far too blown out of proportion”, the opposition parties insist that it is not only the economy minister who should bear responsibility, but even the prime minister. Ján Hudacký of the Christian Democratic Movement and head of parliament’s economic committee, claims that one day before the government was to vote on the purchase of the stake, Malatinský was still saying that the audit on the advantages of the transaction was not finished. Hudacký has questioned why the state would purchase a firm making a loss on supplying gas to households, the Sme daily reported.
The Slovak government green-lighted the takeover of the 49-percent stake and managerial control in SPP from EPH on September 4, with Fico describing the move as the “state gaining total control over gas prices for Slovak households and small and medium-sized enterprises”. He was quick to promise that there would be no increase in gas prices for households next year.
In exchange for the 49-percent stake, the government will take on half of the company’s debt, €59 million, from EPH. The SPP generated the losses because of gas price regulation for households, Fico said, as reported by SITA.
The government wants to gradually settle the utility’s debt through assets obtained through the deal with EPH, such as the so-called natural gas reserve, worth €170 million, or the opportunity to negotiate better purchase prices with Gazprom for natural gas deliveries. Malatinský said he expects SPP to be back in black numbers in three to four years.
EPH, controlled by Czech entrepreneurs Daniel Křetínský and Petr Kellner and J&T, bought the 49-percent stake in SPP, with managerial control, for €2.6 billion from its foreign shareholders E.ON Ruhrgas and GDF Suez earlier this year. The remaining 51 percent is managed by the National Property Fund (FNM). EPH will continue to control 49-percent stock in profitable SPP’s subsidiaries SPP-distribúcia, managing the gas distribution network in the country, and Eustream, the natural gas transporter and operator of the transmission system in Slovakia.
12. Sep 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová