THE SLOVAK police should already have an idea about who benefited from the shifty 2008 carbon dioxide emissions deal brokered by the garage-based company, Interblue Group. But the government insists that such information must remains secret, for now.
The deal, one of the most controversial sealed during the first government of Prime Minister Robert Fico, saw Slovak taxpayers miss out on what is believed to be tens of millions of euros. The Slovak police have confirmed for the Sme daily to have received from Swiss investigators copies of bank statements and money transfer orders from accounts of Interblue Group, originally registered to an unattended lock-up garage in the United States, but later dissolved and re-established as Interblue Group Europe, registered in Switzerland.
“We have issued in this case, just as in other similar cases, dozens of legal requests abroad, and we will publish the information, whenever it will be possible to publish,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the SITA newswire after the cabinet’s session on January 15. “However, at the moment there is no such possibility.”
The Swiss prosecution confirmed for Sme that it had not investigated the Interblue case in the last two years. In early January 2014, Sme inquired with the Slovak police about the existence of documents that might hint at where the €47 million Interblue made on the deal may have ended up.
Police refused to comment on the investigation, as reported by Sme. Then, presidential candidate Andrej Kiska and one-time defence minister Ľubomír Galko of the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) inquired about the documents.
“If we had some information, we would release it; I have no problem with that,” Fico told Slovak Radio on January 11.
Kiska on January 13 told SITA that he is inquiring about the documents to see if they unambiguously confirm or deny the eventual involvement of politicians linked to the ruling Smer party or their allies.
“I think not,” Kaliňák responded, as quoted by Sme to the question of whether the money could have made its way to politicians.
Last October, police shelved their investigation into the case, arguing that the act was not a crime. The Environment Ministry appealed the decision to wind down the investigation, but the Special Prosecutor’s Office dismissed it at the end of 2013.
Nevertheless, on January 8, the news-only channel TA3 reported that General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár intends to review the investigation of the emissions case. Čižnár has not set any deadline for the inquiry into whether halting the criminal prosecution in the emissions deal was justified.
“Considering the volume of materials [the case involves], it is not possible at the moment to define the time necessary for the investigation of the criminal case,” Andrea Predajňová, spokeswoman for the prosecution, told SITA, while suggesting that the inquiry should not take long.
The police did not look into the moral or ethical aspects of the sale of the emissions, according to Police President Tibor Gašpar.
“Our approach is strictly criminal-procedural. We are not here to assess the moral or ethical aspects of the deed, but whether by these acts any crime has been committed,” he told SITA on January 3.
“As far as we look at it in terms of math, the number 5.5 [Slovakia cashed in €5.05 per tonne of AAU] is smaller than the number eight [some countries cashed in €8] from the point of view of price, then it is taken out of context,” Gašpar told SITA. “It is maybe like with the sale of real estate where you can hit a good or bad period.”
Kaliňák also suggested that not everything that is unethical is also a crime.
“This is why there are political and criminal cases,” Kaliňák said. “I am not intervening in the investigation.”
The dirty deal
The shady contract masterminded by the Environment Ministry in 2008, when it was run by a nominee of the Slovak National Party (SNS), then in a ruling coalition with Fico’s Smer party, saw 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 nearly 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 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. Slovakia has already sold a portion of the quotas to Spain. Interblue Group Europe is objecting to Slovakia’s withdrawal.
In 2010, former environment minister József Nagy filed a criminal complaint against Interblue for its failure to pay Slovakia €15 million as a clause in the sale contract, which stipulated that if Slovakia spent the proceeds from the original sale of the 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, Interblue has paid no more money to date. After six months, the special prosecutors turned down the complaint, arguing that the state originally had signed a maximally disadvantageous contract and thus the prosecution did not see any criminal intentions on the part of Interblue.
In late 2012, Interblue re-emerged, insisting that Slovakia should sell it quotas to emit 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide based on the original contract. 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 and that the ministry has withdrawn from the contract as Interblue Group Europe has not proved that it is the legal successor of Interblue Group.
20. Jan 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová