Tragic soap opera

THE STORY of the amorphous company Interblue making a mint on Slovakia’s carbon dioxide emission allowances would make the perfect soap opera with its seemingly endless and quirky turns, along with a cast of characters suitable for prime time viewing on TV Markíza.

THE STORY of the amorphous company Interblue making a mint on Slovakia’s carbon dioxide emission allowances would make the perfect soap opera with its seemingly endless and quirky turns, along with a cast of characters suitable for prime time viewing on TV Markíza.

The cast includes a self-declared project manager, an arms trader, hotelier and the gasman of Czech origin who allegedly bought the company from a big golfing fan, and a representative from the company shortly after she first emerges suffers a concussion from an encounter with a TV crew and then quits her job. This is not to mention the metamorphosis of the firm itself, which turned from a US company officially registered at a lock-up garage into a Swiss corporation, Interblue Group Europe. No one has so far produced any documents to prove that the Swiss firm is actually the legal successor of the original, US-based Interblue, but that hasn’t stopped the new firm from claiming the Slovak government owes them money.

Perhaps the public could just sit back and enjoy the show if the price of admission in the form of money that could and should be in the state coffers was not €47 million, and if it were not public officials themselves who wrote the initial script for this drama.

Interblue is a ghost that keeps coming back to haunt Prime Minister Robert Fico as well, though he continues to (try to) wash his hands of it, claiming that no Smer representative or person involved with the party has anything to do with it.

The shady contract with the garage firm was 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 Smer. It 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.

In fact, Fico did assist his coalition partner in the early stages of this soap opera in April 2009 when he said, as quoted by the Sme daily: “No other country has made such a deal and gained the resources”. It was Fico who brought SNS to power, just as he invited the party of the controversial three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar to co-rule.

The fact that the Interblue case is still very alive and that one of those figures behind the cobweb of financial transactions can still declare that all this was perfectly legal, really shows what damage this union and their rule did to the country still struggling with corruption, cronyism and transparency issues. Interblue is a political baggage Fico will have to carry along with the SNS, which ironically is no longer led by the man, Ján Slota, who most likely opened the floodgates to any number of other similar deals.

Fico now claims that the opposition is trying to use the case to attack him as a presidential candidate, and well, any opposition party would use such a history to confront the person running to be the head of state, who should also serve as a kind of moral authority.

One might say that Interblue is a sad tale of a certain political style and approach to public finance in Slovakia, and it actually is no accident that it is still flying around, scaring and frustrating all those who have followed it from its very inception, when state officials were still defending it as a “good deal”. Indeed it was a good deal for the people whose name is now being featured in a document the special prosecution received from Swiss investigators and published on February 4.

The sad part of the story is that for most Slovaks the Interblue story is not shocking at all. As many as 90 percent of Slovaks believe corruption is widespread in their country, while 53 percent believe that the level of corruption has increased over the past three years, according to a recently published report by the European Commission.

Last October, the police shelved their investigation into the case, which started in 2009, arguing that the shady emissions sale did not involve any crime. Then on January 9 General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár ordered an inquiry into whether halting the criminal prosecution in the emissions deal was justified. It is possible that the conclusion will again be that the web of transactions flowing through companies parked in tax havens are just as legal as the average Slovak taking out a 30-year mortgage loan. And this is actually where the almost comedic soap opera turns into a tragedy, with no happy end in sight.

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