A SURPRISING moment came during the election night when Pavol Paška of Smer announced his resignation from the post of speaker of parliament. Paška’s departure came on the heels of a widely criticised tender for purchasing an overpriced CT scanner in Piešťany Hospital of Alexander Winter, resulting in two protests against him in Bratislava and Košice, the TASR newswire reported.
“I do care about this city and I do care about Slovakia and I have enough,” Paška told the press. “That’s why my wife is here. Nobody will disrupt my family. That’s why I am announcing... that I will resign from the post of Speaker of Parliament because I want [to see] Slovakia running as a normal country and that several anarchists won’t do politics in the streets.”
The opposition earlier this week declared the mayoral election in Košice to be a referendum on Paška, as it views Richard Raši as a mere stooge in Paška's hands. Raši defended his mayoral post in a contest with the right wing candidate Rudolf Bauer, however.
"I'm happy that people in Košice have shown in the referendum, which we've won, what they think about people who give their native city everything they can," said Paška, who is a native and a permanent resident of Košice, TASR reported.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Bratislava to demand Paška’s resignation on November 14 in a protest organised by independent MP Alojz Hlina. The first similar protest was organised by the MP in Košice before Paška’s house where around 300 people gathered on November 11, according to TASR.
The decision of Paška to step down from the post of parliamentary chairman is a statesmanly gesture that is only rarely to be seen in Slovakia, Prime Minister and Smer chairman Robert Fico said as quoted bz TASR. According to Fico, Paška, who is leaving parliament altogether, has become the target of unfair attacks, said Fico.
"It went so far that protests were organised and Slovak politics was becoming 'balkanised',” said Fico adding he understands what Paška has done. "He, as father, husband and grandfather, has to protect his family.”
Fico said Paška is his friend and so he perceives his decision to quit sensitively adding that he counts on his experience on Smer's behalf. Yet, Fico did not reveal the name of Paška’s successor.
The opposition tried to oust Paška from power on November 10 due to his alleged involvement in the medical companies, especially the Medical Group, which won the competition over purchasing a new overpriced CT scanner by the Piešťany hospital. Ultimately. however, Paška did not face a no-confidence vote after Smer MPs did not support the programme of the special session initiated by the opposition.
The opposition also claimed that Paška did not publish his incomes from the sales of shares in private companies, as well as his arrogant approach to the opposition, as reported by TASR.
Since the very beginning, Paška has denied any connection with the case of the CT scanner, while also rejecting the claims about him having some activities in tax havens.
The CT scandal
The Piešťany hospital had announced a tender to purchase a CT Somatom Definition AS produced by Siemens in 2012 for roughly €1 million with VAT; however, after officials from the ruling Smer party took control over the hospital, the management cancelled the deal and announced a new tender for a more expensive device, TV Markíza reported on October 30.
The winning bid by Medical Group SK at almost €1.6 million for a Philips Ingenuity Core 128 CT scanner was €600,000 higher than the CT device from the cancelled tender, Sme reported. At the time of the deal, Zmajkovičová headed the hospital’s supervisory board.
The leadership of the hospital announced on November 6 that they are seeking ways to cancel the contract with Medical Group SK, yet director of the hospital Mária Domčeková in an interview with Sme on November 12, insisted that the purchase came after a legitimate tender.
In an unexpected turn, the authorised representative of Medical Group SK, Juraj Koval, sacked its director Erika Bilá for what he called damaging the company’s reputation. The supervisory board of the company allegedly had not known about the €1.6 million deal, sealed in the summer. A few days earlier, the company had said it was prepared to file lawsuits over the claims that the CT scanner was overpriced.
Medical Group SK was co-founded by Paška before he entered politics. The speaker of parliament claims that he ended his activities with Medical Group SK as a minority shareholder 13 years ago.
When asked about Paška’s fate in association with the CT scandal, Fico responded on November 4 that the speaker of parliament should use all available legal means to sue independent MP Daniel Lipšic, calling the claims of opposition “nonsense”.
Meanwhile, Paška admitted knowing the former boss of Medical Group SK, Bilá, originally a physician from Snina. Yet, according to daily Sme, Bilá manages additional firms where Paška appeared as co-owner.
The sole shareholder of Medical Group SK since 2012 is the Prague-based Medical Group Europe with lawyer Koval serving as CEO. Bilá was a member of the board of directors, Sme reported.
Koval also owns the company RK2 from Banská Bystrica, which according to the trade registry owns Medical Group Europe. RK2 was owned in the past by shell firms in Belize and Cyprus.
“I have never met Mr Paška and I do not know him,” Koval said, while Paška too claims not to have anything in common with Koval.
According to the Czech trade registry, Medical Group Europe shelters five firms, all based in Košice: Medical Group SK, Pharmacy of L. Pasteur, Pharmacy House of Health, Pharmamedia and Suisse Pharmamacia. Paška was a part of all these firms in the past, according to Sme.
Paška keeps claiming that he has ended these activities and that when he was involved in these firms he had no idea he would become an MP. However, he became a deputy in 2002 while also appearing as a co-owner in several of these firms until the year 2008, Sme reported. Shortly after his departure, Bilá became the authorised representative for all of them.
Lipšic claimed that the owner of Medical Group SK and a company called Penta Enterprises Ltd. have registered addresses at the same cottage in Belize, according to TASR.
Penta denied having any ties with Penta Enterprises Ltd. It announced the intention to take legal action against Lipšic, TASR wrote.
Paška, after suing Lipšic, explained that he is defending himself against claims that he organised and influenced the purchase of the CT device at the hospital and that he owns the firm Medical Group while having illicit gains from this business while covering it up with a shell firm based in Belize or even Penta, TASR reported.
Paška insisted that no device has been supplied yet and the hospital has not spent a single euro, adding that “I claim on my honour that I have never owned any shell company in Belize, nor in any other tax haven”, TASR cited.