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Land speculators tarnish car plant plan

Dubious land deals are creating suspicions of insider trading

(Source: TASR)

IT WAS not long after the Jaguar Land Rover carmaker (JLR) selected Slovakia as its preferred location for its new plant information that information about land speculators buying land in the area to turn a quick profit popped up. Prime Minister Robert Fico's government insist the shenanigans will not delay the investment. 

“We have identified the speculators; we will not pay them any money and will wait for decision of the court [about validity of land transfers],” said Viktor Stromček, state secretary of the Transport Ministry and the government’s proxy for preparation and realisation of strategic investment parks in Slovakia.

Economy Ministry spokeswoman Miriam Žiaková said that lawsuits related to these land plots would not have any influence over construction of the strategic park in Nitra.   

Land deals

The Poľnohospodárska Pôda (Agricultural Land) company engaged has bought land plots near Nitra totalling about 119,000 square metres from about 70 owners for the price about €0.5 per square metre, the Sme daily wrote. Some of the transactions took place before the cabinet declared the industrial park to be built near Nitra as a strategic park on July 8. By labelling this project strategic it secured it faster settlement of land ownership and other administrative proceedings but this also means pre-emption right for purchase of land on which the park will be built.

Read also: Read also:Crooks may land €2 million in land deals for Jaguar Land Rover

The state company MH Invest, which has been purchasing the land for the industrial park on behalf of the state, is offering about €15 per square metre. This means that Poľnohospodárska Pôda might make a profit of about €2 million on the land deals, Sme estimates. 

Suspicions of insider trading

Poľnohospodárska Pôda began to purchase the arable land around Nitra in June, during the time when there were only speculations that JLR is negotiating with Slovakia and only a small circle of people involved in negotiations knew that the British carmaker was inclined to Nitra as a place for its future plant, Sme wrote.

Radoslav Procházka, the head of the non-parliamentary Sieť party, has even pointed at too many similarities between land contracts of Poľnohospodárska Pôda and MH Invest. He voiced his suspicion that the company has used the information from state officers in order to make profit on original owners of the plots.

“Poľnohospodárska Pôda used the same list of land plots and their owners on which MH Invest based its offer,” said Procházka as cited by Sme.

Poľnohospodárska Pôda opposes claims and intends to file a criminal complaint for slander against Procházka.

“Our company maintains that it’s become the target of a political campaign pursued by political crook Radoslav Procházka,” reads the company’s statement, as quoted by TASR . “Although he attempted to formulate his deceitful claims in a careful manner, as a lawyer he must know that he’ll face a petition filed by our company.”

Poľnohospodárska Pôda pointed out that even after one month after it started to purchase land near Nitra, Slovak and foreign media were writing that the JLR investment is heading to Poland and not to Slovakia.  

JLR announced the selection of Slovakia as its preferred location for its brand new plant on August 11. The plant should cover some 200-300 hectares.

Turning to court

Dozens of those harmed by dubious land deals have already turned to lawyers and try to declare the land deals void.

According to Juraj Bizoň, a lawyer representing more than 30 harmed land owners, transfers of land plots to Poľnohospodárska Pôda are invalid and thus they plan to fill complaints with court. According to Bizoň, during the land deals the company abused the inexperience and dupability of the land owners, who are mostly 70 to 80 years old . He also pointed out that the law on obtaining agriculture land that requires it to be offered to local farmers first was not followed during the land transactions.  

“I do not understand why the land cadastre approved the transfers,” said Bizoň.

Jozef Bojda, mayor of Lužianky (one of villages near the proposed factory site), pointed out that even though he has known about the carmaker’s plans approximately since February, he was not able to warn village citizens as he signed a confidentiality agreement with the state, the Denník N wrote.

According to Jaroslav Dobiš, from the law firm of Peter Havlík that represents about 20 harmed land owners, it is worth thinking about whether or not to announce intentions in advance.

“Then people might ponder whether they will wait for realisation [of the project] and sell the land only when they are in urgent need,” Dobiš told Denník N.

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