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Lajčák gives two versions of the Evka story

The Foreign Ministry gives opposing statements about suspicious procurement related to the Slovak Presidency over the EU Council.

Government of PM Robert Fico (left) endorses Lajčák as its official candidate. (Source: TASR)

When Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák defended his ministry's choice of the Evka event agency to organise a major event under the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council, he also referred to a market survey that his ministry performed to aid them in choosing the best option. The documents from the official audit however, do not show that any such survey took place.

The allegations of misconduct in the organisation of presidency-related events were first raised by former ministry staffer, Zuzana Hlávková, who together with Transparency International Slovensko (TIS) described in a blog post how she started at the ministry in July 2015 as an expert for cultural presentation for the presidency.

But the allegations that the launch of the logo was an overpriced event surfaced shortly after it took place in February 2016. The price was originally reported at €156,000 including VAT, which is the sum that the ministry paid to the Evka agency. Hlávková, however, later alleged that some of the costs of the event were not included in that price and that the final bill could be as much as €300,000.

Read also:Ex-employee points to overpriced presidency-related orders

The ministry at that time claimed that they chose Evka from among three reviewed companies in a market survey. Lajčák repeated this claim after the visit of MPs to the ministry over the allegations in November 2016, the Sme daily noted.

But the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) audit report now shows that might not be true.

"To close the contract for the realisation of the event, the ministry did not call on any companies to submit their offers and no companies submitted their offers," the audit reads, citing a letter from the ministry, as quoted by Sme. In that letter, the ministry claims Evka had been selected based on a direct order. This was legal and possible for the ministry thanks to the exception in public procurement which parliament passed earlier for the purposes of the presidency, providing the amount of the order does not exceed €162,000 including VAT.

Read also:TIS: More people trust whistleblower Hlávková than Foreign Ministry

Despite these discrepancies in the statements of the ministry, the ÚVO audit was closed with the conclusion that no legal violations have been found.

"The ÚVO can repeat and confirm its earlier statement that in this case it strictly followed the law on public procurement," ÚVO spokesperson Ján Mažgút told Sme when asked whether they will investigate the discrepancies and added that the audit is based on the documentation that the ministry provided to the authority.

The ministry only submitted the offer from Evka, even though it had the approval of at least one company to publish its offer too. It is unclear why the ministry did not publish the offers of the other two companies and why it told the ÚVO that no other agency submitted an offer to organise the event.

Transparency International Slovensko head, Gabriel Šípoš, said that the ÚVO decision may become a dangerous precedent for all speculators in the state administration.

"It literally gives instructions on how to make a tender so that the wolf is sated and the ÚVO is satisfied," he said as quoted by Sme.

Procurement at the Foreign Ministry is also expected to be inspected by the Supreme Audit Office and by the National Criminal Agency.

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