State changes the law to protect its gas utility

But the draft law might be problematic in relation to the constitution.

Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel companySlovenský Plynárenský Priemysel company (Source: TASR)

Economy Minister Peter Žiga (Smer) submitted a non-scheduled law for the November 28 government’s session to protect a sole company: state-run Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) gas utility.

The company currently is facing problems due to the so-called Ducký bills case, after the Supreme Court last week issued a ruling in favour of the Cypriot shell company Stroden Management Limited. SPP might thus lose €30 million.

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The draft law, if passed by the parliament, should only stop the distrainment proceeding against SPP. It does not concern any other state or private company, the Hospodárske Noviny daily reported.

The law might be problematic

The law stipulates that the distrainment immunity will be applied on the property of the gas utility in which state controls 100 percent. Currently, it is only SPP.

In practice, Stroden Management Limited would not be able to start a distrainment proceeding against SPP since the €30-million debt claim will be frozen on the account, Hospodárske Noviny wrote.

The ministry decided for the change because the Supreme Court ruling endangers the gas utility.

Read also: Harabin dismisses verdict in the Ducký notes case Read more 

“We decided to protect it from speculators and parasites,” Žiga said, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny.

However, lawyers are casting doubt on such an above-standard protection of a state company through a special law. If the law is passed, no distrainment proceeding against SPP, which is completely controlled by the state, would be possible.

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“The draft law contains the elements of total distrainment immunity on SPP’s property, which is problematic in terms of the constitution,” Pavol Poláček from the Poláček & Partners law firm told Hospodárske Noviny, adding that there is also the question of compliance with EU legislation.

As he explained, SPP is a natural monopoly and the draft law only strengthens its position in the market.

The Constitutional Court has already dealt with similar distrainment immunity four times. In two cases it concerned health care, once the state and once heat energy. In all cases the court ruled that the distrainment immunity is a problem, Hospodárske Noviny wrote.

What is the whole dispute about?

The case goes back to the late 1990s, when Ján Ducký, general director of SPP, allegedly signed at least 24 controversial promissory notes, some of whose holders later tried to use them to demand billions of Slovak crowns from the state.

Read also: Ducký’s Bills case closed again Read more 

Ducký was murdered in January 1999. The circumstances surrounding his death have never been explained.

However, SPP is still in dispute with the owners of the promissory notes. In several proceedings, the courts have decided in favour of SPP, preventing it from paying about €108 million. The change came on November 22, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Stroden Management Limited.

While SPP says it is ready to use all means possible to protect its interests, Stroden Management Limited claims it does not own any of the Ducký bills. It reportedly owns legal and valid SPP promissory notes issued as a guarantee for the loan taken by Union Banka, as reported by Hospodárske Noviny.

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