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Press Report Rekindles Charges on Enterprise Funds

Washington, Feb. 8 (RFE/RL) - The Czech and Slovak American Enterprise Fund was among the first of the special funds created and financed by the U.S. government in the days just after the Berlin wall fell, to provide direct private-style investment money to emerging firms in the newly-privatized economies of Central and Eastern Europe.

But five years after its founding, there are renewed allegations that the fund has made bad investments, wasted some of the money it got from the U.S. government and has had little or no effect in either the Czech Republic or Slovakia.

The latest rehashing of the charges came in a long story published Wednesday by the New York Times. Using documents it obtained from government agencies, the Times charged that bad investments have eaten up one to two-thirds of the fund's 26 million dollar investment portfolio, requiring that reserves to offset losses be increased to 37 percent. The paper also said few loans have been made to small businesses and that local entrepreneurs have not been developed and trained, as required by U.S. law.

It says the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which handles the funneling of American government money into the fund, is considering whether to recommend that it be closed.

The agency would not comment on the New York Times story. Officials of the fund, which is based in Washington, declined immediate comment. One said they are "studying" the allegations.

The fund, which originally received 65 million dollars from the U.S. government to use as seed capital, has fully used or invested all of its funds. It operates using the interest payments and investment dividends it receives on the money previously lent or invested in enterprises in both the Czech and Slovak Republics.

The fund has been the center of controversy for more than a year. The founding chairman, former U.S. Treasury Department official and international investment banker, John Perry, was forced to resign from the post last autumn following charges that he had unfairly promoted a woman who became his lover, and other irregularities.

Two members of the fund's board of directors also resigned in the last six months and a third director was forced off the board by the other directors.

The Czech and Slovak Fund is one of ten created by the U.S. congress since 1989. The U.S. provided capital totaling 1,400 million dollars to invest in more than a dozen countries in transition, including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Albania, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the three Baltic Republics -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The funds were put together with the idea that, at a time when private capital and lenders were reluctant to put much money into the nations then just beginning to emerge from communism, organizations structured like private investment operations, but using American taxpayers money, could move in and give a quick boost to the fledgling private business sector.

The funds have all admitted various levels of problems in getting their operations going, frequently related to the business conditions in countries where entrepreneurs had been illegal for the past half century or more. However, all have said they are providing valuable services to the budding private business sectors in all the nations of the region, although it is still too early to have track records. The newest of the funds, The Albanian American Enterprise Fund, only began its operations one year ago this month.