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Slovakia: Czech Company Kept Waiting For Shares In Chemical Plant

Bratislava, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - A Czech company is still waiting for Slovak officials to hand over shares in a Slovak chemical plant which it bought more than two years ago.

Josef Husek, managing director of the Prague-based chemical and export company Inekon, says he has no idea when the Slovak side will send the share documentation for the Novaky chemical plant. Almost two and a half years have now passed since Inekon agreed to buy a majority 51 percent stake in the chemical factory in 1994.

Husek told an RFE/RL correspondent with a shrug that the Slovak National Property Fund just "didn't give them to us." The property fund, or FNM, is the organization for the administration of state property which is to be privatised.

Inekon agreed to pay 1,200 million Slovak crowns (about $40 million) for a 51 percent stake in the Novaky chemical plant. Husek signed the contract on November 3, 1994 -- the same day that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's supporters, in an all-night parliamentary session, killed off a number of privatization projects.

One of those projects they targeted was Inekon's Novaky purchase. Since then the sale has never been fully finalised, although Slovakia's highest court last year ruled in favour of Inekon.

Despite the court ruling, FNM officials have not turned over shares of the Novaky company to Husek. Our correspondent reports that Slovak officials have been attempting to have the contract annulled.

In the past, FNM officials have hinted that they do not want a strategic company like the Novaky company in the hands of a "foreign" company.

In interviews last year Slovak FNM vice-chairman Jan Provaznik said that although Husek was a good business partner, the Slovak plant should be controlled by local Slovak investors. Provaznik also said that the contract was not signed under the proper conditions.

FNM spokesman Oto Balogh said on Monday that he had no information on the matter and did not know when shares would be transferred to Inekon.

The 60-year-old chemical factory in western Slovakia has 2,500 employees.

Another foreign company, Belgium's Tractebel Engineering International, is concerned at the slow pace of a major hotel rebuilding project in the heart of Bratislava. Tractebel is undertaking a $50 millon rebuilding of the city's historic Carlton Hotel, near the national theatre in Hviezdoslav Square.

Corporate development director Guy Votron has expressed dismay at the slow progress in getting permits and bank loans, which is preventing the start of the work. "The building will generate some revenues -- when built," he said, but for now "we have no revenues."

He said that reconstruction of the hotel should now begin in the second half of this year, possibly in September, with re-opening set for late 1999.

Votron said that apart from the hotel there are also plans for a 3-storey underground parking garage for 431 cars, and a shopping and office complex.

The Belgians are currently involved in negotiations with a consortium of banks for $30 million in financing. Talks are also continuing with potential investors and a hotel chain to manage the refurbished hotel.

Under the purchase agreement signed with FNM officials, the hotel's new owners must keep its historic facade in place. Nor are the new owners allowed to gut the interior of the 70-year-old hotel. "It's cheaper to build a new building from scratch," Votron said. But he said he understands why it's important to retain the "mood" or "ambiance" of the old hotel.

Once completed the Carlton will have 157 rooms plus office space of more than 11,000 square meters and a shopping mall.