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Czech Republic: Businessman Seeks Millions For Slovak Losses

Bratislava, 7 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Slovak government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar appears to have won its long and bitter battle with a Czech businessman for control of a key Slovak chemical plant.

But the businessman, Josef Husek, who heads the Prague-based Inekon company, says he wants to be reimbursed to the tune of millions of dollars in damages to cover his losses as a result of the three-year struggle for control of the Novaky plant. He told RFE/RL in Bratislava yesterday that he is still calculating the exact sum of the damages which he intends to demand from the Slovak authorities.

The story of Husek's attempt to buy a controlling share of Novaky is one rich in intrigue, centering on the sensational theft of just those shares which Husek needed to control the plant.

The tale began in 1994, when Inekon agreed to pay about $40 million (1,200 million Slovak crowns) for a 51 percent stake in the Novaky plant, which is considered a "strategic" enterprise by the Slovaks. When it took office later that same year, the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar annulled the purchase contract, not wanting the plant to fall into "foreign" hands.

A tough-minded businessman like Husek was not planning to give up, however, and he took the matter to the Slovak courts, which in proceedings lasting several years affirmed Inekon's right to the shares. Husek had made a down payment, but the shares were never transferred to his company.

Last month the Slovak National Property Fund (FNM) agreed to transfer the 51 percent stake, amounting to over 800,000 shares, to Inekon. However shortly after that announcement, shares amounting to a 10 percent stake, were stolen from Bratislava's Center for Securities.

Husek alleges that some or all of those illegally-obtained shares were later sold. That was the last straw for him. He said again this week that Inekon is pulling out of Slovakia and will no longer do business there. "I am ready to abandon (my stake)," Husek said in an interview.

Critics would say this is precisely what Slovakia's government had hoped Husek would do. For their part, Slovakia's FNM officials maintain that Inekon had failed to live up to its promises in the purchase contract and therefore can not have shares in the plant.

Husek rejects such assertions as unfounded and untrue. Over the last several years Inekon invested about $4 million (Sk 120 million) in the chemical plant stemming primarily from the plant's profits.

Inekon's purchase of the plant would have made it the largest Czech investor in Slovakia, and the third largest foreign investor in the country.

Husek said the shares of the plant which he still nominally controls will be formally given over to the FNM under an agreement. Some of those shares reportedly will end up in the hands of Novaky chemical plant employees.