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Slovakia: Opposition Says Privatization Case Was Theft

Bratislava, 12 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Slovak Opposition, angered by the opaque way in which a state oil company was privatized, says the sale represents a "theft." It is vowing to do all possible to invalidate the sale contract after the 1998 elections.

The company in question is Nafta Gbely, a highly profitable Slovak enterprise sold by the Slovak National Property Fund last year to Druha Obchodna a.s. -- a concern about which little is known, except that it was established shortly before it bought into Nafta Gbely.

Druha Obchodna officials succeeded last August in acquiring 45.9 percent of Nafta Gbely shares by paying only $16.6 million (500 million Slovak crowns), which an RFE/RL correspondent in Bratislava reports is well below the realistic market price.

Nafta Gbely is an oil exploration company which is also involved in the storage of natural gas for foreign and domestic clients. Last year the company had pre-tax profits of $28.8 million on sales of about $100 million.

Christian Democrat KDH party leader Jan Carnogursky says up to now the true owners of Druha Obchodna, and as a result -- of Nafta Gbely -- remain unknown.

Carnogursky visited the headquarters of the oil exploration company early this month, intent on asking questions, but he was not allowed to enter Nafta Gbely's facilities or meet with the director.

The party leader, who is supported by other opposition figures, said that significantly cheap sale of the 45.9 percent stake was a "theft." He said it had resulted in bigger losses to the state -- he put the figure at almost $90 million -- than those incurred by July's floods. The flood losses are estimated to be more than $60 million.

Our correspondent reports that the Slovak National Property Fund officials last year agreed to sell the stake to Druha Obchodna despite the fact that there were foreign companies interested in the stake and willing to pay more.

During a roundtable meeting with Premier Vladimir Meciar in July, Carnogursky asked Meciar who were owners of Nafta's privatized portion. The premier replied he did not know.

Carnogursky, Slovakia's former prime minister, and other opposition party leaders such as those from the Social Democratic Party are highly critical of what they see as the government's abnormally secretive privatization policies. The opposition says it wants to make the Nafta Gbely case an election issue, and to seek reversal of the sale.

In comments to RFE/RL this week, a KDH official accused Meciar of distributing property to people who are loyal to him, and of being unwilling to disclose ownership details.

The Nafta Gbely affair is attracting attention at the same time as another controversial action by the Slovak government. Last month the Slovak authorities put a halt to the handover of shares of the big Novaky chemical plant to the Czech firm Inekon, which acquired a 51 percent stake in 1994. This spelled an end to what would have been the largest Czech investment in Slovakia, on the grounds that Slovakia does not want to lose control of a strategic concern to "foreign" hands.