Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Witness: OKD privatisation deal looks horrible in retrospective

ČTK |
24 July 2018

Prague, July 23 (CTK) - The Czech OKD coal miner's privatisation from 2004 looks horrible from the current point of view, Martin Pecina, former deputy industry minister told media after his questioning by the lower house commission for the investigation of the suspicious OKD deal on Monday.

With hearing Pecina, the commission started a week-long series of questioning of witnesses, which is closed to the public.

Some of the summoned witnesses have excused themselves.

"Of course, the deal looks horrible from the present point of view. At the time, we believed that OKD will be bought by (Viktor) Kolacek and will continue operating for the next 100 years, which Kolacek vowed. The fact that he eventually sold the firm to (Zdenek) Bakala does not look good now, no one is happy about it," said Pecina, who was previously also interior minister and head of the anti-trust office UOHS.

Pecina said he did not know at the time that Bakala, a financial magnate, will finally take over OKD.

"I was [a deputy minister] in charge of mining, but not of privatisation. The responsibility for privatisation was borne by another deputy minister, who is probably yet to be questioned. In addition, the deal's supervisor was the Finance Ministry," Pecina emphasised.

He said he neither prepared, nor saw nor checked the privatisation contract.

The witnesses who have excused themselves from the questioning include Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD), former prime minister (2014-17), who was finance minister when the OKD privatisation was completed.

Bakala, who lives in Switzerland, has not taken over the commission's summoning letter delivered to his Czech place of residence.

The commission is now discussing the reaction of MEP Pavel Telicka, whether he has excused himself or has refused to give his testimony before the commission. Telicka was previously a member of some Bakala-owned firms' management.

The commission is checking the gradual transfer of the state's stake in OKD to private owners, mainly the sale of the minority stake in 2004, for which Sobotka faces criticism.

The commission also deals with OKD's reduction of its registered capital in the late 1990s, by which the state lost control of the firm.

Furthermore, it is checking the new owner's fulfilment of his commitments embedded in the privatisation contract from 2004, the causes of OKD's insolvency and the related responsibility of state bodies and individuals.

The commission is to submit its enquiry's results to the Chamber of Deputies in the autumn.

In 2004, the state sold its minority stake in OKD for 4.1 billion crowns to the Karbon Invest company, which already owned the other part of OKD. The case has been brought to court, with the plaintiff putting the stake's price at 9.8 billion crowns at least and saying the deal caused a 5.7 billion-crown damage to the state.

In early May, a court acquitted Rudolf Doucha, an expert who calculated the estimated price of the state stake. The court also acquitted Pavel Kuta and Jan Skurk, two former National Property Fund (FNM) officials in charge of the privatisation deal. The court said no evidence proved that their action amounted to crime. The state attorney appealed the acquittals, however.

Karbon Invest owners Viktor Kolacek and Petr Otava kept OKD for two months before selling it to the Bakala-led RPG Industries financial group for a price that ranged from nine to 12 billion crowns, according to media.

Later OKD went to a firm owned by three British investment funds. Last year, it got insolvent and this April, its shares were acquired by the state-run Prisko company.

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