Prague, Sept 1 (CTK) – The Czech state sold its shares in the OKD coal mining company for a higher price than that set by an expert opinion and than other bidders offered and the anti-monopoly office (UOHS) recommended, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said in court while testifying about the case on Friday.
When OKD was privatised in the mid-2000s, Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) was finance minister.
Critics have reproached him for the privatisation deal which they call disadvantageous for the state. Sobotka has dismissed the criticism.
In his testimony on Friday, he described the preparation of the state OKD company’s privatisation.
Based on the UOHS’s recommendation, the company should have been sold for 3.5 billion crowns at the least. Afterwards, bids were made by the Penta group, reaching three to 3.5 billion crowns. he said.
Finally, the stake in OKD was sold to the Karbon Invest group.
“No other bids appeared,” Sobotka said.
He said the final price also exceeded OKD’s value as assessed by an expert opinion provided by the National Property Fund (FNM).
Sobotka said he had no reason to doubt about the FNM’s professional work.
He said he did not know that the price set by the expert opinion reportedly did not involve the whole OKD company but only a part of it.
“If this was true, I did not know about it,” he said on Friday.
The expert, based on whose opinion the government acted, assessed the price of shares but did not include the value of OKD’s daughter firms in the overall price.
Sobotka said the former government had negotiated about the OKD sale exclusively with the Karbon Invest group because it sought the maintenance of social stability in the region, north Moravia, and because this bidder was also preferred by trade unions.
On departure from the courtroom, Sobotka told journalists that he regrets it that a trial has not been faced by the person who in 1996 decided on the state losing its majority in OKD in 1996, and by those who siphoned off huge sums of money from OKD after 2004. He would not give any concrete names, however.
“I have a feeling that time has been been wasted on debating a procedure that was standard,” Sobotka said.
He said a problem emerged as early as eight years before the privatisation deal.
“Without any reason, the FNM reduced the state’s stake in OKD from more than 50 percent to 46 percent, and nothing happened. The state lost its majority in OKD, its minority stake got devalued, and nothing happened,” Sobotka said, adding that these were events from 1996, at the close of the first government of Vaclav Klaus (then Civic Democrats, ODS), when the CSSD was in opposition.
The sale of OKD shares was approved by the cabinet of Stanislav Gross (CSSD) in 2004.
The supervising state attorney says the value of the state stake in OKD was 9.8 billion crowns at least.
The Karbon Invest owners, Viktor Kolacek and Petr Otava, sold OKD to Zdenek Bakala’s RPG Industries Group after two months for a price which different sources set at nine to 12 billion crowns.
In connection with the OKD sale, criminal charges are faced by the expert who completed the expert opinion on the company’s value and two former FNM deputy chairmen who were in charge of the privatisation deal.