Tim Gosling in Prague -
Outgoing Interior Minister Daniel Lipsic took a last minute swing at Penta on April 3, suggesting that Privatbanka - which is owned by the financial group - could have its banking licence stripped on the back of allegations that it has been trying to cover up dubious financial transactions. He also questioned Penta's influence at the prosecutor's office, revealing the suspected depth of the murky financial group's power in Bratislava.
An inspection by the country's financial police has revealed two questionable transactions to the tune of €7m that Privatbanka failed to report to the authorities, Lipsic - who left his job when the new Smer-led government was sworn in on April 4 - told reporters. The official added that he is considering filing a petition with the National Bank of Slovakia to suspend or revoke Privatbanka's licence, as two dubious cases have already been uncovered.
Penta is at the centre of the recent storm in Slovakia whipped up by the revelation of the existence of the "Gorilla" files. The alleged security services report is based on recordings made in 2005-06 which feature senior officials discussing privatisation deals and other issues with Penta. The issue was suppressed until December, with many questioning the timing of the news release three months ahead of snap elections in March, which Smer won with a landslide as many of the parties in the outgoing coalition were hit hard by the allegations, including Lipsic's KDH.
SME reports that one of the transfers, arriving from a bank in Malta, ended up in the account of mafia-linked businessman Marian Kocner in December. Videos of Kocner discussing the make up of the SaS party - another member of the outgoing government - with its leader Richard Sulik created the delightfully named Sasanka - or Sea Anemone - affair. That hit SaS, which had avoided the worst of the Gorilla scandal because it was not around in 2005, hard in the election.
All Lipsic would say is that €3m was allegedly paid for a securities trade in a tax haven, adding that the second suspicious transaction concerns a €4m payment by the Bratislava I Tax Office. That transfer, he said, was at odds with the nature and extent of the business activities of the Privatbanka client receiving it.
The interior minister also cast aspersions on the relationship between Penta and the Attorney General's Office, which he claims has been uncharacteristically zealous in dealing with a complaint filed by Privatbanka against him on March 27. He claims that the office moved extremely quickly to request a copy of all documents and inspection reports on Privatbanka from the Anti-Organised Crime Office.
"I don't know whether the aim was to deter the auditors and the financial police or to help those who are suspected of money laundering," Lipsic said according to TASR, claiming that the prosecutor's office usually takes at least a week to spring into action, rather than one day.
Lipsic has been engaged in a long running fight with Penta and Privatbanka during his time at the Interior Ministry, and appears frustrated at his inability to bring the murky financial group to task before losing his office. In February, the minister suggested that a website he claimed was spreading lies about his private life may be connected to the bank. He said it was a response to his stated suspicions of money laundering at Privatbanka in 2009-10, when 248 unorthodox transactions were carried out. The bank failed to report the transactions, worth €16.5m in total, to the police, although it was legally obliged to do so, he said.
When asked whether there was any connection between the individuals involved in those transactions and people involved in the Gorilla case, the minister refused to comment. Lipsic added that fines of €15,000 had been imposed on the bank, to date. Shortly afterwards, the financial police filed the latest report on its investigations into Privatbanka.
Privatbanka director, Lubos Sevcik accused Lipsic of launching another harsh attack against his bank by going public before receiving full information on the case. "The inspection itself is far from over," Sevcik told TASR. "In fact, the bank received a note on the inspection results only at 9:00 today [April 3] and, according to this document, the bank has five days to make a statement on the findings. Despite this, Mr. Minister went ahead and informed the public about the case, as if this matter was already closed and the results were final."
The banker went on to note that no sanction can be properly imposed on the bank before it makes a response to an inspection and said he objects to Lipsic publishing confidential bank information. He added that Privatbanka is considering changing its existing criminal complaint against an "unknown perpetrator" to a complaint against a specific person. Sevcik refused to specify whether that would be Lipsic or one of the police investigators.
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