Stocks linked to suspect in Polish tapes scandal pounded

By bne IntelliNews June 25, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -

 

One trick to getting a good rate of return in recent years on the Warsaw Stock Exchange has been to follow in the footsteps of Marek Falenta. The 39-year-old is far from being a Varsovian sage of Omaha, but he is worth about $145m and has seen the value of the companies in which he invests soar in value - until now.

That's because Falenta was arrested this week on suspicion of having leaked the embarrassing and illegal recordings of private conversations among senior Polish officials to Wprost magazine. The resulting scandal has made international news, weakened the government and battered the reputations of Poland's foreign minister, central bank governor and other senior officials. 

Falenta's lawyer denies all accusations, but his companies are taking a beating on the WSE. He has a 7.7% stake in Hawe, a fibre-optic cable company whose upper echelons are stuffed with well-connected executives and former politicians. In December, the company signed a €136m deal with the government's investment agency to lay cables connecting 870,000 people. But the company's shares shed 6.5% on June 24, and a further 4.5% the following day.

ZWG, a maker of mining machinery parts in which Falenta holds a 32% stake, saw its value plummet by 16% on June 24. Meanwhile, Bumech - in which Falenta has an 18% share - has fallen by 9% in recent days.

Falenta had also previously held plans for an IPO of Sklady Wegla, a coal distributor in which he holds a 40% share. That investment may yet be his undoing. 

Sklady Wegla has been accused of importing cheap Russian coal and passing it off as the more expensive Polish variety. An investigation by Polish authorities in recent weeks saw several senior executives arrested on charges of tax fraud and money laundering.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk now says that the destabilising leaks hitting his government may be the result of a criminal conspiracy linked to the coal and energy industry. Russia's hand is also seen in the mess, which has brought Tusk's government - which has offered high profile support to Ukraine - to the brink of collapse.

Falenta is also feeling the pain. Polityka Insight, an analysis firm, estimates that the businessman lost PLN9m (€2.2m) on June 24 alone. He was hit even harder the following day, and is very likely dropping down the ranks of the country's wealthiest, on which he came in 67th last year

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