VISEGRAD: Roman in the gloaming

By bne IntelliNews October 16, 2011

bne -

The chances of Martin Roman, recently deposed chief of the giant Czech utility CEZ, quietly shuffling off to sit on the company's supervisory board took a further hit on October 14 after the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) published a series of documents (see below) that purport to show his secret financial ties to a big contractor for CEZ even while he was boss of the utility.

Persistent rumours that Martin Roman continued to have ties with the Plzen-based engineering group Skoda Holding long after he left the group as general manager to take the top spot at CEZ never went away during his seven years there despite his repeated denials. It's important because during his time as CEZ chief Skoda Holding won contracts worth tens of millions of euros for power plant machinery and equipment, meaning that there would've been a huge conflict of interest if Roman was benefiting financially from both sides of the deal.

The rumours started taking on more a concrete form in September when Roman was suddenly dismissed by Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas as CEO and chairman of the 70% state-owned power company just days after the Mfd newspaper revealed it had challenged Roman to respond to documents it was in possession of which purportedly show he benefited from payments via offshore trusts from Skoda Holding, which has since been acquired by the South Korean Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction in a deal worth more than $600m.

Document #1 apparently shows Roman to be the founder of a Cayman Islands trust, The California Trust, which in turn owned the British Virgin Islands-based Artwick Investments Limited. Roman is listed as a "beneficiary" and manager of both offshore trusts, along with three other former Skoda Holding managers from a Dutch subsidiary of Skoda Holding's former owner, Appian Group. The murky Appian Group has been the subject of ongoing investigations into money laundering by the Swiss and Czech authorities in connection with its purchase of the Czech mining company Mostecká uhelná společnost in 1998.

Document 1

Document #2 shows how Roman and the other beneficiary owners of The California Trust received CZK18.5m in dividend payments that were sent to accounts in Switzerland.

Document 2

Today's report from MfD takes the story a bit further, showing through Document #3 that Roman was still active in how Skoda Holding was being run, even to the point of having an agreement that no-one should be appointed to chairman or general manager of "Company C", which MfD says is clearly Skoda Holding, without his say-so, and he can return to take up those positions any time he chooses.

Document 3

A police investigation is already underway into the ownership issue, though the reaction from politicians to these latest relevalations has been fairly muted, perhaps a indication of how this was the worst-kept secret in Prague. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, through a spokesman, said he has tasked the new CEZ chief Daniel Benes, a longtime ally of Roman, to investigate whether there could have been a conflict of interest.

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