Police amass damning evidence over Škoda Plzeň sale, no prosecutions likely: report

Škoda Transportation, photo: Archives of the government

A long running and complicated police investigation appears to have unearthed disturbing details about the suspicious sale of one of the country’s biggest engineering companies. In spite of the accumulated evidence, no prosecutions look likely to result.

Škoda Transportation,  photo: Archives of the government
A bribe of 31 million crowns, damage to the state amounting to around 1.15 billion crowns, and at least four people involved in criminal activity, those, according to a Czech Radio report on Friday, are the main conclusions of a police probe into the sell-off of one of the country’s biggest engineering companies back in 2002.

The company back then was called Škoda Plzeň, most of the assets are now grouped under the company Škoda Transportation, one of the biggest producers of trams and locomotives in Europe.

In spite of the police investigation findings, no-one will apparently be brought before a court as too much time has passed since the events took place. A five year window for prosecutions applied to this particular sale instead of the 20 year period for many other privatisations. The state prosecutor was unwilling to comment in detail to the broadcaster.

Backtrack to 2002, and the engineering company was apparently struggling and needed a new investor. The supposed white knight came in the form of Swiss-based Appian Machinery, which paid a total of just 351 million crowns to take over the company.

The police investigation found evidence though of a 31 million crown bribe to smooth things along with the police fingering Appian Machinery’s Jiří Divis for the payment after following the money trail through British Virgin Island accounts and various companies. Divis has denied any wrongdoing.

More importantly perhaps, it found that the value of the engineering group was woefully underestimated making the final payment price of 351 million look derisory. Apparently, Škoda Plzeň had around 1.0 billion crowns on its accounts. And police found that another interested company was willing to pay 1.5 billion for just one of the group’s daughter companies. Police reckoned the state lost out eventually to at least the tune of 1.15 billion from the cut price sale.

The roles of the sale advisors, Slavia Capital, looks distinctly dubious in this light as does the role of the then Škoda Plzeň management, including the then general manager and later head of state energy giant ČEZ, Martin Roman. The police investigation tried to establish whether would be buyers were given all information needed to establish a fair purchase price for the engineering empire as they had the clear impression that its condition was made to appear a lot worse than it was. Slavia Capital has refused to comment before the results of the police probe are made public. Martin Roman has always denied any wrongdoing.

Appian Machinery was related to the broader Swiss Appian Group. A Swiss court in 2013 found six managers guilty of charges ranging from money laundering to corruption with jail sentences and fines handed down over the privatization of the Czech coal group MUS. The convicted have appealed. A Czech case against the same managers is being competed with charges expected to be pressed this year.