Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Polish first lady tells of donation by CRH

Poland’s first lady, Jolanta Kwasniewska, has told a parliamentary inquiry that Marek Dochnal, who claims he arranged a $1 million bribe on behalf of CRH, introduced her to the company in 1997.

CRH, which denies the bribery allegations, has said its only contact with Mr Dochnal was in relation to the purchase of his company’s stake in a holding company prior to the privatisation of a Polish cement plant in 1995.

Mrs Kwasniewska said Mr Dochnal was instrumental in arranging a meeting at which CRH agreed to give 500,000 zloties (€125,000) to her charity, Communication without Barriers, the biggest single donation it received in 1997.

“I’m certain that Mr Dochnal’s conversations with that firm were very significant. I wouldn’t have met CRH, were it not for the previous conversation with Mr Dochnal I’ve got here a letter from CRH, where this company points to Mr Dochnal as the organiser.”

Mrs Kwasniewska said CRH suggested that Mr Dochnal help to arrange her official programme during a visit to Ireland in 1997 with her husband, President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

“CRH, an Irish company, which took part in the privatisation of the Ozarow cement factory in 1995, introduced Mr Dochnal to me as somebody who could arrange certain details concerning our meeting before our official visit,” she said.

The inquiry heard further details of Mr Dochnal’s allegation that he bribed Poland’s former privatisation minister, Wieslaw Kaczmarek, on behalf of CRH.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Poland's first lady says CRH gave cash to charity

Tuesday June 28th 2005
THE wife of Poland's President, Jolanta Kwasniewska, has confirmed that a children's charity she founded was the beneficiary of a €125,000 donation from the construction group CRH, Ireland's biggest company.
She strenuously denies there was anything underhand about this.
Ms Jolanta Kwasniewska, says that through intermediaries, CRH made the contribution in 1997.
Last night, a spokesperson for CRH last night denied any direct or indirect payment or any authorisation of payment to any Polish government representative or official.
However, the group did say it was aware of the reported allegations about the privatisation of Cementownia Ozarow in Poland in 1995 but it was not clear to CRH that any such allegation was made.
In a statement it said that "if such an allegation was made it is absolutely without foundation. CRH did not pay money directly or indirectly or authorise any such payment to any Polish government representative or official and has no knowledge of any such payment having been made." The spokesperson added that the only connection CRH had with Polish businessman Marek Dochnal (who claims he paid a bribe of almost €827,000 on behalf of CRH to a Polish government minister) was in relation to an initial 30pc stake purchased by CRH in an investment firm, Holding Cement Polski (HCP) from Larchmont Capital in 1995. Dochnal was a principal shareholder in Larchmont Capital. HCP went on to acquire 75pc of shares in Cementownia Ozaria from the Polish State Treasury in October 1995.
During a hearing before a Polish parliamentary inquiry Ms Kwasniewska rejected any suggestion there was a connection between CRH's takeover of a cement factory two years earlier at Ozarow and its charitable donation of 500,000 zlotys, equivalent to just under €125,000.
In the published list of donations, this appears to be the highest single donation in 1997.
According to documents released by her charity, the money was paid through three intermediary companies, named as NCC, AB and J.S. Ms Kwasniewska told the inquiry that at that time of the controversial takeover, Lech Walesa was still Poland's President, not her husband, and that there was no way the subsequent charitable aid could be linked to the takeover of the country's largest cement works by CRH.
She explained that in 1997, during an official visit to Ireland by her husband, the current President, Aleksander Kwasniewska, she had her own itinerary and met executives from CRH where she discussed her own charity work. A short time later, her foundation, "Communication without barriers" received the financial backing.
Ms Kwasniewska has used her role as First Lady to champion the charity and has been honoured in six countries for her work.
Among the organisation's goals is to help sick and handicapped Polish children go on respite holiday breaks in other European countries and it has also helped fund hospital expansion schemes in Poland.
As the country gets ready for an election, all parties are throwing accusations of bribery and collaboration linked to the former secret services of communist Poland.
The acquisition of the stake in Cementownia was one of the key planks in the expansion of the CRH business in Poland.
Last night the controversy appeared to have taken its toll among investors as the shares closed down 13c to €21.57.
Conor Sweeney, Pat Boyle and Martha Kearns

Monday, June 27, 2005

$1m bribe paid for CRH, Polish inquiry told

A Polish businessman has told a parliamentary inquiry that he paid a bribe of almost $1 million (€827,000) on behalf of CRH, Ireland's biggest company, to a Polish government minister.

Marek Dochnal, who is in prison awaiting trial on a separate bribery charge, told the inquiry he paid most of the sum to a former minister for privatisation, Wieslaw Kaczmarek, in connection with the privatisation of a cement plant at Ozarow, in central Poland, in 1995.

Mr Dochnal said he paid Mr Kaczmarek between $600,000 and $700,000 in cash through an intermediary and transferred a further $250,000 to a Swiss bank account.

A spokesman for CRH, a building materials firm, said the company was unaware of the allegations. "If the allegations were made, they are absolutely without foundation."

CRH sources said its only involvement with Mr Dochnal was to acquire a 40 per cent stake in an investment firm, Holding Cement Polski (HCP), from Larchmont Capital, of which Mr Dochnal was the principal shareholder.

HCP acquired a 75 per cent shareholding in the privatised plant. CRH paid IR£29.7 million at the time and increased its stake in the plant over the next three years.

By the end of 1998 CRH owned 96 per cent of HCP, which owned 87 per cent of the Ozarow plant.

The Taoiseach visited the CRH plant at Ozarow in 2000 to open Europe's biggest cement kiln, and two CRH executives, Brian Griffin and Declan Doyle, were awarded national medals by Poland's president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Mr Dochnal told the inquiry on March 5th that Mr Kaczmarek's representative demanded $1 million to facilitate the takeover of the plant.

"This is about the privatisation of the Ozarow cement plant, when I met with a specific demand and it was a very unpleasant experience," he said.

Trade unions opposed the CRH takeover at the time and favoured a rival bid from Ciech, Poland's state-owned chemicals and oil trader. Ciech withdrew its bid and Mr Kaczmarek threatened to float the cement plant on the stock exchange unless the unions accepted the CRH bid. Mr Dochnal said he had not paid the full sum to Mr Kaczmarek but when asked if "the Irish" had paid him the amount agreed on, Mr Dochnal said that they had.

Mr Dochnal said he conducted all his dealings with Mr Kaczmarek through an intermediary and that they met only once, at the Irish embassy in Warsaw.

"We met at a reception held by the Irish ambassador on the occasion of St Patrick's Day. There was a whole group of us. He ostentatiously refused to shake hands with me. We were facing each other and we all shook hands. The ambassador, the CRH head, myself and someone else. While he greeted everybody he ostentatiously omitted to shake hands with me," he said.

Mr Kaczmarek told the inquiry that he had neither requested nor received a bribe from Mr Dochnal but was aware of the lobbyist's activities in the cement industry.

"I didn't meet him personally. However, at a certain stage I was informed that the main lobbyist, the person who intended to bring the Irish CHL (sic) group into the Polish cement industry, was Mr Marek Dochnal," he said.

Mr Dochnal was arrested in September last year after Polish security services intercepted a phone call during which he offered to bribe a member of parliament with a Mercedes car. Zbigniew Wassermann, a member of the parliamentary commission of inquiry, said that Polish public opinion was concerned about how state assets were privatised in the 1990s.

Mr Wassermann, who worked as a public prosecutor for 30 years, said Mr Dochnal appeared to be a credible witness .

"I believe that in this particular circumstance, Dochnal was relatively reliable. Many circumstances mentioned can be verified positively," he said.

© 2005 The Irish Times

Friday, June 24, 2005

Mayor of Warsaw guilty of slander

Mayor of Warsaw Lech Kaczynski was found guilty of slander by Warsaw court of justice. In June 2001 Mr Kaczynski stated in a radio interview that Mieczyslaw Wachowski, an official in the administration of president Walesa was a convicted felon. According to the court Mr Wachowski has never been found guilty of any crime including bribery and theft of which he was accused by the mayor of Warsaw. When the verdict is valid and binding Mr Kaczynski will lose the post of mayor of Warsaw as according to Polish law a convicted criminal must not hold such a post. Mr Kaczynski, however, may still run for the president of Poland and he is currently one of the most probable candidate in the November elections.