Polish first lady tells of donation by CRH

More very dodgy sounding dealings from Poland:

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.

Comptroller to investigate aquatic centre costs

I wonder what this investigation will turn up…but I have a feeling it will be very little:

The Comptroller and Auditor General John Purcell is to investigate the cost implications to the Exchequer relating to the recent controversies at the €62 million National Aquatic Centre.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said he no longer stands over previous claims that the company which won the contract to operate the National Aquatic Centre was a company of international standing.

He made his comment in the Dail following questions on the ongoing controversy surrounding the centre which is the subject of a bitter legal dispute between the current operators of the centre, Dublin Waterworld, and the State company which controls the State-owned facility, Campus Stadium Ireland Development (CSID).

Mr Ahern also claimed that reports of major leaks and cracks at the centre were “red herrings”.

CSID is suing the operators, Dublin Waterworld, for control of the centre, claiming it has failed to comply with its contract on a number of basic issues, such as paying rent and maintaining the facility. Dublin Waterworld is countersuing on claims it owes more than €10 million in VAT, and has also raised issues about the alleged leaks and quality of the building.

Pool firm in €1m arrears paid €4.5m to subsidiary

Very very dodgy, and what is interesting about this is that we all knew it sounded odd back when the contract was awarded.

A High Court judge has said it is “difficult to see” how €4.5 million could have been paid for unspecified services to a subsidiary of the company that secured the contract for the National Aquatic Centre during a time when the parent company was in rent arrears of some €1 million.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the comment after senior counsel Denis McDonald, for Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited (CSID), said he was concerned that the situation regarding management of the €62 million centre at Abbotstown was growing “murkier and murkier”.

CSID, whose shareholding is held by the Taoiseach and two Government Ministers, in 2003 awarded the contract for the State facility to Dublin Waterworld Limited (DWL).

$1m bribe paid for CRH, Polish inquiry told

Interesting stuff coming out of Poland, and a denial from CRH:

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.”

National Aquatic Centre roof blows off

The roof of the National Aquatic Centre blew off in a storm at Christmas – and apparently there were not near enough bolts. But the plot thickens:

There have been two separate structural investigations into the incident – one by the insurers and the other by the Office of Public Works as it is a state-owned building. It is not known which of the reports contained the allegations.

The €62 million National Aquatic Centre has been dogged by controversy for some time. A High Court action taken by Campus Stadium Ireland Development (CSID), the NAC’s landlord, to remove the centre’s operator, Dublin Waterworld, is due to be heard next month.

Waterworld is accused of paying no rent or insurance, and of having failed to file accounts, since it took over running the complex two years ago.

At a preliminary hearing, Justice Peter Kelly said it was ‘nothing short of astonishing'” that a valuable state asset should have been leased to a company with a share capital of €127 and no fixed assets.

People might remember that when the contract was originally awarded there was some concern at giving a shelf company the contract. The concerns have proved correct, and the government has done nothing about it.

General Electric denies TD's claim

GE have responded to claims made by Joe Higgins in relation to alleged corrupt practices:

General Electric said it strenuously denied having any involvement in any deal in relation to property in the IDA’s Clonshaugh industrial estate.

It said the General Electric company referred to by Mr Higgins had been sold by GE in December 2003.

“GE holds no interest in the property to which he referred.

“This is a totally unfounded and damaging allegation made under the privilege of the Dail. GE calls on Deputy Higgins to withdraw it immediately and to correct the records of the House,” the statement said.

Crazy Frog company admits to overcharging

€4 per week for some ringtones? Argh. One has to wonder how the company could have made such a mistake – even when consumers ordered the service to be stopped, it still persisted.

Ms Foley said many mobile customers are unaware that when buying a ring tone, they are often agreeing to a long-term subscription costing a minimum of €4 per week.

In a related issue, Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness last night demanded a crackdown on ‘rogueâ€? companies operating premier rate phone charges for services, such as the offer of money and holiday prizes.

TD accuses General Electric of 'legal swindle'

Very curious goings-on with GE, a company partnered to controversial Gama construction.

Yesterday Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins named the company involved as General Electric, a partner of the construction company Gama.

He said General Electric in Clonshaugh in north Dublin, “sets up puppet companies so that it can set about a legal swindle to compel the IDA to pay it millions of euro for land belonging to the Irish people”.

He said General Electric had used the proceeds of the sale to “finance its industrial diamond innovations to force a redundancy deal on 50 workers, whom it bullies and pressurises into accepting, so it can replace them with cheap labour for its industrial diamond enterprises”.

General Electric set up a “puppet company” allowing it to buy IDA industrial land outright and lifting restricted usage. The IDA practice of selling property was through a 999-year lease. IDA property leased in 1981 to one company was subsequently sub-leased twice and an anomaly allowed the lease to be “extinguished”.

The Government was even forced to:

rush emergency ground rent legislation through the Dail and Seanad earlier this year when it emerged that the State’s ownership of a further 700 IDA properties was at risk because of the legal loophole.

I never heard about that, strangely enough.