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Corruption and Punishment

Pavel Rucki lives on the periphery of Prostějov in a row house from the eighties. Not many people would be able to tell that this inconspicuous businessman and real estate trader has a remarkable career of a ruler of billions behind himself.

Pavel Rucki lives on the periphery of Prostějov in a row house from the eighties. Not many people would be able to tell that this inconspicuous businessman and real estate trader has a remarkable career of a ruler of billions behind himself. For four years, he was the chief executive officer of Banka Haná, which lost two billion Czech Crowns in bad loans under his management and then was dissolved. Before this job, Rucki was a member of the board of directors of Agrobanka, which also went bankrupt in 1996.

Last week, a trial was started in Prostějov, in which the banker was accused of unauthorised transfer of thirty million Czech Crowns to the local ice-hockey club. This is an absolutely unparalleled thing in the Czech Republic. Even though Rucki is not held responsible for the main suspicion, that is, the suspicion of having stripped his banks of hundreds of millions, he was at least taken to court. Dozens of his colleagues, who provided non-collateralised and irrecoverable credits in the amount of more than three hundred billion Czech Crowns in sixty Czech banks, were not objects of interest of the police at all up until now.

However, the representatives of banking circles, who have transferred the debts incurred to the state after some time, have also not shown much interest in proving the offenders guilty. And the most peculiar thing is that not even the public shows much outrage at and interest in this matter even though the public will eventually pay for the asset-stripping turmoil involving billions from their pockets.

We Solicited Clients

According to the available information, Czech banks provided most of the bad credits in the first half of the 90-ies. Privatisation was under way and the financial institutions lent approximately 600 billion Czech Crowns at that time. Half of this amount returned to the banks' safes. The situation prevailing at that time is described by Karel Rohrbacher, a former manager of the Pilsen branch of Kreditní banka. In the autumn last year, he voiced his testimony during a trial with František Rigo, whom the Pilsen branch progressively granted credits eventually totalling to one hundred million Czech Crowns even though he was not repaying the credits (and has never repaid them). „Mr. Rigo kept coming in the company of several other persons, who introduced themselves as representatives of various Ministries. Besides that, he presented a business plan of good quality. We were in the expansion process and we were after clients,“ said Rohrbacher to the court. He said that there had been chaos in provision of credits and that the officers had not known that Rigo had had other loans, on which he had defaulted. Kreditní banka lost a total of three billion Czech Crowns in similar credits and went bankrupt. Today, forty clients, who have not repaid the credits to the bank, and five members of the bank's management, are prosecuted. And none of them is prosecuted for provision of loans that were inadequately collateralised or were not collateralised at all but for deals in shares. Rigo was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of nine years.

„The banks kept their scrapes secret, did not report irrecoverable loans and did not cooperate with the police and so it was enormously difficult to reveal, who actually approved the given credit,“ says František Fíla, a prosecuting attorney, who today supervises investigation of the credit frauds in Komerční banka. His words have been confirmed in the following circle. „We cannot provide the names of the officers, who signed bad debts because we do not know them. Debts, along with the documents, were transferred to the Consolidation Agency,“ says Marie Růžičková, the public relations officer of Komerční banka. (The loans, which were provided by KB without any collaterals and which were not repaid by debtors, total to 4 billion Czech Crowns.) Not even the Agency wants to disclose the names of the careless officers. According to Jiří Pekárek, the spokesman, the employees of the Agency are slowly acquainting themselves with the hosts of unpaid credits and if they encounter suspicious conditions or a fraud, they report it to the police. This sounds nice but the searchers may come too late with their results. „If someone had committed a credit crime before the year 1997, a five-year limitation period applies to such a person,“ points out Tomáš Sokol, an attorney at law. Therefore even if the information on the frauds in the thousands of debts incurred at that time were made available today, the persons involved would not be punished. This is, for example, the case of Miroslav Bubník, the business manager of the COOP bank. Eight years ago, he lent more than one hundred million to a company called HiComp Leasing, notorious for not having repaid any of its credits. Not even this loan from the COOP bank was an exception, however, thanks to the limitation period, Bubník escaped punishment. He lives undisturbed in his apartment in the centre of Brno and is active as a businessman in three successful companies.

Ten Percent in Cash

Milan Vinkler, one of the former top managers of Česká pojišťovna (Czech Insurance Company), gave testimony to the police about how he had obtained multimillion credits without any collateral in the first half of the nineties, which he then did not repay. „The rate was simple: the officer, who approved the credit, received ten percent of the total credit amount,“ said Vinkler to the police. By help of these bribes, he allegedly obtained fifty million from Komerční banka or more than one hundred million from IPB. He even disclosed the names of the corrupted bank officers to the police but the case was not proceeded with „for lack of evidence“. Vinkler was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years for bank frauds.

Vinkler's words have been confirmed by a number of other people, who do not wish to be named. Therefore bank officers should be rich. However, they do not show this publicly. For example, Marie Kaplanová from Komerční banka, who is prosecuted for unauthorised provision of multibillion credits, officially lives in a rundown panel house in a Prague quarter called Střešovice. However, she in fact owns a new villa worth many millions in Smíchov (see the frame).

Jaroslav Kratochvíl, a former chief executive officer of the COOP bank lives in an unsightly housing estate Pískovna in Blansko. He was accused of provision of an inadequately collateralised loan amounting to more than one hundred million, which was not repaid to the bank. (His case has also been statute-barred). Nobody opens when the bell is rung. „Kratochvíl? I do not know him,“ says a woman, who comes out of the house by chance. The former banker is active as a businessman in two companies and is a member of the supervisory board of TOS Znojmo.

Zdeněk Rybka, the former managing director of the dissolved Foresbanka based in Zlín, retired and has lived in a small house, built by Bata and situated near the centre, for years. In summer, the year before last, he was sentenced to paying a penalty of one hundred thousand Czech Crowns. He unjustifiably lent half a billion Czech Crowns and was concealing certain illegal banking operations. He paid the penalty in instalments amounting to ten thousand each.

Jan Šulc, the former managing director of the bankrupt AB Banka, lives in a house in a Prague residential quarter consisting of houses with gardens. He unjustifiably approved credits amounting to more than half a billion for related companies. Most of the money has never returned to the bank. Šulc was investigated, was never sued and is active as a businessman in three companies today.

Nobody ever tried to get the salted-away money back from the bank officers. The Commercial Code states that management of a joint-stock company is liable for all losses of the company. However, according to the prosecuting attorney Mr. Fíla, not a single case is known, in which the shareholders of the bankrupt banks requested indemnification. The explanation is simple. The management and shareholders of small banks were so interrelated that they were all partly guilty. They would have requested refund of money of themselves. For example, the majority shareholder of Banka Haná was IPB and its subsidiary companies. Why would IPB request money of itself, if it had used Banka Haná to fund its projects - like the already mentioned unpaid loans of Crystalex.

As concerns the large banks, only Komerční banka tried to file an action for damages against the management in connection with the debts of Barak Alon and František Chvalovský, totalling to ten billion, in 2000. „Eventually, we did not file an action,“ says Karel Kopp, who was the chairman of the supervisory board at that time. Why? „I cannot explain that,“ he adds.

Boeing of the Kaplan Family Jiřina Kaplanová (61) joined Československá obchodní banka forty years ago. Shortly after the revolution, she was recruited by the newly incorporated Komerční banka as one of the few experts in the country, who was knowledgeable of the process of providing credits for business transactions with foreign countries. In 1990, she was even training the employees of other banks and foreign trade enterprises in this field. Her students still remember that she was making the impression of a resolute, self-confident person, who was perfectly proficient in her field. In 1995, Kaplanová became the head of the Letter-of-Credit Transactions Department in Komerční banka (a letter-of-credit transaction is a special type of credit, where collaterals of other entities are involved instead of money) and with a monthly salary exceeding one hundred thousand, she was one of the best paid bankers in the country already at that time. Billions of Czech Crowns were going through her hands. At the end of the year 1999, fraudulent credits amounting to billions for the Austrian company B. C. L. of Barak Alon and František Chvalovský, a football boss, came to the surface. „Fictive documents about renowned debtors securing the credits were being fabricated in the department of Kaplanová,“ says the prosecuting attorney František Fíla. The bank's board of directors trusted Kaplanová virtually without limits. „She almost always had the interest paid in advance when she provided a credit and so her department was reporting immediate profit. In addition to that, since she was stating fictive collaterals, there were no reserves created for the credits and it all became apparent only after a long time,“ says Fíla. A quarter-of-a-century old flaked panel house in Střešovice, Prague. The window in a ground-floor apartment is opened by Kateřina Majerčinová (40), a daughter of Mrs. Kaplanová. „You can't be serious when you say she did it. She never harmed anyone and does it seem to you that we are well off? Besides that, she was not the only one there; the credits were approved by a lot of people above her,“ she says excitedly. It is true that the police really accused the entire board of directors, except for Richard Salzmann, the then chairman of the board of directors (he was at a session in the Senate on behalf of ODS when the credits were being approved), as well as a total of five people from the department of Kaplanová. Mrs. Kaplanová herself was taken into custody by the court for fear that she would influence witnesses last year before the Christmas Eve. Even though she has her registered place of permanent residence in Střešovice, the police escorted her from the recently acquired villa in Smíchov. „It is worth at least ten million Crowns. We attached the villa,“ says the prosecuting attorney Fíla. However, the police have no evidence that would prove that the house was acquired for money coming from the asset-stripping of Komerční banka. After all, the husband of Mrs. Kaplanová is a chairman of the board of directors of Travel Servis, a company that ensures charter air transport for Čedok with its own Boeings.
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Jaroslav Spurný

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