$1m bribe paid for CRH, Polish inquiry told(Ireland) — 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.By: Denis Staunton in Ozarow
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