Wednesday 17 October 2018

Poland's first lady says CRH gave cash to charity

Conor Sweeney

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.

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