Polish Tycoon Denies Being LUKoil Agent

APPolish tycoon Jan Kulczyk
WARSAW -- Poland's richest man, Jan Kulczyk, denied Wednesday that he held negotiations with senior Russian officials aimed at selling Polish fuel assets to oil major LUKoil.

Kulczyk, until recently an influential minority shareholder in Poland's top fuels firm PKN Orlen, flatly denied any role in a scandal that has gripped Poland and may influence next year's parliamentary and presidential elections.

Intelligence documents released in a parliamentary probe said Kulczyk might have offered to use his connections to the ruling left to help LUKoil gain a foothold in the promising fuels market of the largest European Union newcomer.

"I didn't hold such talks and have no authority to do so on behalf of the president, the prime minister or anybody else," Kulczyk told a special investigative parliamentary committee.

Poland's parliament launched the probe into charges that the previous government of ex-Prime Minister Leszek Miller used the secret services to influence PKN, in which the state has a controlling minority stake.

The probe has cast a shadow over several leading leftist politicians, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and threatens to further dent support for the ruling left in the run-up to next year's elections.

The spotlight turned to Kulczyk when documents showed he had a secret meeting with an ex-KGB officer in Vienna last year to discuss the energy business. Kulczyk admitted that the meeting took place, but said that he did not mention the oil sector.

In 2002, LUKoil sought to buy Poland's No. 2 fuels firm Rafineria Gdanska, since renamed Grupa Lotos, but Miller's government, which feared that the Russian giant would quickly gain a dominant position in Poland, rejected its bid.

The government, as well as some analysts, believe that LUKoil's access to cheap crude oil supplies, combined with refining capability in Poland, could undermine Poland's national energy security as well as PKN's position.

Heavyweight daily Rzeczpospolita reported Wednesday, citing intelligence reports, that Kulczyk met LUKoil chief executive Vagit Alekperov in 2002, where he allegedly offered to help pry open the doors to Polish energy firms for the Russians.

Kulczyk, who recently reduced his PKN stake to less than 5 percent, rejected the charge and said he never met Alekperov.

Energy security has become a hot topic in Poland, with the spy chief in Miller's cabinet saying that Russia was seeking to re-establish its grip on ex-communist countries in Central Europe through its near monopoly in oil and gas supplies.

But the saga appears to have made little impact on the Kremlin, with Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko telling visiting Polish Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner on Tuesday that Russia wants to be active in energy sector sell-offs in Poland.

"We want to participate in these [privatization] processes on an equal footing with all economic entities ... We hope that the Polish government will give us this chance," Khristenko was quoted as saying by daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Wednesday.