Ostrava - Although Hyundai is going to start trial production in Nošovice, north Moravia, next month, a number of Czech and Slovak companies that participated in the construction of the new facility have not been paid for their contracted work.
Hyundai denies any responsibility, saying it is Korean company Wi Tech Slovakia that owes the money. The carmaker says it has no contract with Wi Tech, which is at the very end of a chain of Korean suppliers.
Wi Tech had contracted local small and medium-sized companies as sub-suppliers for the plant construction. This spring, the company's management left Slovakia, leaving nothing more than unpaid bills.
Oto Hikel, an entrepreneur from Ostrava, claims Wi Tech owes him at least CZK 0.5 million.
"I was happy at first that we have a job, but eventually it ruined me. I paid my employees from my own pocket and went out of business," says Hikel. For a few months, he hoped he would get paid. "I visited the firm's headquarters in Žilina for about a hundred times. They first promised to pay, but in the end they just left."
Hikel has now turned to the Hyundai management in the Czech Republic.
How many tricked firms?
No one at this point can tell how many firms have been tricked in this way and what the total sum owed is. There are reasons to believe that there might be dozens of creditors. Aktuálně.cz reporters were able to find four in just a single day.
"I have contacted about 24 companies that worked for Wi Tech. Not all of them are willing to speak, as some of them probably have new contracts for Hyundai or other Koreans. Some of them are larger companies that don't crash easily. I have nothing to lose, though," says Hikel.
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Štefan Valíček, head of Slovakia-based company Kovo, says that Wi Tech owes him more than SKK 2 million. "They fled without paying. We have no one to talk to. It's outrageous." Valíček has also accused Korean firms of using low-quality construction materials at Nošovice.
Kontejnery Ostrava and Slovakia-based Tlaksystém-Kompakt have also complained about unpaid bills by Wi Tech.
Hyundai spokesman Petr Vaněk admits that Wi Tech's failure to pay its suppliers is hurting Hyundai's image. "As sign of a good will, we have contacted Wi Tech Korea via e-mail. We pointed out that they are harming the good name of Hyundai as well as all Korean firms operating in the Czech Republic. We urged them to pay the debts," says Vaněk.
"We are sorry, but we are not responsible for invoice payments between individual sub-suppliers. There is no legal or other reason why we should pay for something twice," he said.
'At least moral responsibility'
But the tricked companies are not satisfied with this explanation.
"Hyundai is a visitor in the Czech Republic. The government has conceded it a chunk of beautiful land in a nice area, the company receives incentives worth hundreds of millions of crowns, and the result is that they steal from us. It is simple embezzlement," says Hikel.
"Hyundai has at least a moral obligation to address our problems," adds Valíček.
Non-governmental organisation Environmental Law Service (EPS), which is trying to increase legal responsibility of international corporations towards their suppliers and local residents, is of a similar opinion.
"We cannot agree that Hyundai has no responsibility towards its sub-suppliers," says Jiří Nezhyba from EPS. It was Hyundai for whom the whole facility is being built, after all. Although it has no direct contracts with these firms, it was Hyundai for whom the work was contracted."
The construction of the Hyundai plant has been one of the largest investments in the Czech Republic. The project has received incentives worth billions of crowns form the state and from the Moravia-Silesia regional administration.
Series production at Nošovice is scheduled to start next year. At the beginning the facility will assemble 200,000 cars per year.