MOL head get prison sentences in INA bribery case

The Zagreb County Court said it found the chairman and CEO of Hungarian oil company MOL, Zsolt Hernadi, and former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader guilty of corruption in a case related to the privatisation of Croatian energy firm INA.

Sanader is found guilty of reaching an agreement with Hernadi to arrange, in exchange for 10 million euro, an amendment to a contract regulating the relations between INA's shareholders by which the Croatian government ceded to MOL the controlling rights in INA, Zagreb Country Court judge Maja Stampar Stipic said. A video file with excerpts of her speech was uploaded on the website of state broadcaster HRT.

According to the verdict, Sanader will serve six years in jail for taking the bribe, while Hernadi gets a two-year sentence, HRT reported.

In 2014, Croatia's Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision of the Zagreb County Court to try Hernadi in absentia on charges of bribing Sanader to allow the Hungarian group to obtain a dominant position in INA. Back then, the top court overturned Sanader's first eight-and-a-half year jail sentence issued by the Zagreb County Court in 2012.

Neither Sanader, nor Hernadi were present in court on Monday, as Hungary is still refusing to extradite Hernadi, while Sanader has been in prison since April serving a six-year jail sentence in another corruption case.

Commenting on the court decision, MOL said, as quoted by HRT, that it is disappointed with it and will continue to defend itself on all charges of alleged wrongdoing, while all of the group's committee members continue to have full confidence in Hernadi.

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MOL is the largest single shareholder in INA with a 49.08% stake, followed by the Croatian government with 44.84%, while the remainder belongs to smaller shareholders. The state-controlled Hungarian company acquired 25% plus one vote in INA in November 2003, raising its stake to 47.16% via a voluntary public offer in October 2008.

In a separate procedure, Croatia hired in August international investment firm Lazard for consultancy services in a planned repurchase of MOL's stake in INA. The government in Zagreb wants to have a due diligence report on INA ready in the first quarter of 2020 when it plans to begin talks with MOL.

Croatia said earlier the potential purchase of MOL's stake in INA is to be followed by a sale of INA's shares to a new strategic partner.