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Croatian watchdog files manipulation charges against MOL

Croatian financial market watchdog HANFA on Monday said it had reported Hungarian oil and gas company MOL to the state attorney's office on suspicion of market manipulation.

"We have filed criminal charges against MOL and responsible officials in the company to the state attorney's office under suspicion that they had manipulated the market (of INA shares). A law envisages a prison sentence of up to five years for such actions," HANFA said late on Monday.

MOL did not comment the news to MTI on Tuesday.

The Croatian regulator suspended trade in INA shares indefinitely earlier on Monday, saying the new suspension is to last until a procedure can establish whether regulations were broken with regard to "price-sensitive information".

According to an announcement posted on HANFA's website, a May 18 meeting of its management board decided that MOL committed market manipulation via a general offer for INA shares issued on December 15 and later through "disseminating false and fraudulent signals regarding intended acquiring shares of INA- industrija nafte d.d. knowing that such information was false and fraudulent".

MOL owns 47.75% of INA, according to the company's latest disclosure, and the Croatian government holds 44.84%.

In its December 15, 2010 public purchase offer for the 8% of INA shares in free float, MOL offered HRK 2,800 per share, the same as the price in a public purchase offer it made in the autumn of 2008. But other market players appeared to outbid MOL, pushing the share price over the offer. MOL raised its stake by just 0.1% in the offer.

HANFA suspended trade in INA shares from April 28 until May 6, then extended the suspension several times to give it more time to identify foreign buyers of the shares.

MOL has firmly rejected speculation that it was behind the purchases of INA shares under scrutiny by HANFA. It has confirmed it bought INA shares from third parties after the purchase offer ended.