A retrial weighing corruption charges against Zsolt Hernádi, chairman-CEO of Hungarian energy giant MOL, and Ivo Sanader, the disgraced former prime minister of Croatia, started in Zagreb on Tuesday, local press and agencies including Hungaryʼs MTI reported. Hernádi was not present, after a Budapest court refused to execute a European Arrest Warrant in August.
Sanader is accused of having struck a deal with Hernádi in 2009 to pocket some EUR 10 million in exchange for granting Hungarian oil and gas company MOL management rights over Croatian peer INA.
The former Croatian premier was found guilty in 2012 of the charge, but his eight-and-a-half-year jail sentence was overturned in 2015 by Croatiaʼs Constitutional Court due to procedural irregularities, and a retrial ordered.
Sanader pleaded not guilty at the opening of the retrial in Zagreb on Tuesday. Hernádi was not present at the proceedings after his defense attorneys refused to enter a plea, insisting that certain documents still need to be translated into Hungarian.
Laura Valkovic, Hernádiʼs counsel, did not give an opening statement, but said she would after evidence is presented. She said the hearing should have been postponed until the supreme court takes a decision on the translation into Hungarian of the documents in Hernádiʼs case, according to Hungarian news agency MTI.
The judge said that as the hearing was taking place in Hernádiʼs absence, it did not matter whether or not he understands Croatian. The judge noted that a legally binding ruling was taken in 2014 allowing the court to conduct a trial in absentia, and that the court documents, containing all evidence, were translated at that time.
Earlier, Hernádi was acquitted of the charge of bribing Sanader by the Hungarian courts. In August this year, a Budapest court cited his acquittal in refusing to execute a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Croatian authorities for the MOL chief. The primary reason the court gave for its decision at that time was "the risk that [Hernádiʼs] right to a fair trial would be infringed and an impartial judgement of the case would not be ensured."
Previously, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg ruled that Hungary should not have ignored an extradition request for Hernádi in July this year.
Budapest Stock Exchange-listed MOL - of which the largest shareholder is the Hungarian state, with more than half of its shares in free float - has previously denied the bribe accusation.
MOL holds a 49% stake in INA, while the Croatian government holds 44%.