MOL-INA: Orbán urges buyout; national relations emphasized

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BBJ starts what is certain to be another week of stories on ongoing negotiations between Hungary-based gas-and-oil giant MOL and the Croatian government over ownership of INA with a roundup of moves made since Friday.

Beginning the buzz in media and setting a new tone for the negotiations were Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s comments on Croatia should consider buying back MOL’s stake in Zagreb-based refiner INA Industrija Nafte d.d. to settle a dispute the government has with the Hungarian oil company “because our long-term friendship is more important than a concrete business deal.”

Said the PM, “We recommend to the Croatians that they consider – just like we usually do in Hungary – to take these shares into state hands and to settle [on the price] in a fair way.

“We will accept if they want to make certain activities state-run … but it should be done in a civilized way, without arresting anyone or raising dubious charges.”

Orbán reiterated the use of unbusiness-like pressure, referring to the arrest warrant Croatia issued on Thursday for MOL Chairman Zsolt Hernádi as it probes MOL’s 2009 acquisition in the $7.3 billion unit.

Orbán’s comments should not be interpreted as “blackmail”, reassured Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic to his country’s media. It is simply unrealistic, Milanovic told journalists during a trip to Bosnia, adding that “indictments cannot be discussed.” This is the matter for the country’s independent judicial system, he said.

Indeed, this superseding of Hungary-Croatia relations appears to be taken on by all parties in the dispute.

On Friday night, Hungarian and Croatian foreign affairs ministers János Martonyi and Vesna Pusic met in Budva, Montenegro. Martonyi had, as part of his government’s brief hardline salvo on the negotiations, cancelled a scheduled trip on Friday to the international Croatia Forum in Dubrovnik.

No comment on what transpired in the discussion was offered by either Mártonyi or Pusic, though the Hungarian Foreign Ministry later explained that Martonyi had advanced the current line, i.e. that “it does not wish for there to be any source of tension in Hungarian-Croatian relations, and if MOL’s stake in INA prevents this, then the best solution would be to separate the two business partners in a civilised manner.”

Croatian Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak did comment to media at the time, however, stating in part that “Relations with Hungary are extremely important, in particular in the context of regional cooperation in energy.”

MOL currently owns a 49.1% share of INA, and Croatia holds 44.84%.

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