MOL defies Croatian request to question CEO

Issues

Against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between MOL and Croatian government representatives over the ownership of Croatia-based gas-and-oil company INA, the Hungarian corporation has stated that it will not surrender CEO Zsolt Hernádi without a fight and will “defend itself by all legal means” at its disposal.

In a statement responding to a Zagreb court’s recent sentence of investigative detention and subsequent request for an arrest warrant for Hernádi, MOL representatives termed the machinations of Croatian anti-corruption office USKOK “outrageous actions” seemingly “influenced by interests seeking to intimidate both the company and its chairman.”

The statement went on to state that “While Croatia may be at liberty to [issue an arrest warrant for Hernádi] under national law, we maintain that the manner in which the Croatian authorities are currently proceeding is in contradiction to supra-national European law.”

Croatian authorities have sought to question Hernádi in connection with a bribery case involving INA assets and kickbacks to then-prime minister Ivo Sanader, who was subsequently found guilty by a court in the Adriatic nation, since 2008.

In July 2011, Hernádi was charged with bribery by Croatia’s chief prosecutor, though no extradition was immediately requested. At that time, MOL representatives stated emphatically that “No payment or agreement on any payment was ever made, directly or indirectly, neither in the course of INA’s privatisation nor thereafter to any actor or decision maker on the Croatian political scene” – this despite the conviction of Sanader on these same charges.

A later request for Hernádi’s appearance before Croatian officials was rebuffed with the Hungarian government itself claiming reasons of national interest disallowed Hernádi from testifying in a court of law.

With the entry of Croatia into the European Union in July 2011, USKOK wasted no time in exhuming the Hernádi case, thanks to its new status as a member state which allowed for the possibility under EU law.

Though the legal steps may be going forward in Croatia, at least one legal expert thinks it unlikely that Hernádi will ever come to trial or undergo formal investigation outside of Hungary: Eötvös Loránd University international law professor László Valki was quoted in a Reuters story as explaining that “The [Budapest Court of Justice] has the right to reject the implementation of the warrant because, according to the EU framework decision and Hungarian law, if Hungarian authorities had conducted an investigation into this issue and closed it, the court can refer to this and reject the European Arrest Warrant.”

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