ZAGREB, December 31, 2019 – Foreign news agencies on Monday carried reports of a non-final verdict against former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader and Hungarian MOL energy group executive Zsolt Hernadi, sentenced for bribery to six and two years in prison respectively, stressing that the Croatian court did not accept conclusions by an independent UN commission.
Earlier on Monday the former Croatian prime minister and the MOL executive director were found guilty of taking and receiving a bribe in the INA-MOL case.
Explaining the retrial verdict, Zagreb County Court judge Maja Štampar Stipić said Sanader had arranged with Hernadi to give MOL controlling rights in its Croatian peer INA in exchange for €10 million. In doing so, Sanader used his position and authority as prime minister to make it seem that it was necessary to divest INA’s gas business and change the shareholders’ agreement, the judge added.
The Hungarian news agency MTI carried MOL’s comment in which the Hungarian company expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, saying that Hungarian courts as well as the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) established that the law had not been broken in the INA-MOL case.
MOL also claimed that this was not the first unfair trial in Croatia, dismissing the corruption charges and noting that it would continue to defend itself against unfounded accusations.
The Serbian news agency Tanjug, too, carried the comment by MOL, which also recalled that the verdict to Sanader and Hernadi was based on the testimony of only one witness who during the retrial had proved entirely unreliable.
Tanjug also reports that Hernadi continues to enjoy the trust of all MOL Group boards.
The Beta news agency reported that the verdict against the once most powerful Croatian politician and the Hungarian executive was announced in their absence as Hernadi is beyond the reach of Croatian authorities while Sanader stayed in Zagreb’s Remetinec prison.
Agence France-Presse quoted prosecutor Tonči Petković as saying that as the highest state official, Sanader had jeopardised Croatia’s vital economic interests.
AFP says that Sanader is the highest political official convicted of corruption since Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, but also that the fight against corruption was one of the key factors for Croatia’s accession to the EU in 2013.
Reuters quoted Zagreb County Court president Ivan Turudic as saying that a warrant had been issued for Hernadi’s arrest and that Hungary should act on it.
The agency recalls that the verdict may be appealed against but also stresses that it is a new chapter in a legal saga that has been going on for more than a decade.
In the initial trial Sanader was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. Apart from being tried for receiving a bribe from Hernadi, he was also tried for war profiteering in the Hypo case, namely for receiving a commission from that bank which granted Croatia a loan at the time of the Homeland War. In a retrial he was convicted to two and a half years for that crime, but the time spent in custody was credited to his sentence so he did not have to return to prison.
However, he was again placed in custody in April after the Supreme Court increased his sentence in the Planinska case so he was again behind bars at the time when the verdict in the INA-MOL case was announced.
The trial against Sanader in the Fimi Media case is still under way. In that case, he was originally sentenced to nine years’ in prison pending appeal, but the Supreme Court quashed the verdict.
More news about Ivo Sanader can be found in the Politics section.