Hungarian court dismisses lawsuit against MOL boss

BUDAPEST Mon May 26, 2014 1:15pm EDT

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BUDAPEST May 26 (Reuters) - A Hungarian court has dismissed a private lawsuit against the head of Hungarian oil group MOL over a fall in the firm's share price following its move to take control of Croatian peer INA.

The case was launched last year by MOL's former chief legal counsel who levelled a series of allegations against the company's chairman and chief executive, Zsolt Hernadi, including bribery and fraud.

Ilona Banhegyi, MOL's chief counsel until 2006, sued Hernadi over a fall in the share price in 2011 which she said had caused her and also MOL financial damage. She held about 600 million forints ($2.7 million) worth of MOL shares at the time, the court was told.

Hernadi denied all the accusations and on Monday the court dismissed the case against him.

"The court will drop the case against ... Zsolt Hernadi on committing bribery in international relations," Judge Levente Nyilas said.

The judge also said the court had cleared Hernadi of two further charges of fraud causing significant damage and misappropriation of funds.

The case is the latest in a string of disputes since MOL secured management control of INA in 2009.

In 2012, Croatia found its former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader guilty of accepting a bribe in 2008 from MOL to grant it a dominant position in INA, without having to buy a majority stake. Last year, Croatia also issued an Interpol and European arrest warrant for Hernadi on bribery charges.

MOL holds close to 50 percent of INA and has been in a bitter dispute with the other shareholder, the Croatian government, over management rights.

Sanader has appealed against his conviction and both he and MOL deny the charges. Hernadi has also repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

An official Hungarian investigation in 2011-2012 found that neither MOL nor its officials took part in the alleged bribery.

It was not clear whether Monday's outcome of the private lawsuit would have any bearing on the Croatian case against Hernadi.

Hernadi's lawyer, Peter Zamecsnik, told reporters that the ruling would have to be recognised in Croatia in a separate procedure for it to have an impact.

"We hope this would happen as soon as possible and then the legal basis for the Croatian charges would cease to exist," Zamecsnik said.

Spokesmen for the Croatian police anti-corruption unit USKOK - which charged Hernadi - and the Croatian justice ministry were not immediately available to comment. ($1 = 222.0232 Hungarian Forints) (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Additional reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Pravin Char)

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