(Adds Croatia, MOL comments)
ZAGREB, June 13 Croatia's Supreme Court has
confirmed a guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Ivo
Sanader for taking a bribe from Hungarian oil group MOL
in exchange for allowing it a dominant position in
Croatian oil firm INA.
The ruling will not automatically annul a disputed INA
shareholder agreement that Zagreb and MOL reached in 2009, but
may serve as a legal basis for Croatia to start a new court
process to render it null and void.
"This verdict confirms our view that the Croatian interests
were not protected in the process of INA's sale to MOL. It also
confirms that the talks (with MOL) the government initiated and
the arbitration procedure before international bodies were fully
justified," Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak said in a statement.
The ruling was confirmed by Zagreb county court spokesman
"The Supreme Court has modified the original verdict to eight
years and six months," Devic told state radio.
The Zagreb County Court originally sentenced Sanader to 10
years in prison in 2012. The court said this week it would try
in absentia MOL chairman Zsolt Hernadi on the same charge, after
Hungary refused to allow his questioning, citing national
Sanader, Hernadi and MOL have all denied the charge and MOL
voiced "utter disappointment".
"MOL has never been part of the legal process, therefore we
have no legal remedy against the decision. However, MOL strongly
rejects any suggestion of improper business conduct and will
continue to defend against any allegations of illegal
practices," MOL's statement said.
Relations between Croatia and MOL have been strained in
recent years. Zagreb accuses MOL of failing to make agreed
investments in its biggest utility. MOL complains about red tape
and the government's failure take over INA's loss-making gas-
trading business as promised.
Both sides last year began separate arbitration procedures
before international courts.
Croatia also wants a bigger say in INA's decision-making. MOL
has rejected giving up management control in INA and repeatedly
said it was ready to sell its stock if no agreement with Zagreb
Talks between the two shareholders on improving their
partnership started in September but have made little headway so
far. The last round of talks was held in early May and no
timetable has been set for a new round.
(Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic Additional reporting by Igor
Ilic; Editing by Larry King)