ZAGREB, Nov 10 (Reuters) - - Croatia is investigating the head of Hungarian oil group MOL, Zsolt Hernadi, as a suspect in a corruption case against Croatia’s ex-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The indictment accuses Sanader of agreeing with Hernadi in 2008 to do everything necessary to secure MOL an unjustifiably dominant position in Croatian oil firm INA in exchange for 10 million euros.
MOL, Sanader and Hernadi have all dismissed the accusations as false and Sanader pleaded not guilty at the Zagreb county court on Thursday.
MOL spokesman Domokos Szollar said by phone from Budapest: “MOL categorically rejects and denies all accusations. We have no information whatsoever about any investigation against MOL or MOL’s officials in Croatia or Hungary.”
It was the first time Croatia has publicly confirmed Hernadi was a suspect, which had been reported in newspapers. Prosecutors have asked Hungary’s assistance to question Hernadi but the request was turned down.
“That is why we could not indict (Hernadi). The rules are such that a suspect must be interrogated before an indictment is raised. But the investigation against him is continuing,” prosecutor Tamara Laptos told the court
“In this process, he (Hernadi) still has the status of a suspect,” Laptos said.
Sanader’s counsel Cedo Prodanovic said the defence would propose Hernadi as its own witness to directly refute all allegations.
MOL owns 47.46 percent of INA and holds an option for a further 1.6 percent. The Croatian government owns 44.84 percent. Last year MOL failed in its attempt to become the majority owner.
Hungary launched its own investigation into the bribery allegation but has not named any suspects yet.
The indictment claims Sanader, who stepped down unexpectedly in mid-2009, had received half of the 10 million euros through two companies a friend of his set up in Cyprus and Switzerland. The money was paid out for “consulting services”.
“The remaining 5 million were paid in a still undetermined way,” Laptos said.
The Zagreb court this week merged the INA case with another one, in which Sanader is accused of allegedly taking a commission for a bank loan to the Croatian government in 1995.
Sanader is the highest official indicted for corruption since Croatia gained independence in 1991. He has been held in a prison in Zagreb since Austria extradited him in early July.
The anti-graft police and prosecutors are conducting three more separate investigations against Sanader, including one into creating slush funds for his former HDZ party.
Tackling corruption is a key requirement of Croatia’s EU membership, and Zagreb remains under scrutiny from Brussels pending entry to the bloc, set for 2013.
Croatia completed its European Union entry talks in June and its entry date is set for July 1, 2013. Sanader’s successor Jadranka Kosor launched a wide anti-graft drive as part of entry requirements. (Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic)