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No Perspicacity in MOL-INA Bribery Case

No Perspicacity in MOL-INA Bribery Case

Transparency International Hungary, part of the international civil society movement that opposes corruption worldwide calls upon Hungarian officials to do all within their power to unveil if Mr. Hernadi, chief executive of MOL Hungarian oil company indeed paid ten million euros bribe to former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader so as to take over the board of Croatian oil and gas company INA, as Croatian authorities say. To this end, we invite Hungarian government and the judiciary to engage in effective co-operation with international and Croatian law-enforcement.

On October 7, Hungary turned down a European arrest warrant issued by a Zagreb court to have Hungary surrender Zsolt Hernadi, CEO of MOL, the Hungarian energy company that has over the years acquired almost half of the shares in INA Croatian oil & gas. USKOK Croatian anti-graft agency says Mr. Hernadi bribed previous Croat premier Ivo Sanader into concluding an agreement that shifted the control over INA’s board to MOL. Mr. Sanader is said to have taken 10 million euros in exchange, for which justice Turudic at the first instance court of Zagreb sentenced him to ten years imprisonment. The Budapest tribunal that decided on the Croatian warrant explained that Hungarian authorities had already examined the case and had found no suspicion of graft. Therefore complying with the arrest warrant of Zagreb would have made Mr. Hernadi face a second criminal procedure for the same act, which runs in contrast with fundamental principles of criminal justice.

Prior to the European arrest warrant Croatia had already issued a series of mutual legal assistance requests asking the Hungarian government and prosecution to interrogate and summon Mr. Hernadi. Denying these was no challenge for Hungary, as the final say on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters remains with the government, which means that political considerations could overturn the needs of justice. The twist in the tail was that in the end, Hungarian authorities explained non-execution of these requests with reference to national security considerations; an astonishing argument when it comes to then EU-accession country Croatia, which has been heavily backed by Hungary.

The European arrest warrant, a milestone on the road to a common European area of justice, freedom and security, was designed to eliminate political influence over co-operation among member states and to enhance the fight against serious cross-border crime. European arrest warrant is a form of justice-to-justice co-operation based on the idea that mutual trust among the judicial systems of member states prevails. The refusal of the Croatian EAW by the Metropolitan Tribunal of Budapest with reference to the non bis in idem (double jeopardy) clause still suggests that trust among member states’ judiciaries is not a matter of course. Distrust is reinforced by Hungarian government officials who openly call the independence and quality of Croatian justice into question. Mr. Retvari, secretary of justice, on TI’s past year’s anti-corruption festival said that the Zagreb judgment, which clearly stated that former Croat prime minister Ivo Sanader had taken bribe from MOL, was a product of local political endeavors.

A question of answers if the investigation into MOL’s takeover of INA in Croatia – launched during the summer of 2011 and rapidly terminated in January 2012 without identifying any criminal suspicion – would stand the test of fair procedures.  Some might even think that this was a tailor-made investigation, instructed by the Hungarian prosecution service succeeding first issuance of Croatian mutual legal assistance request in regard of Mr. Hernadi, with the sole intention to serve as a ground to later refuse a European arrest warrant. If so, the attempt proved successful, Hungary remains safe haven for Mr. Hernadi. However even Budapest court acknowledges that if he had left Hungarian soil, any other member state of the European Union may surrender him to Croatia, and in case of non-EU states, Mr. Hernadi faces extradition.

“Impunity seems to prevail, at least as long as Mr. Hernadi stays on Hungarian ground.” – explains Miklós Ligeti, head of legal affairs of Transparency International Hungary. “As an anti-corruption watchdog, we warn the Hungarian government that it cannot get away with disrespecting Croatian or any international justice.” he said. Mr. Ligeti remembered that Hungary has committed itself to effectively and impartially combat foreign corrupt practices by signing OECD’s 1997 convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. He added: “extra-judicial considerations, such as economic, diplomatic or political ones shall be excluded when ruling in a bribery case.”

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