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A rap on the knuckles for Hungary?

June 22nd, 2011

Commentators in Hungary suspect Russian plots and Croatian political interests behind the accusations levelled against the Chief Executive Officer of Hungary’s oil multinational.

Tibor Mátraházy, an analyst with the online foreign affairs monitor Kitekintő blames the Hungarian press for echoing without reservations a report by the Zagreb evening daily Večernji List, according to which Croatian prosecutors are investigating an alleged corruption deal involving Zsolt Hernádi, the Chief Executive Officer of MOL, Hungary’s oil concern. Mátraházy says the Hungarian media has reported the allegations as if they were proven facts. The Zagreb daily alleged that Mr Hernádi paid ten million Euros to Croatia’s then Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, which allegedly paved the way for the Croatian government to allow MOL to buy almost 50 per cent of shares in INA, Croatia’s main petroleum company in 2003.

The analyst points out that fierce political clashes are underway in Croatia ahead of  the next  parliamentary elections, and Mr Sanader, as conservative premier Jadranka Kosor’s possible challenger may be an important target. “In which case MOL and its CEO may end up as sheep, sacrificed on the altar of Croatian politics” – Kitekintő comments.

Népszabadság remarks that Hungary is now getting the same treatment it reserved for Russia when a Russian oil company bought 21,2 per cent of MOL’s shares in 2009. Originally the Austrian regional oil giant ÖMV attempted to take over MOL, by purchasing the same share package, but in 2007 the Hungarian Parliament adopted a bill restricting the control rights of foreign companies with government shares in Hungarian enterprises. Then the Austrian company sold the package to the Russian giant Surgutneftegas. The management of MOL interpreted the deal as a hostile takeover attempt and prevented Surgut from exercising its rights as a shareholder, on the grounds that the Russian enterprise refused to reveal its ownership structure. The Hungarian government recently bought the package from Surgut, in an attempt to put an end to the controversy.

Within Fidesz, Népszabadság reports, governing party officials believe that Russian interest groups harbour a grudge against MOL as a result of the Surgut affair, and are trying to weaken its position in Croatia, as well as in Slovakia where MOL also owns the largest local oil company, Slovnaft. Complaints against MOL by various Croatian authorities have    multiplied over the past year or so.

In its front page editorial today, Népszabadság likens the Croatian attitude toward MOL to the stance taken by the Hungarian side earlier against “Austrian and Russian intruders”. The Hungarian oil company is becoming a regional multinational and “now it is the Croatians who are trying to rap MOL’s knuckles with a ruler.”

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