For many in Croatia, news that Hungary is interested in owning a stake in LNG Croatia feels like a bad case of deja vu.
In 2002, the government started the privatisation of state energy company INA. Within a decade, Hungarian energy group MOL had taken over the firm as its biggest shareholder. As of late 2012, it owned 49 per cent of INA, compared with the Croatian government’s 45 per cent stake. In 2011, Croatia’s anti-corruption office accused former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader of receiving a 10-million-euro bribe from MOL in 2008 to “sell INA”.
Sanader was convicted to eight-and-a-half years in prison, though the verdict was later overturned by the Constitutional Court and a retrial ordered. The retrial kicked off in February 2019 with Mol’s top executive, Zsolt Hernadi, Sanader’s co-defendant in the case, being tried in absentia. On December 30, Sanader was found guilty by a Zagreb court and received a prison sentence of six years, while Hernandi received two years.
The bribe that Sanader allegedly took landed in the bank account of Robert Ježić, a Swiss-Croat entrepreneur and former football club and media owner, according to prosecutors. Ježić had previously purchased the DINA petrochemical plant in Omišalj when he became majority owner of a conglomerate called Dioki d.d. in 2005.
A plan for an onshore LNG terminal in Omišalj developed by the Adria LNG consortium of international energy companies in the 2000s sought to locate the project on Dioki property.
But Dioki went bankrupt in the meantime, and Ježić become a key witness in the trial against Sanader.