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News 11 May 16

Croatia's Vice PM Quizzed Over Wife's 'Links to MOL'

Vice PM and HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko faces accusations of a conflict of interest over his wife's alleged work for a lobbyist for the Hungarian energy giant MOL, which is in dispute with Croatia.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Tomislav Karamarko and Ana Saric Karamarko. Photo: Facebook

A Croatian newspaper on Tuesday claimed it had proof that a company belonging to Ana Saric Karamarko - wife of vice prime minister and head of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko - had received over 60,000 euros to counsel a lobbyist for the Hungarian energy firm MOL.

According to contracts in Nacional’s possession, Josip Petrovic, the lobbyist for MOL - which currently in an international arbitration process with Croatia over the Croatian energy company INA - paid over the cash between February 2013 and December 2015 for counselling and media analysis.

Petrovic, whose friendship with Karamarko was revealed in April, was on INA’s management and was a witness in the international arbitration process in London over management rights to INA.

INA is a partly state-owned company in which the Croatian state owns 44.8 per cent of the shares and MOL holds 49 per cent. Although MOL does not have a majority of shares, it holds a majority of seats on both boards.

MOL bought its last shares in INA when Ivo Sanader was Prime Minister of Croatia. The Supreme Court of Croatia in June 2014 found Sanader guilty of receiving bribes of ten million euros in bribes to push the sale of the management rights of INA to MOL.

However, Croatia's Constitutional Court squashed the verdict in July 2015, ordering a retrial of the case from the beginning.

Before the Supreme Court verdict, the Croatian government launched a suit against MOL over management rights before the international arbitration court in January 2014.

According to Nacional’s documents, Petrovic paid monthly sums from his company, Peritus savjetovanje, to the account of Saric Karamarko’s company, Drimia.

Saric Karamarko and Drimia were earlier under a media spotlight in May 2015, when it was revealed that her husband, Tomislav, was driving the Drimia company vehicle.

The news website Telegram also published documents on Tuesday that allegedly showed that Petrovic received around 970,000 euros for consultancy services from MOL between January 2011 and August 2015.

Saric Karamarko told daily newspaper Jutarnji list on Tuesday that her company was providing regular marketing and communications services for Petrovic's company.

"The moment when it became certain that my husband could become a member of the government, I informed Mr. Petrovic that we're terminating the contract," she said.

Vice Prime Minister Karamarko rejected any claims of a conflict of interest on Tuesday and said the media and the authorities had been probing his wife's company for years.

“The operations of my wife’s company have several times in recent years, solely in order to put political pressure on me personally, been a target of investigations by various state organs,” he wrote in a press release.

He added that, “When it comes to allegations of a possible conflict of interest for me personally... I’ll personally send today an official request to the Commission [in parliament on conflicts of interest]… asking them to thoroughly investigate this case and to inform the public,” he concluded.

Karamarko assumed the office of vice prime minister and first deputy prime minister in late January.

His HDZ party's junior partner in government, the Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, has strongly criticised the private relationship between Petrovic and Karamarko.

MOST’s president, vice prime minister Bozo Petrov, expressed shock in April that Karamarko had personal ties to a MOL consultant.

In April, MOST MP Miro Bulj called on parliament's Commission for Conflict of Interest to investigate whether either Petrovic’s firm, or MOL, had conducted any businesses with companies owned by Croatian politicians or by their family members.

“I invite it... to initiate procedures and determine whether companies owned by Croatian politicians or members of their immediate families do business with companies of the MOL consultant Mr Petrovic, or MOL, or companies owned MOL,” he said.

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