Budapest's municipal court on Monday issued a ruling refusing to comply with an international warrant that Croatia issued against Hungarian oil company MOL's chief executive officer Zsolt Hernadi, Hungarian News Agency MTI reported.
In stating the grounds for its unappealable decision, the Hungarian court noted that the arrest warrant had been issued against Hernadi for alleged bribery -- a charge thoroughly investigated by the Hungarian prosecutors' office a year ago at which time it found that no crime had been committed and dropped all charges.
The court said it was thus legally bound to refuse to comply with the arrest warrant. At the same time, it noted that its decision was valid inside Hungary only, and should Hernadi travel abroad, he could be arrested and turned over to the Croatian authorities.
The arrest warrant was issued by the Croatian prosecutor's office last week after Hernadi did not appear before the Croatian authorities for questioning in a bribery case involving former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader who was found guilty of accepting bribes from a number of major companies.
Authorities alleged that MOL had bribed Sanader to gain management control of Croatian oil company INA, in which it holds a slightly more than 49 percent stake. The Croatian government owns 45 percent of INA and the Hungarian government believes the Croatian dispute with Hernadi was about Croatia's attempt to buy back the company.
The Hungarian government, which owns 25 percent of MOL, has suggested that MOL divest itself of INA shares, selling them either to the Croatian government, which analysts say would have to borrow heavily to make the purchase, or to a third party.
After initially voicing anger at the arrest warrant, the Hungarian government said the dispute was between the two companies, not the governments. It added the feud would have to be resolved at the company level and that a business dispute should not upset interstate relations.
Share prices in both MOL and INA have gone down since the arrest warrant was issued.