Croatian authorities launch probe into massive gas-resale scam at INAReading Time: 2 minutes
A total of five individuals including a top Croatian lawyer and an executive at energy firm INA have been charged with defrauding the company by reselling gas abroad at ten times the purchase price.
According to the charges, the group caused financial damages to INA – a Croatian subsidiary of Hungarian energy firm MOL – of up to EUR 171mn, by capitalising on global gas price rises over the last two years.
After the five were arrested over the weekend, Zagreb County Court detained them for a month for questioning on conspiracy, abuse of trust, aiding and abetting crime, and money laundering from June 2020 to 27 August 2022.
INA’s natural gas trade division head Damir Skugor – suspected as the ringleader of the scam – allegedly signed on behalf of INA an unfavourable gas sale contract with OMS, an investment company owned by Croatian Bar Association president Josip Surjak and entrepreneur Goran Husic. Investigators say the suspects bought gas at EUR 19.5/MWh and OMS then resold it for up to EUR 210/MWh.
The Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (Uskok) were alerted when Skugor, who is also head of INA’s Gas and Power division and deputy chair of regional gas distributor Eastern Slavonia’s supervisory board, transferred his share of the profits to his father Dane’s bank account, website N1 wrote.
Uskok estimates that the illegal gains made by Skugor and his father total nearly 500 million kuna (EUR 67mn), while Husic made over 90 million kuna (EUR 12mn) and Surjak of 68.9 million kuna (EUR 9mn). A further sum of over 200 million kuna (EUR 26.6mn) is still in OMS’s bank account. In total, the group profited by around EUR 171mn, according to a statement by Uskok.
A fifth suspect, Eastern Slavonia CEO Marija Ratkic, is also being held in pre-trial detention.
Skugor has pled not guilty, and maintains that the gas was sold in line with INA’s standard business policy. INA has confirmed that Skugor was the signatory of all the contracts named in the investigation.
Croatian Economy Minister Davor Filipovic called an extraordinary investigation on Monday, telling reporters that “INA management will have to give us a lot of answers.”
Former INA CEO, Davor Stern, meanwhile told daily Vecernji List that the responsibility also lies with INA’s management, CFO and internal auditors, Euractiv reports.
“It is impossible that only one person from INA was involved, it is simply impossible to siphon off that much money without others in the company having noticed it,” Stern said. “The question is also whether INA is being managed from Zagreb or Budapest,” he added.
Hungary’s MOL, which holds a 49.08% stake and management rights in INA, said it is cooperating with the authorities. MOL CEO Jozsef Molnar has suggested convening an extraordinary INA board meeting on Wednesday to assess the company’s internal control mechanisms.