• Coalition under pressure after conflict-of-interest accusation
  • Karamarko has denied wrongdoing, called for assessment

Croatia’s main opposition party will call for a confidence vote against a deputy premier in the country’s two-party government, whose fragile majority in parliament is under pressure from a scandal involving a potential conflict of interest.

Former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, whose Social Democrats were ousted from power last year, said his party would call for the vote against ruling party leader Tomislav Karamarko “very soon.” Karamarko has asked for a state committee to assess conflict-of-interest allegations that emerged after newspaper Nacional reported a lobbyist for Hungarian refiner Mol Hungarian Oil and Gas Plc paid his wife for consulting services beginning in 2013. He’s denied wrongdoing.

The scandal has shaken the five-month-old administration run by Tihomir Oreskovic, a former pharmaceutical executive who was named technocrat prime minister after a December election threatened to trigger new snap elections and undermine a recovery from a six-year economic recession. After weeks of political wrangling, Karamarko’s Croatian Democratic Union joined forces with the Bridge party. With the backing of independent lawmakers, they hold a razor-thin majority in the 151-seat assembly.

“Perhaps there is no criminal responsibility here,” Milanovic told reporters in Zagreb on Thursday. “But there is political responsibility, and Mr. Karamarko should bear responsibility.”

The allegations focus on one of the biggest points of contention between the two governing parties: the fate of Croatia’s sole refiner, INA Industrija Nafte dd, which is controlled by Mol. Bridge wants to see through an arbitration case to win back control of the company and says that HDZ disagrees with its stance.

Dalija Oreskovic, the head of a Croatian state watchdog in charge of conflict of interest issues, said this week that “there is nothing illicit” in the cooperation between Karamarko’s wife and the consultant from Mol, which began in 2013 before the two were married and when the HDZ leader was in opposition. Still, a potential conflict of interest may exist, she said.

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