VIENNA – Austrian oil and gas group OMV AG announced yesterday that it hoped to acquire a 25 percent stake in Croatian state-owned rival INA to strengthen its presence in the growth markets of Southeastern Europe. Croatia’s government plans to privatize INA next month and an Austrian newspaper recently reported that Zagreb’s advisers, Deutsche Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers, gave OMV’s offer the best ranking of the three bids for INA. «We still have a weak presence in this region and no refinery,» Deputy Chief Executive and head of OMV’s refining and marketing division Gerhard Roiss told Reuters. «If you want to attain a market share of 20 percent in an area, then you should be thinking of having your own refinery there,» he said. OMV aims to boost its share of the retail market throughout the Danube corridor running from Bavaria to Romania – its core region – to 20 percent from the current 12 percent by 2008. Austria’s Die Presse said on Friday that OMV had offered $380 million for the INA stake, a bid that it said got a better rating from the advisers than bids from Hungary’s MOL and Russia’s Rosneft. Roiss said OMV’s refining and marketing division had divided its central European sphere of activity into three distinct sections. The first is the developed markets of Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The second and third are so-called growth regions. The second is Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia and the third is the «Adriatic cluster» of northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. OMV is gunning for INA because it is attracted to its drilling, refining and retail operations, as well as the firm’s good positioning for future expansion throughout the Balkans. «It’s an opportunity that makes sense for us,» Roiss said. «We’re committed to the goal of acquiring INA.» Roiss said that Austria’s largest listed industrial company was not overly concerned about a possible war in Iraq, especially since the company is more a central European than a global player.