“Night of the Long Bytes”
The name is a bit forced (I assume a play on the Nazi Night of the Long Knives), but it was by this name that a highly suspicious event at the ÁPEH became known. The ÁPEH (Állam- és Pénzügyi Ellenőrzési Hivatal) is the Hungarian equivalent of the American IRS (Internal Revenue Service). In other words, it is the office that collects taxes and it is the office that investigates tax fraud. The IRS is a much more dreaded organization than the ÁPEH; tax evaders in the U.S. face both fines and jail time. Until now that was not the case in Hungary where the office was lax about such matters.
Well, what happened on that night in 1998? To be precise, between October 31 and November 2? The new Fidesz government to everybody’s delight made November 1, All Saints Day, when everybody goes to the cemetery to remember the dead in the family, a legal holiday in 1999. In 1998 it fell on a Sunday. The brand new chief of ÁPEH, Lajos Simicska, right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, was a generous fellow. He told the many hundreds of employees of the tax office that they would have a really nice long weekend. They could leave on Friday at 5 p.m. and return to work only on Tuesday morning and thus they could attend the graves of their dead relatives. Suspicion immediately arose that Simicska and his friends made this weekend an extra long one not because they were so kind to their employees but because somebody, most likely Simicska and his political friends, needed time to alter the ÁPEH’s database. The initial suspicion didn’t subside, but investigation could begin only after the fall of the Orbán government four years later. Months of investigation revealed only that someone did download certain information about businessmen, politicians, and newspapermen, but they found no evidence that incriminating data on Fidesz politicians and their friends had been deleted. So, basically, the investigation in 2002 came to naught.
Who would have thought that this old story would again hit the pages of newspapers? Not I! But what did I see yesterday afternoon: a man, Z. G. (who might be Zoltán Gubuznai), a close associate of Lajos Simicska who was responsible for ÁPEH’s database and computer system, tried to blackmail Sándor Csányi, perhaps the richest man in Hungary and the head of OTP, Hungary’s largest bank. Z. G. and two of his accomplices were not shy about the amount. After all, Csányi is a very rich man. They demanded fifty million euros! They sent three e-mails to Csányi: on November 29, November 30, and December 3. They claimed that they had incriminating information about a certain real estate transaction. If Csányi didn’t pay up, they would make public the results of an investigation in connection with this transaction. It seems that Csányi wasn’t worried about the results of this investigation. He immediately went to the police. The Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (the equivalent of the American FBI) speedily went to work and came up with Z. G. and two of his friends, who were also former employees of ÁPEH. Both were immediately arrested. It seems almost certain that the "incriminating documents" came into their hand during the Night of the Long Bytes!
Those who were convinced that the investigation of 2002 was not thorough enough are now again hopeful. Maybe this blackmailing attempt will reopen the whole case and perhaps it will become clearer whether Simicska and his friends used their positions to eliminate data to protect themselves and important party leaders or to gather data as ammunition against their political opponents.