I have been collecting information on this investigation for two and a half years. The first article I saved was from a green site that gleefully announced that András Schiffer, one of the leaders of the newly formed LMP, a green party, had demanded an investigation into the role of Ferenc Gyurcsány in the aborted mega-investment of a casino/hotel/wellness center at Lake Velence. He charged that the government broke the law when it didn’t inform the public of the details of the project. The party claimed that “the investors in the project practically dictated the terms to the former and present prime ministers.” The two prime ministers in question were Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai. As it turned out, none of these accusations had any basis.
For quite a while nothing happened. But after the 2010 elections the new government was in a great hurry to pursue András Schiffer’s charges, however flimsy they seemed. Gyurcsány in his blog on the MSZP’s website wrote in June 2010: “The boys are making threats, but why are they only talking about charging me? Go ahead and do it.” However, months went by before the prosecutors moved. It was only in late April 2011 that they were ready to question Gyurcsány and that they asked for the suspension of his parliamentary immunity. The prosecutors decided that there was “well founded suspicion of a breach of fiduciary duties.” What else?
András Schiffer, whom I consider one of the evil spirits of Hungarian politics, was delighted. He was looking forward to more investigations that would unravel all the dubious cases of the MSZP-SZDSZ period. He didn’t change his mind even after Miklós Tátrai and Zsolt Császy, the two officials of the government office that handled state properties, clearly stated that Gyurcsány in no way had tried to influence them in their handling of the investment at Lake Velence. No wonder that an opinion piece on an MSZP site inquired whether Schiffer could sleep well when in fact he had become “the latent ally of Viktor Orbán” and an assistant of political forces with not the most honorable of intentions. He was labelled a politician unacceptable to the democratic forces and “an impediment to democratic collaboration.”
After some hesitation Ferenc Gyurcsány’s parliamentary immunity was suspended, but before the vote he delivered a speech that I translated in its entirety. It was a passionate speech delivered without notes, as is his wont. Anyone who’s interested in the foreign reaction to the decision of the parliamentary majority can read a summary of the general outcry collected by MTI. As for the government reaction, it was interesting to hear Bence Rétvári, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, who in a speech about Hungary in the future casually mentioned that “although we don’t know exactly where we will be in thirty years, we do hope that people will talk about Ferenc Gyurcsány as somebody who was just let out of jail.” This “joke” was received with hearty laughter from the audience.
As for the evidence, it seemed awfully slim, but the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office talked about the abundance of facts at their disposal that he refused to share with either the accused or the public. At the end of investigation, he said, they will come out with the big gun. That was in October 2011. I’m sure that the prosecutors were working furiously, but came April 7, 2012, the deadline for closing the case, and the prosecution was not ready. They extended the deadline, with a decision expected in early June. At this point one of the chief prosecutors handling the case indicated that perhaps not all of the nine who were accused would actually be charged, although they managed to pile up 40,000 pages of documents relating to the case. Then came the second deadline and there was still silence. It was becoming obvious that the case against Gyurcsány was not going well.
In early July it became known that the four investors in the King’s City project all swore that Ferenc Gyurcsány didn’t pressure the officials in charge of the land swap to do anything illegal. Moreover, it turned out that the prosecutors offered a deal to the accused officials, Tátrai and Császy, if they would implicate the former prime minister. They refused.
Today at last we learned that the case against Gyurcsány was dropped. The prosecution maintains that their suspicion was well founded, but there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against him. Well, I will leave an analysis of this announcement to another day. Gyurcsány, I’m sure, is relieved although he claims that he was all set and ready to face charges and to have an opportunity to turn the tables on Viktor Orbán and his men in the prosecutors’ office. He would have enjoyed it. He is sure that his enemies would have regretted every day of the trial if they had decided to proceed against him. He would have been their accuser.
The commentators as usual are divided on an assessment of this new development. There are those who think that it is a welcome event for Gyurcsány who now can devote all his energies to political activities. They claim that this new situation will allow him to move from a defensive position to an offensive one. At the same time there are those who think that Gyurcsány can no longer claim the status of a victim who should deserve sympathy, which will be a drawback for him. I can’t agree with the latter analysts. Gyurcsány’s popularity is not exactly off the charts. Viktor Orbán made sure of that. On the other hand, if Gyurcsány gets angry enough he can be lethal. And he is popping mad at the moment.
As for Viktor Orbán, I’m pretty sure that he is not a happy man today. Schiffer’s charges came in so handy and now here he is, yet again unable to finish off his nemesis once and for all.