A botched-up show trial in Hungary
I’m going to write today about the infamous Hagyó affair. Miklós Hagyó, who joined MSZP in 1998, was a wealthy businessman who soon enough became an important political figure in Budapest. He was one of the deputy mayors in the administration of Gábor Demszky, who led the city between 1990 and 2010. Among other things, Hagyó oversaw the business practices of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). The losses at BKV were staggering; year after year the central government had to come to its rescue. The business practices of BKV had been under fairly close scrutiny, and it was discovered that management didn’t always run the company in a judicious manner.
But in March 2010 came a bombshell. Zsolt Balogh, one of the many CEOs of BKV, said on HírTV that he, as the newly appointed head of BKV, paid a courtesy visit to Hagyó, who right on the spot instructed him to hand over 40 million forints. Balogh obliged, and the next day he brought the money to the deputy mayor in a box originally designed as packaging for a Nokia telephone.
At this point I said to myself: something is wrong here. There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam. During their very first encounter. Hagyó tried to clear his name but couldn’t. In late May, right after Hagyó lost his parliamentary seat due to the change of government, he was arrested. Obviously, the Hungarian prosecutors didn’t share my doubts.
Miklós Hagyó spent nine months in jail and several months in a prison hospital. Eventually his health deteriorated to such an extent that the authorities decided that perhaps he should be released and spend the rest of the time before his court appearance under house arrest.
The investigators spent two and a half years gathering evidence. Originally the prosecutors hoped for some spectacular revelations. They would have liked to have proof, for instance, that the money Hagyó allegedly extorted from the CEOs of BKV actually ended up in the coffers of MSZP. But the evidence was lacking.
In the end, although a total of sixteen people were accused of various crimes in connection with the business practices of BKV, only two important people were accused of anything: Miklós Hagyó and Ernő Mesterházy (SZDSZ), adviser to Mayor Gábor Demszky. The prosecutors tried to build a case of bribery but they couldn’t. Basically they had to fall back on the good old charge of breach of fiduciary responsibility. The only exception was the charge of extortion in the case of Hagyó, based on the fabulous Nokia story. The prosecution demanded jail time for fifteen of the sixteen accused.
In February Hagyó and his fellow accused were told that the court would like to have a speedy trial and that if the Budapest Court were to handle the case it couldn’t be on the docket before the summer of 2013. Therefore Tünde Handó, wife of Fidesz EP member József Szájer and head of the National Judicial Office, assigned the case to the court in Kecskemét, 85 kilometers from Budapest. The suspicion was and still is that the prosecution was hoping for a more sympathetic judge. Hagyó and the others appealed to the Constitutional Court but without success. On September 11 the case began in Kecskemét.
After the prosecutor read the fifty-page indictment it was Hagyó’s turn. He read a lengthy document in which he declared himself innocent. He naturally denied the Nokia story and said that he had sued all those people who, according to him, falsely accused him of wrongdoing. He also maintained that he and the other deputy mayor, Imre Ikvai-Szabó (SZDSZ), actually did a good job because when they took over the supervision of BKV it was stranded with a 70 billion forint debt which the two of them managed to decrease by 11.5 billion.
On September 20 it was Ernő Mesterházy’s turn, who also professed his innocence. In addition, he accused the investigators of illegal activities. He made no secret of his belief that their case was a show trial or, as the Hungarians describe such cases, “koncepciós perek,” i.e. cases based on trumped-up charges with a concept in mind as to its final outcome. He also testified that the investigators had put pressure on him, saying that if he were ready to give evidence against Miklós Hagyó and Gábor Demszky he could leave jail and his own case might be judged more lightly.
Today we heard that another CEO of BKV, Attila Antal, who had given evidence against Mesterházy and Hagyó, withdrew his original testimony. He told the court that while he was in jail he was very ill and the police told him that he would be let go only if “he talks.” His testimony was faxed over to the prosecutor’s office page by page for them to inspect its contents and decide whether or not his testimony was satisfactory from the prosecution’s point of view. Antal asked for Hagyó’s and Mesterházy’s forgiveness.
So, this is where we stand. In the past every time I expressed my doubts about the Hagyó case I received loads of criticism. Even ridicule. And here are the results of the first few days of the trial. Maybe I wasn’t that wrong after all.