Fidesz politicians have a penchant for creating situations that call attention time and again to the fact that something is very wrong with democracy in Hungary. We have discussed on numerous occasions the many unconstitutional laws enacted by the Hungarian government that have been criticized by both foreign and domestic legal bodies. I don’t think we have to repeat what Kim Lane Scheppele has so eloquently told us over the years about these issues. Instead I would like to talk about a much less complicated case, one understandable even by those who have no knowledge of constitutional law or the intricacies of the legal systems of Hungary and the European Union. I’m talking about the Rezešová case.
Eva Rezešová is a very rich woman of Hungarian extraction from Slovakia. Driving while intoxicated, she had a very serious car accident in Hungary on August 23, 2012. Her BMW ran into another car carrying four people. All were killed. The public outcry was immediate and widespread.
I must say that I didn’t follow the Rezešová trial because I didn’t think that it could possibly have political ramifications. After all, it was an ordinary, if tragic, car accident. But Fidesz politicians manage to muddy (or, better, taint) the legal waters even in seemingly straightforward cases.
Rezešová was brought to trial, found guilty, sentenced to six years, and placed under house arrest until the appeals court re-hears her case. The prosecutor filed the appeal since he believed the verdict was too lenient.
Public outrage followed the announcement of the house arrest. The Internet was full of condemnations of the decision. After all, this woman who caused four deaths while driving under the influence didn’t deserve to live in a comfortable apartment in Budapest. News spread that her two children, who are currently in Slovakia, will join her and will attend school in Budapest while she is awaiting her second trial.
Antal Rogán decided to join the outcry. He took along a cameraman and delivered a short message in front of Rezešová’s residence, which he placed on his Facebook page. He expressed his disgust and, in the name of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, called on the parliamentary committee dealing with legal matters and on the minister of justice to investigate the outrageous decision that Rezešová could spend her time between the two trials in the comfort of her home. That happened around 10 a.m. on December 4. A few hours later the announcement came from the court, which had originally ordered the house arrest, that they had changed their minds. Rezešová must return to jail because there is a danger of her escape. Observers were certain that there was a direct connection between Rogán’s demand for an investigation and the court’s change of heart.
This may not be the case. The prosecutor appealed the case and also asked the court to reverse its decision on the issue of the house arrest. So, it is entirely possible that Rogán’s instructions to the parliament and the ministry just happened to coincide with the court’s announcement. Whatever the case, it doesn’t look good. It looks as if in Hungary politicians give instructions to the judiciary and these instructions are promptly obeyed.
Why did Rogán try to influence the court’s decision? Is he that ignorant of the notion of the separation of powers in a democracy? It’s hard to imagine. People consider Rogán one of the brighter politicians around Viktor Orbán. Perhaps as the national election approaches the Orbán government is ready to ignore the “fine points” of democracy as long as a gesture like Rogán’s is appreciated by the majority of the people. And, believe me, it is appreciated. On Facebook one can read hundreds and hundreds of comments thanking Rogán for “doing the right thing.” After all, if the judges don’t know what decency is, here is a man who does and who instructs them to make the right and just decision.
The Association of Judges reacted immediately and pointed out that Rogán’s statement may give the impression of undue influence on the judiciary. The Association felt it necessary to defend the judges against any such interference. It announced that the Association cannot tolerate “expectations expressed by politicians in cases still pending.” The president of the Hungarian Bar Association found it “unacceptable that a politician expresses his opinion on a case before the final verdict.” He called Rogán’s action ”without precedent.” And today even the chief justice of the Kúria (Supreme Court) alluded to the case without mentioning Rogán’s name or the Rezešová case. The issue came up in a speech by Chief Justice Péter Darák welcoming the new clerks and judges. He warned them never to fall prey to outside influences.
It is possible that Rogán’s ill-considered move may have serious practical consequences. For example, what if Rezešová’s lawyer eventually decides to turn to the European Court of Justice claiming political influence in the verdict of the appellate court? It will be very difficult to prove that the two events occurring on the same day had nothing whatsoever to do with each other.
And there are other clouds looming over the Hungarian government with regard to its constant interference with the judiciary. Two days ago the Constitutional Court found the practice the Orbán government introduced of transferring cases from one court to another unconstitutional. This is not the first time the Constitutional Court ruled on the issue, but every time it found the law unconstitutional the government smuggled the same provision into either the constitution or some other law. Meanwhile the head of the National Judiciary Office (OBH), Tünde Handó, kept transferring practically all political cases at will to the far corners of the country to courts that she most likely considered to be partial to the government’s position. In 2011 thirteen and 2012 forty-two such cases were assigned to non-Budapest courts. These cases are still pending.
There are two possibilities now. One is to stop all the proceedings and start the cases over again, this time in the courts to which they by law belong. The second possibility is to proceed as if the Constitutional Court never spoke and have the courts hand down verdicts that will most likely be found null and void by the European Court of Justice. If I were the Hungarian government, I would opt for the former.
We are getting closer and closer to the national election, which most likely will be held sometime in early April. Therefore I think we ought to ponder what happened at the municipal election in Fót on and after November 24. Fót may well be an omen of what can be expected at next year’s national election.
Someone who is supported by the three opposition parties wins the election, but a week later, after the local election commission finds everything to be in order and gives its blessing to the results, on the basis of unproven election irregularities a court decision renders the results null and void. Moreover, it not only orders the election to be repeated but forces participants to start the whole procedure over from the beginning, including getting endorsements. The new election will be held in February. Yes, February because the procedure takes that long. Meanwhile Fót’s municipal government is in disarray. In the Fidesz-run town the city fathers, all belonging to Fidesz, have managed to get rid of three mayors in three years.
What happened in Fót is a serious situation and doesn’t bode well for next year’s national election. I will try to provide a timeline of the events.
The first complaint came from Jobbik’s county organization. They claimed that someone reported that a Volkswagen minibus allegedly transported voters from outlying districts. They claimed to know who the owner of the minibus was. It turned out that the man “with MSZP sympathies” sold his Volkswagen years ago. And although they produced a picture of the white bus, it was impossible to ascertain how many people were inside the vehicle or where the photo was taken. So, here the situation was entirely different from the Baja case where there was proof of regular transports by a single man with a single car.
Then came another complaint. Some people found in their mailboxes a handmade poster without a logo and without the name of any organization which advertised that there would be extra bus runs on the day of the election for easier access to the polling station. As it turned out, the bus schedule was not changed in any way, but it looks as if the three-man panel at the courthouse didn’t find it necessary to ascertain whether the intent had been followed by action. For them the picture of a minibus and a piece of paper promising extra bus runs was enough.
These learned judges rendered their verdict on the basis of §47 of the old electoral law that still regulates election procedures. It says that free transportation service provided by the candidate or the organization he represents is considered to be electoral misconduct. But the verdict in the Fót case says not a word about the candidate or his party or organization that allegedly was behind this dastardly deed. So, from here on every time someone doesn’t like the outcome of an election he can produce a picture of a minibus or come forth with a handwritten crumbled piece of paper announcing extra bus runs and, voila, the election will be declared null and void.
The verdict was so bizarre that the notary of Fót asked twice what the judges actually meant. And the town notary is normally someone with a law degree.
Almost all electoral commissions–local, territorial, and national–are in Fidesz hands, and yet the territorial election committee last Wednesday decided that all was in order. They claimed that even if there had been irregularities such actions couldn’t have influenced the outcome of the election. But then came an appeal from a “private person representing a law firm” who objected. The person asked the court to re-examine the bus route case and, in addition, he called attention to two women who “had in their possession some MSZP-DK-E14 leaflets” and who urged people to vote because “the number of voters is low.” Apparently, they didn’t dispense the leaflets. All in all, we are talking about minor infractions, some of which are unproven.
Was the decision an example of judicial incompetence or were the judges influenced either by their own political views or, even worse, were they subject to some outside influence? It’s hard to tell, but the message is: if an opposition candidate wins, the results will not be allowed to stand. I don’t think too many people remember the 2010 Felcsút municipal election when the man elected mayor was not Viktor Orbán’s favorite Lőrinc Mészáros. The election had to be repeated because it was decided that the winner owed a small fee to the local authorities. He was apparently a Fidesz supporter but not quite the right man.
Of course, from my peaceful rural suburb in Connecticut all this sounds crazy. Why couldn’t I ask my neighbor to take me to vote if my car broke down the day before? What is wrong with someone urging me to go to the polls because participation is low? Of course, nothing. But this is, thank God, not Hungary where for a few bucks you can buy the votes of downtrodden Romas. And then there are the crooked local election committees and the incompetent/crooked judges. As a very bitter opinion piece in HVG said: “there is a brutally misleading electoral procedure. A media that makes equal chances of all parties illusory. A population misled by the state, municipal authorities and even by owners of private companies. There are all sorts of lists. And a wacky opposition that hopes it can get justice from the independent investigative and judicial authorities. Keep hoping!”
Considering that yesterday was Sunday, the Hungarian political scene was anything but quiet. First of all, there was the court decision mandating a repeat of the mayoral election in Fót, which was won by the candidate jointly supported by MSZP, Együtt 2014-PM, and DK. The reasons for the decision are flimsy and the alleged misconduct was committed in a district where it couldn’t possibly influence the outcome. But I guess the court figured that if an election won by Fidesz had to be repeated so should one won by the democratic opposition.
I don’t remember whether we discussed the decision of Gábor Fodor, who was the last chairman of SZDSZ and who established a new liberal party, to run a separate candidate in the Fót election. Fodor obviously picked a good candidate, someone who is well known and well liked in the town of 20,000 inhabitants. She received 500 votes, half of what the candidate of the other opposition parties received. Still she ended up last because, in addition to the front runner and herself, there were three other candidates: two independents, one of whom was supported by Fidesz, and a representative of Jobbik.
I was greatly surprised by the liberal candidate’s showing, especially since Fót is apparently a conservative town where I assume the word “liberal” is despised by the majority of the inhabitants. However, I wonder whether given this new turn of events, it wouldn’t be smart for the liberal candidate to support the candidate of MSZP-Együtt 2014-PM-DK in order to increase the chances of the joint candidate of the three parties. After all, Fodor wanted to test the strength of his party. He proved his point.
The other event of the day was the announcement of the main points of the Democratic Coalition’s campaign platform. Apparently, the final program that will cover about 70 or 80 topics will be ready by next February. Yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány announced sixteen important points of DK’s program. Here I will briefly summarize these points.
1. European future: We want a European Hungary and we want to pay with euros. By 2018 we will prepare the way to be eligible for the introduction of the euro in Hungary in 2020.
2. Franchise for only those who live here: We will stop granting citizenship to those without an established residence in Hungary because it is unfair that people who don’t have to bear the consequences of their decision can determine the results of an election. Therefore only those will be able to vote who are either born Hungarian citizens or naturalized citizens who have a permanent residence in the country.
3. Separation of church and state: We will abrogate the Concordat with the Vatican and restore the complete separation of church and state in all its aspects. We will abolish the privileges of the churches and terminate subsidies for their strictly religious activities.
4. Elimination of usury: We will establish the Bank of Solidarity that will enable the truly poor to receive quick short-term loans at a reasonable interest rate.
5. Assistance to underdeveloped regions: We will create special economic zones in the most backward regions. We will stimulate the economy in these regions with tax breaks, with the expansion of public transportation, and with government investments.
6. Sustainable agrarian policy: We will re-examine the land leases hitherto granted. We will allow corporations to acquire agricultural land and emphasize animal husbandry, vegetable farming, and viticulture.
7. Tax breaks for small and medium-size companies: Depending on the number of employees, we will decrease the social security contributions of employers, which will considerably lower the burden of small and medium-size companies. It will also help to decrease the number of salaries paid under the table.
8. Fair child support: We will change the current system of tax breaks given to families with dependent children to cash support for every child. This way no children will be discriminated against. As it is now, the government gives more to those who are better off while it gives nothing to very poor families who have no taxable income.
9. New nursery schools and kindergartens: We will start a program aiming at building more nursery schools and kindergartens where payment will be a certain percentage of the family’s income.
10. English bilingual education: We will transform all elementary and high schools to bilingual institutions. From 2018 on more and more subjects will be taught in a foreign language in all schools.
11. Computers for all students: We will put a computer on every desk. Until 2018 in all schools at least part of all subjects will be taught digitally.
12. Open and accessible higher education: The first year of college or university will be open to all who pass their matriculation examination. We will give generous scholarships to those who do well and who come from financially disadvantaged families. However, everybody will pay reasonable tuition fees. The tuition fees will remain with the institution the student attends.
13. A pension system without coercion: We will abolish the compulsory retirement age and introduce a universal state pension plan based on individual accounts in which we will include the money taken away by the Orbán government from individual private pension plans. Anyone can theoretically retire after the age of 55, but naturally his/her pension will be low. Persons can retire when they think the amount of their pension reaches a point that would satisfy their needs. We will also redress the wrongdoings meted out to the disabled.
14. Modernization of half a million dwellings: We will help with considerable subsidies to all those who would like to invest in heating systems fueled by sun or wind. In addition, we will help homeowners insulate their houses and change their windows and doors. In four years we plan to assist the owners of 500,000 dwellings to change to the most modern energy systems.
15. More opportunities for women: From 2016 on one-third of the top management of state companies and companies listed on the stock exchange must be women. From 2018 on one-third of those placed on the party lists both locally and nationally must be women.
16. Instead of public television, culture: We will stop public television broadcasting. From the billions spent right now on Magyar Televízió we will support good news and cultural programs on commercial stations. Some of that money can also be used for television movies and cultural programs.
I will not comment on the program because I’d rather hear what the readers of Hungarian Spectrum think of it. But I will tell you what the Hungarian right seems to object to most: getting rid of Magyar Televízió. Although there are sixteen points, the headlines in both Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap bemoaned the outrageous idea of getting rid of MTV. Perfectly understandable. It has been for at least ten years the foremost source of Fidesz propaganda. If the present opposition by some miracle wins the next election, MTV would still remain firmly in Fidesz hands. The loss of this propaganda machine would be a serious blow to Fidesz.
And finally, one or two words about the allegations of András Horváth, former tax official, of the massive VAT fraud with the assistance of the Hungarian Tax and Customs Office. As we discussed, LMP began to collect signatures for the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate, but MSZP members refused to sign the petition because neo-Nazi Jobbik members also signed it. But without Jobbik members there will not be enough signatures to demand the establishment of such a committee.
Initially DK’s leadership shared MSZP’s view, but then it became evident that the party membership was divided on the issue. DK has about 10,000 active members and several thousands more supporters. It was decided that the membership should vote. The yeas were in the majority and therefore this morning Csaba Molnár, deputy chairman of DK, announced that the ten DK parliamentary members will join LMP and will sign the document. They have only one demand: József Balogh’s signature cannot be on the petition. He is the former Fidesz, now independent, member of parliament who beat his wife and claimed that Terike’s fall was due solely to her unfortunate encounter with a blind komondor. So, it seems that pragmatism triumphed. Anyone who would like to know more about the split within the party on the issue should look at some of the articles that appeared on Galamus in the last three days or so. Especially the two articles by Tamás Bauer, vice chairman of DK, and Mihály Andor’s two contributions. Andor was for joining LMP regardless of Jobbik signatures and Bauer dead against it.
You may recall that, shortly after the formation of his cabinet, Viktor Orbán practically ordered Hungary’s ambassadors to respond immediately and forcefully to all unfounded criticism in their “local” media. I’m pretty sure that the foreign ministry also directed Hungarian ambassadors to perform this task, but Viktor Orbán, who has taken away more and more of the competence of the foreign minister and his diplomats, gave some of his own men the task of keeping an eye on the foreign media’s depiction of Hungary and the Hungarian government.
One such man is Ferenc Kumin, about whom I already wrote in connection with a documentary film shown on Swedish television. In this instance Hungarian interference on the ambassadorial level backfired. Since then at least two other television programs have dealt with problems in today’s Hungary. Moreover, Hungary was also the topic of a radio program broadcast on Sweden’s public radio station.
Kumin has quieted down somewhat since his inglorious encounter with Ágnes Heller and was satisfied with only a modest comment affixed to an article that appeared in Maclean’s, the foremost Canadian weekly, about Ákos Kertész, who recently received political asylum in Canada. The author of the article was Anna Porter, the well-known Canadian publicist, who wrote several books on Eastern Europe. What did Kumin object to this time? Interestingly, he didn’t try to deny the harassment of Ákos Kertész by the authorities and by people who were offended by his bitter criticism of his own people, the Hungarians, but concentrated instead on the following lines in Anna Porter’s article:
The far-right Jobbik party demanded that Kertész be stripped of his honours and distinctions; the prime minister agreed and promised a bill would come before parliament to deal with “such racist, anti-Hungarian, traitorous statements.”
According to Kumin,
The author has misquoted Prime Minister Orbán and distorted his comment about the proposed law. It’s simply incorrect to say that he “agreed and promised a bill would come before parliament to deal with ‘such racist, anti-Hungarian, traitorous statements.’” In fact, the prime minister was talking about when it is appropriate to respond to offensive, insulting statements and when it’s better to simply ignore them. He said, unfortunately, one has to handle statements that are often “ignoble, silly or racist” (“nemtelen, szamárság, rasszista”)…. Also, he said that when the parliament considers the law on state honors, it should debate whether it is a good idea to be able to withdraw such honors and, if so, on what conditions. A misquote as serious as this would ordinarily merit a correction.
Kumin gave a link to Viktor Orbán’s answer to a question addressed to him by Sándor Pörzse, a member of Jobbik, the Hungarian anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy party. But before I give the exact wording of the prime minister’s answer, I would like to recall a few events that preceded this exchange on October 24, 2011.
On September 10 the Fidesz caucus of the Budapest City Council proposed withdrawing Ákos Kertész’s “Freedom of the City” award because he called Hungarians genetically servile. A Jobbik member of the City Council agreed and further suggested that the President should consider taking away Kertész’s Kossuth Prize, which he received in 2008. And indeed, “President Pál Schmitt requested that the government examine the possibility of withdrawing state awards from those who had become unworthy.” The Orbán government seemed to have supported the idea because János Halász, undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs in the Ministry of Human Resources, agreed: “If Kertész doesn’t apologize, the government won’t consider him to be worthy of the Kossuth Prize.” In plain language, they will take it away from him.
On September 21 Kertész was stripped of his “Freedom of the City” award by a vote of the Jobbik-Fidesz majority on the City Council. Three days later the Kertész affair got to the Hungarian parliament. It was on October 4 that Orbán rose and answered Jobbik’s Sándor Pörzse in connection with Kertész’s Kossuth Prize.
We, right-wing Christian politicians, must get accustomed to ignoble, silly, racist comments which revile Hungarians and we must carefully choose when we pick up the gauntlet, when we hit back and when not…. As far as the concrete issue is concerned, clearly it makes one unhappy that a writer who received the Kossuth Prize entertains us with such stupidities. But there are worse cases than that. For example, Ernő Gerő is still on the rostrum of Kossuth Prize winners. This only shows that in the last twenty years we didn’t have enough steadfastness to scrutinize the law on state prizes and decorations and discuss the question in this House whether a prize already awarded can or cannot be withdrawn, and if it can be, under what circumstances its withdrawal is or is not desirable. Soon the law concerning prizes and decorations will be before the House when we hope we will have the opportunity to discuss soberly and dispassionately, quite independently from racist stupidities that offend Hungarians, the whole question.
But Kumin didn’t quote the rest of the exchange. Pörzse had an opportunity for a follow-up question, and he asked Orbán to take the initiative of stripping Ákos Kertész of his prize. He emphasized that he should take that “symbolic step.”
Orbán’s answer must have been soothing to the ears of the Jobbik MP. The prime minister stressed that the “solution” is not in his hands. “We will bring the bill here, we will discuss it, and the Hungarian government will follow” the law that is enacted. Galamus‘s headline read: “Orbán reassured Jobbik.”
You can decide whether or not Anna Porter grossly distorted Viktor Orbán’s comments. I don’t think so. I think she summarized Orbán’s statements on the subject quite accurately.
Today I’m continuing the story of Fidesz’s mafia methods as perfected by Lajos Simicska, the financial wizard of the party. I will pick up the story at the time of the campaign that preceded the election of 1998, which Viktor Orbán with the help of József Torgyán, chairman of the Smallholders Party, won.
For the campaign Fidesz needed money. Lots of money. Enter Gábor Princz, chairman of Postabank, which was a state-run bank. The name of the bank accurately reflected its structure. Its branches operated at post offices and thus could reach a wide clientele. Princz ran the bank in a totally irresponsible manner and handsomely paid politicians on both sides for expected favors. He was also very generous when it came to support of the media and organizations connected to culture. Eventually, Postabank went bankrupt, but before that happened Princz used his bank’s assets to support Fidesz’s election campaign. Gábor Kuncze, chairman of the liberal SZDSZ, calculated that Postabank lent and/or gave 800 million forints to Fidesz. Since a few months later there was no Postabank, it is unlikely that Fidesz ever had to pay this money back.
If Princz thought that his generosity toward Fidesz would save him, he was wrong. One of the very first moves of the Orbán government was to remove him from his post as head of the bank. Princz moved to Austria for a while where he felt a great deal safer. Meanwhile, the government began to take care of the immense debts that Postbank had managed to accumulate. Eventually, they calculated the amount of money which according to their experts was needed to put things in order: 152 billion forints. Naturally, Princz himself doubted this figure, which was not surprising. But even people like Imre Tarafás, at the time head of the Állami Pénz- és Tőkepiaci Felügyelet, the organization that supervised bank and monetary transactions, in his report for the year 1999 claimed that the government spent far too much money trying to straighten out Postabank’s accounts. Tarafás was asked by Orbán to resign. When he declined, the government created a new office with a similar mandate and abolished Tarafás’s organization. Tarafás was not the only one who had doubts about the financial needs of Postabank. In 2006 it came to light that at the time KEHI, the government financial supervisory body, also noticed several very shady real estate deals in connection with the consolidation of Postabank. However, István Stumpf, head of the prime minister’s office, suspended any further probe into the matter. But it looks as if about 50 billion forints disappeared in the process of cleaning up the books of Postabank.
Once Fidesz won the election Viktor Orbán began building his political and financial power base. Corruption now became systemic and centralized. The Fidesz government established a number of entities that siphoned large sums of money from the public coffers. First, they set up something called Országimázs Központ (Country Image Center) whose duty it was to conduct a propaganda campaign lauding the outstanding performance of the country under Fidesz leadership. The man in charge was István Stumpf. This body handed out large contracts to two business ventures, Happy End Kft. and Ezüsthajó Kft. (Silver Ship), to stage large state events. One must keep in mind that the new millennium and the Hungarian Kingdom’s 1,000-year anniversary gave plenty of opportunity for lavish celebrations. Just the New Year’s Eve extravaganza, which by the way was a flop, cost, at least on paper, 3.75 billion forints. Several more billions were spent on celebrations all across the country, including the smallest villages, during the Hungarian millennium year. It seems that altogether the Országimázs Központ spent almost 13 billion forints on such events, and more than 90% of that amount was received by Happy End and Ezüsthajó.
It would be too long to list all the phony overpaid providers who were naturally members of the Fidesz inner circle or at least people with close connections to Fidesz. It is almost certain that some of the money paid out to these firms ended up in Fidesz coffers handled by Lajos Simicska.
The really big corruption cases, however, were connected to government investments, especially highway construction. Here the key organization was a state investment bank called Magyar Fejlesztési Bank (MFB, Hungarian Development Bank). The bank was supposed to give out loans for promising business ventures.
When Lajos Simicska left APEH, he got a job at this state investment bank and came up with a fiendishly clever scheme. Road construction was not handled directly by the government but by a company called Nemzeti Autópálya Rt., which was created by MFB specifically for this purpose. The beauty of the arrangement was that the rules and regulations that applied to projects financed by public money were not applicable here. For example, no competitive bidding was necessary. The next step was to designate a company to be the beneficiary of government orders. The chosen company was a leftover from the Kádár years called Vegyépszer. The name is typical of the many state companies that existed in the socialist period. But the name of this company indicates that it didn’t have anything to do with construction. Judging from its name, once upon a time it had something to do with chemicals. But that really didn’t matter because it wasn’t Vegyépszer that was going to do the work but hired subcontractors. Suddenly Vegyépszer received orders to the tune of 600 billion forints. From nothing it became as important a company between 1998 and 2002 as Lajos Simicska’s Közgép is today. I might add that Vegyépszer went bankrupt last year.
The question is how much of that money was returned to Fidesz. After the defeat of Fidesz in 2002, an old high school friend of Orbán, Simicska, and Varga told Debreczeni that the reason for Orbán’s electoral defeat was that “the boys were not satisfied with the customary 10%, they wanted 20% of everything.”
Of course, this is a very brief summary of exceedingly complicated financial transactions. I suggest that those who know Hungarian read the book. It is full of details about the functioning of MFB, which acted as a never ending source of government funds and also was involved in selling state properties to friends of Fidesz politicians under highly questionable circumstances. Some of the beneficiaries of these unsavory deals involving large state farms are still members of Viktor Orbán’s inner circle: Sándor Csányi, István Töröcskei, Zsolt Nyerges, and, yes, Lajos Simicska.
As for Fidesz’s current favorite company, Közgép, which gets almost 100% of government investments financed by the European Union, it belongs to Lajos Simicska himself. Or whoever stands behind him in the shadows.
To be continued
I think that among the comments there was already mention of a new book by József Debreczeni, A fideszes rablógazdaság (The Fidesz robber barons). In a way it is a companion volume to the book edited by Bálint Magyar entitled Magyar polip: A posztkommunista maffia állam (Hungarian octopus: The post-communist mafia state). In fact, Debreczeni borrows Magyar’s description, “the upperworld,” to describe the modus operandi of the Orbán government between 1998 and 2002. Debreczeni’s book is an account of the illegal activities of Viktor Orbán’s closest associates and provides critical background for understanding the current functioning of the mafia state.
Debreczeni combed through the findings of two decades of Hungarian investigative journalism, which unearthed some of the shady dealings of the Fidesz empire. There is no question that in a truly democratic country some of the actors in this story would have long been retired to lengthy stays in prison. The reason this didn’t happen in Hungary was that the cast of characters was extremely cunning. They made sure that there would be no legal consequences of their criminal activities.
How was this achieved? Most likely, at least in part, through blackmail. The highly respected chief prosecutor, Kálmán Györgyi (1990-2000), after having a conversation with János Áder, in those days president of the Hungarian parliament, suddenly resigned in March 2000 although his tenure expired only in 2002. The Fidesz government thus had a free hand to nominate a man, Péter Polt, a Fidesz party member and an older friend from the early 90s, who in the following years became the incarnation of the Chinese wall between justice and the thoroughly corrupt Fidesz leaders, including Viktor Orbán.
From the earliest days of Fidesz, only a handful of people–Viktor Orbán, László Kövér, Lajos Simicska, and Tamás Varga–dealt with financial matters. Of these four only Tamás Varga ended up in jail.
Once Fidesz became a parliamentary party and thus received a certain amount of money from the central budget, it became patently obvious that “the boys” had little notion of or even inclination toward keeping their finances in order. The party’s steering committee eventually became curious about what was going on with the money at the disposal of the parliamentary delegation. The members who were supposed to take a look at the books were faced with assorted slips of paper stuffed into plastic bags. Bookkeeping Fidesz style, I guess. After some scrutiny, it was determined that there were serious questions about how the money had been spent. The committee entrusted with checking the nonexistent books came to the conclusion that “responsibility for the party’s financial disarray should be the subject of a criminal investigation.”
In the end nothing happened because Viktor Orbán convinced the party membership that the report was the work of people who wanted to ruin the party. He asked for, and received, their vote of confidence. At the same time he threatened members of the steering committee with legal action.
Viktor Orbán survived this early investigation as he has survived all subsequent ones as well. The few million forints spent on who knows what at the launch of Fidesz were peanuts in comparison to the close to 700 million forints Fidesz received in September 1992 as a result of the sale of a very valuable building in downtown Budapest. The building was given to MDF and Fidesz by the Hungarian state. The two parties had every right to sell the building and use the proceeds to cover their own expenses. That was not the problem. The problem lay with where the money went.
Out of the 700 million, Simicska, who by then was in charge of the party’s finances, immediately transferred 574 million forints to FICO Kft., which had acted as a Fidesz foundation since 1990. For two years there was little movement of money in or out of FICO, but in 1992-93 everything changed. Simicska began establishing assorted businesses: Quality Invest Rt., Millennium Rt., Quality Party Service Kft., Terra Negra Ingatlanértékesítő és Hasznosító Bt., Quality Profit Kft, Taxorg Kft., Best Lízing Kft., Auto Classic Kft., etc. Moreover, as it turned out, a few million forints also ended up in the hands of Viktor Orbán’s father who didn’t have enough money to buy the state stone quarry he had managed during the Kádár years.
These were not Fidesz owned companies. They were owned by a network of old friends around Viktor Orbán and László Kövér: Lajos Simicska and Tamás Varga were old high school friends; Szilárd Kövér was László’s younger brother; Zsuzsanna Pusztai, Simicska’s wife; Sándor Varga, father of Tamás; István Bakos, Szilárd Kövér’s brother-in-law; Gyula Gansperger, high school friend; Katalin Horváth, Gansperger’s wife, and so on. So, the state property became party property and then the party property became private property. Surely, the argument goes, Simicska must have convinced Orbán and Kövér that these companies would ensure Fidesz’s financial well-being, which at this juncture looked as if it would win the 1994 election.
What happened to the money that ended up in these private companies? Very little is known of its fate. We know that after a while these companies did not pay taxes, VAT, or social security. Eventually they were sold, twenty-two of them on the same day, allegedly to a Turkish guest worker in Germany, Ibrahim Kaya, and a Croatian called Josip Tot. They, of course, were not the real buyers. As it turned out, the passports belonging to these two men had been stolen, and allegedly they knew nothing of the transaction. Of course, the companies that went bankrupt and were sold for pennies to unknown individuals had also taken out substantial bank loans, on which the banks were unable to collect.
All this came to light in 1999 when two investigative journalists unraveled the complicated story in Élet és Irodalom. Unfortunately, it was too late. By that time Viktor Orbán was prime minister of Hungary. Immediately after the formation of his government he made Lajos Simicska head of APEH (Adó- és Pénzügyi Ellenőrzési Hivatal), the Hungarian equivalent of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. All documentation on these companies disappeared from the computers of APEH. After all, Simicska was put there for the sole purpose of covering the tracks of their illegal financial activities. Simicska stayed at the head of APEH only as long as was necessary to accomplish his task. A few months later, in the summer of 1999, claiming that attacks on his person ruined his health and caused his father’s death, Simicska resigned. By that time, the APEH files were most likely clean as a whistle. When later during the socialist-liberal period a government commissioner wanted to reopen the case, Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, blocked his way.
According to an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs in 1999, at least 60 Fidesz-related companies were established between 1990 and 1998. Simicska’s name appeared on 24, of which 14 were “purchased” by Ibrahim Kaya and Josip Tot.
After reading the details of the relationship between Orbán and Simicska, some people came to the conclusion that Orbán had been dragged into the morass of financial wrongdoing concocted by Simicska. He was in so deep that he was unable to extricate himself without landing in jail. He was the good guy under the thumb of the bad Simicska. But, as Debreczeni sums it up: “At the beginning one could perhaps think that Fidesz was led by a democratic Dr. Jekyll and a mafioso Mr. Hyde, but in the end it turned out that in reality a politician Hyde and a financier Hyde ruled the party, and by now, rule the country.”
To be continued
In the last couple of days the results of two new public opinion polls on party preferences appeared: Ipsos on November 18 and Medián today. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP and LMP gained and the left lost, both by an inconsequential 1%. Medián’s survey, by contrast, found more substantial shifts, and in the opposite direction. Fidesz-KDNP lost 4% of its support in one month and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, DK, became as strong as E14-PM.
Let us examine these results a little more closely. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP’s support among the electorate as a whole is 27% while MSZP’s is 15%. As for the other parties, 7% of the eligible voters support Jobbik, 3% Együtt-PM, and only 2% LMP and DK.
As for voter commitment, according to Ipsos only 36% of the electorate is certain that they would cast a vote rain or shine. And that is very low. In this group Fidesz-KDNP leads by a mile: they would receive 51% percent of the votes against MSZP’s 26%. Jobbik voters are also deeply committed to their cause and therefore show good results in this category.
Somewhat larger changes occurred in the last month or so among the 42% of the voters who call themselves undecided. Within that group the size of “the completely passive voters” decreased by 3% while the number of those who have a preference but refuse to divulge what it is grew from 8% to 11%.
And let’s pause a bit to expand on these last figures. According to Tibor Závecz, the man in charge of the monthly Ipsos polls, the pool of “secretive voters” is large, about 900,000. Although these people might not want the pollsters to know their political views, the poll takers ask indirect questions that can be quite revealing. Based on answers to these indirect questions, Závecz claims that at least two-thirds or even three-quarters of the secretive voters actually sympathize with the left.
Moving on to Medián, I’ll compare the still very sketchy outlines of this month’s results to Medián’s October figures. What we must keep in mind is that the October results reflect the situation before the October 23 mass meeting and the public demand there for unity among the forces on the left. The attendees wanted to broaden the arrangement Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy worked out to the exclusion of other parties and groupings. At that time Fidesz had a 36% share in the electorate as a whole and 52% among those who would definitely vote at the next elections as opposed to MSZP’s 14% and 21%. Együtt2014-PM still polled relatively well: 5% in the electorate as a whole and 7% among committed voters. DK at this point was weaker than E14-PM: 3% among all voters and 4% among committed voters.
And what is the situation today, after the mass demonstration? Fidesz has a 34% share among all eligible voters and among the sure voters only 48%. That is a 2%/4% loss in one month. MSZP ticked up 2% in the electorate at large and remained unchanged among committed voters. E14-PM’s support eroded by 1%: last month’s 5% and 7% are 4% and 6% today. DK, on the other hand, as many people predicted, inched up and now matches Együtt2014-PM’s levels of support: 4% and 6%. If these numbers are more than a one-off, Gordon Bajnai who just the other day referred to those who were left out of the election agreement as small parties as opposed to his own might have to revise his estimate of the situation.
And this brings me to a couple of interviews György Bolgár conducted yesterday and today. Bolgár’s program lasts two hours and consists of a mixture of interviews and listener comments. Yesterday the whole first hour was devoted to a interview with Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. Their performances were disappointing. My own feelings were exactly the same as those of Zsófia Mihancsik and Ferenc Krémer in today’s Galamus. Mihancsik’s article was entitled “This way there is no hope,” and Krémer called his “Sadness.” Shall I say more?
Attila Mesterházy took an unyielding position, standing by the arrangement that E14-PM and MSZP worked out. All other parties, including DK that is by now as strong as E14, should be satisfied with their sorry lot and support the two of them. I wonder what Mesterházy will do if in a couple of months it turns out that E14′s support has eroded further while DK has again gained.
I strongly suggest that those who can handle Hungarian listen not only to the interviews but also to the comments that followed. It is strange that these opposition politicians refuse to heed the voice of the electorate. They didn’t believe that the demonstration for unity was genuine and now surely they will say that all listeners of Klubrádió are DK supporters. How long can that fiction be maintained?
The MSZP argument for excluding DK is their conviction that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket would take away more votes than it would bring in. However, a September survey, also by Medián, indicates that this is not the case. I wrote about this poll at length back in September. It is hard to figure out why Mesterházy clings to that, in my opinion, mistaken notion.
Today György Bolgár had a shorter interview with Klára Ungár, chairman of Szabad Emberek Magyarországért Liberális Párt or SZEMA, one of the three liberal groups. SZEMA’s support is immeasurably small.
I personally like Klára Ungár, but this interview highlighted the dysfunctions that pervaded SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége). The party fell apart because of internal squabbling, political differences, and personal animosities. Things haven’t changed since. It was clear from Ungár’s interview that she would refuse any cooperation with the other liberals, that is with Gábor Kuncze’s group and Gábor Fodor’s new liberal party. Ungár, who hasn’t been active in politics since 1998, feels very virtuous and insists that other SZDSZ politicians should not only admit responsibility for Viktor Orbán’s rise to power but should simply disappear from political life.
So, this is the situation at the moment. A change of strategy is desperately needed as soon as possible. But after listening to Bajnai and Mesterházy I see no possibility of such a change in the near future. Meanwhile time is running out.
On November 8 a surveyor of taxes, András Horváth, turned to the prosecutor’s office to report a breach of fiduciary duties committed by the top leaders of NAV (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal/National Office of Taxation and Customs). During his press conference he stood between representatives of two civic groups, Levegő Munkacsoport, an environmental organization, and Vállakozók Érdekvédelmi Szövetsége (VÉSZ), basically a lobby group of small entrepreneurs.
Horváth claimed that large-scale cheating goes on with fictitious VAT reimbursement payments, especially in the case of large multinational and domestic companies. Since Horváth was mostly involved with agricultural products and foodstuffs in general, I assume that the companies he was talking about are mostly large food chains. He claimed that the loss incurred in just this sector of the Hungarian economy amounts to about 1.7 trillion forints per year, more than 10% of the country’s entire yearly budget of 15 trillion forints.
Horváth seems to be a naive soul because before his revelation he turned in his resignation and was expecting to sever relations with NAV only in two months’ time. I guess you will not be surprised to hear that Horváth was immediately dismissed from NAV and that currently NAV is in the process of pressing charges against him.
When Index asked for details from NAV, they were told that tax fraud is usually committed through complicated layers of phony companies and that therefore it is often impossible to find the culprits despite the concerted efforts of NAV’s employees. The spokesman for NAV emphasized that the more than one thousand large multinational and domestic companies actually provide 42% of all tax revenues. These companies are thoroughly investigated.
Yet NAV, either on its own or because of prodding from above, immediately announced an internal investigation. Keep in mind that NAV has 23,000 employees, and yet over the weekend in only two days’ time (November 9-10) the “investigation” turned up nothing. I have the feeling that the internal probe couldn’t have been too thorough.
On Tuesday, November 12, disappointed by the internal investigation of NAV, Horváth put all his trust in the government, emphasizing that he has no political motivations. He just wants the truth to surface. In fact, he was an early Fidesz party member and has old friends in the party from those days. He indicated that he knows two of the “highest dignitaries of the land.” I think he was talking about János Áder and László Kövér. He also said that he wrote two letters to leading politicians in the Prime Minister’s Office and he definitely knows that one reached the person for whom it was intended. I assume again that this was János Lázár. Exactly when Horváth wrote to the person in the Prime Minister’s Office is not clear, but we definitely know that he wrote a long letter to Antal Rogán, head of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, back in November 2011.
Rogán didn’t seem to remember any such letter. His only recollection was that somebody stopped him in the corridor of the parliament and exchanged a few words with him. But then Horváth released his long, detailed letter which Átlátszó.hu, an investigative online paper, published in its entirety. At that point Rogán’s memory was jiggled, but he still claimed that the letter contained only generalities. It is true that Horváth didn’t mention any names, but he indicated that some of the high officials of NAV were getting paid off for their “leniency” and that some of them had become quite rich in the process.
The way the fraud was committed does look complicated, but in essence it entails a phantom supplier who gets reimbursed for VAT, which is the highest in the European Union. Thus a product for which the Hungarian company paid 100 forints to, let’s say, a Slovak company cost the Hungarian company only about 80 forints and thus its profit margin is about 20-25% higher than it would have been without the assistance of this phantom company. There is a drawing of the scheme in Index.
Fidesz naturally suspects political motives behind Horváth’s revelations. Mihály Varga, minister of economics, warned Horváth that he as a civil servant is not supposed to engage in political activities. Horváth insists that politics has nothing to do with it and that the law is on his side. After all, he says, the law is supposed to shield those who unveil corruption and fraud. But Horváth is in trouble because so far his case has not been taken up by the prosecutor’s office. They want additional information, which sounds like a diversionary tactic. Knowing the political orientation of the prosecutor’s office, I will be most surprised if Horváth’s case is ever taken up.
Meanwhile, of course, the case became thoroughly politicized. It couldn’t have been otherwise. András Schiffer’s LMP immediately moved into action. Next Friday the party will stage a demonstration for “the purity of the tax office and for the upstanding taxpayers.” At the same time, LMP and József Ángyán, formerly Fidesz but now an independent member of parliament, initiated the process to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate the NAV case.
The establishment of such a committee must be supported by 77 members of parliament. As it turned out, in addition to the seven-member LMP only a few independents, a handful of Együtt-PM, and Jobbik members signed the petition. And that’s not enough. Without MSZP there can be no committee investigation of the case. DK members also refused to sign. The reason for both MSZP and DK holding back was the signatures of Jobbik members. They refuse to join any parliamentary action in which Jobbik is involved.
It is true that, even if the necessary number of signatures had been obtained, the investigative commission most likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Fidesz would have voted it down flat. But at least the charge couldn’t have been leveled against MSZP that they were reluctant to sign because they didn’t want their own part in the tax evasion scheme to be unearthed. Indeed, the reason for their refusal to sign doesn’t sound quite genuine, as some Együtt-PM members point out, because in the last three years MSZP members signed several documents on which one could find Jobbik names as well. Attila Mesterházy’s explanation for MSZP’s action (or lack of action) in this case is that the party decided to boycott Jobbik in parliament and elsewhere only recently.
I’m not sure whether refusing to collaborate with Jobbik in every instance is necessarily a smart political tactic. My feeling is that Mesterházy and others can explain their reasons until they are blue in the face, yet people who are inclined to equate the two parties when it comes to corruption will never believe them. And these are exactly the people whom Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy want to convince to vote for them. Of course, those who argue that nothing would have come of the investigative committee are right, but at least MSZP could have avoided another reason for labeling them a corrupt party, just as corrupt as the “mafia government” of Fidesz.
A startling piece of news appeared yesterday in Népszabadság. A young man of dual Hungarian-Syrian citizenship with close ties to Fidesz might have been involved in one way or another in the murders of several Roma families which occurred between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. After three years of police investigation and 186 days in court, the case was closed on August 6, 2013, when three men received life imprisonment without parole and a fourth thirteen years without the possibility of early release. No one else was ever charged.
It would take far too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation that resulted in less than complete discovery. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced in August others might have been involved. We don’t even know all the pertinent information about the men who were convicted. For instance, one of the culprits had apparently worked for the Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal (Office of Military Security), but the details of his employment were never completely unearthed.
The authorities never managed to discover the source of all the weapons used in these murders. Some were stolen from the collection of a hunter by three of the accused. It was known that there was another person involved in the theft, but the police investigation failed to identify him. In addition to the stolen weapons there were other guns in the three men’s possession whose origin remained a mystery. The investigators knew that the Kiss brothers, István and Árpád, tried to purchase guns in Budapest. It was in connection with this part of the investigation that the name of Omar Ádám Sayfo surfaced.
A document recently found its way to the newsroom of Népszabadság which indicates that Sayfo was, even if not a potential suspect himself, a source of information about one of the men, István Kiss. In his testimony Sayfo told investigators that he had known Kiss for at least ten years and that they had been good friends. Sayfo knew about Kiss’s extremist political views, yet he found him surprisingly open-minded, a man who regretted the swastikas tattooed on his hand and leg. Nonetheless, Kiss was a member of an organization called Véres kard (Bloody Sword), which is a Hungarist organization, i.e. its members are followers of Ferenc Szálasi.
During Sayfo’s interrogation the investigators inquired about his views on firearms. He answered that, like all men, he is interested in them. At the time of his questioning he was thinking about signing up for a course for future hunters. Later Sayfo also testified in court and, when asked whether István Kiss had ever talked to him about acquiring weapons, he answered in the negative.
A parliamentary subcommittee comprised of three politicians, Károly Tóth (MSZP), József Gulyás (SZDSZ, today Együtt14-MP), and Ervin Demeter (Fidesz, former minister in charge of national security in the first Orbán government), had access to the testimony of “O.S.,” but they allegedly paid no attention to the man. Népszava asked Ervin Demeter about Omar Sayfo, since Demeter was a contributor to Magyar Demokrata when Sayfo was one of the paper’s editors. Demeter claims not to have known him. Magyar Demokrata, by the way, is full of anti-Semitic articles, many of them written by Omar Sayfo. The paper’s editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches.
Sayfo wore many hats in those days. In addition to being an editor of Magyar Demokrata, he was a Ph.D. candidate at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, specializing in Arabic literature, culture, and politics. He was also active in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. And he often showed up as a “political scientist” on Hír TV. Lately one can see him more often on the truly extremist Echo TV. Not long ago he welcomed Iran’s nuclear capability as a means of “keeping Israel in line.”
Népszabadság found that in 2009, about the time the investigation of the Roma serial murder case uncovered Sayfo’s connection to István Kiss, he was a member of a Fidelitas delegation to Passau to attend the yearly regional congress of Bavarian parties. After Fidesz won the election, he became a civil servant for a while. He was attached to the foreign economics unit of the Ministry of National Economy in 2011. His stay there was short. Within a year the ministry no longer needed his services. The cause of his dismissal, if it was a dismissal, is not known.
One should spend time analyzing Sayfo’s articles in order to paint a richer portrait of the man, but Népszabadság came up with one rather telling quotation. “Those who belong to the dregs of society (literally “mass of lumpen proletarians,” coming from the German Lumpen meaning rags) with free beer and frankfurters in their stomach will take revenge on the government of law and order at election time. No government has dared to touch this issue. In the last twenty years the democratic institutions have become in part the dictatorship of the parasitic masses in which the lumpen, criminal strata of society will punish not only the decision makers but also the majority of society that would like to live in a country of law and order. One must put an end to this in the interest of both parties.” Perhaps it would have been wise to investigate Sayfo’s background and his close friendship with István Kiss, after all.
I think that an article from 2010 that appeared in 168 Óra and to which “Mutt” called attention on Facebook might have some relevance here. It is a description of a speech by László Kövér, currently the president of the Hungarian parliament, delivered in Jászszentandrás on January 27, 2010. Here is what Kövér had to say. “Of course, in a democracy everybody has voting rights…. In a democracy unfortunately or not, depending on one’s inclination, this is the case. … Of course, everybody should have the right to vote, but they should be able to sell their vote to the state.” According to him, the state could purchase votes for the amount of the prevailing minimum wage. Everybody would do well: the dregs would get money and “we would get rid of those who vote differently.” Crazy yes, but Kövér’s and Sayfo’s ideas are practically identical.
But what about the exclusion of these lumpen elements? Surely, depriving certain people of voting rights is out of the question. Kövér’s idea is outright bizarre, but what about buying these people’s votes in a different way? Viktor Orbán tried to deter them from voting by introducing a system of registration. When that caused alarm both inside and outside of the country, he abandoned the idea. But purchasing votes is not far from the Fidesz leaders’ mind. Sure, they cannot do it officially, but as the Baja by-election demonstrated, it can be done unofficially and with the desired result.
It is unlikely that the investigation into the Roma serial murders will be reopened. For one thing, I don’t think the current government would be interested in the prospect of finding more people with Fidesz ties too close to the case. Because, as is clear from the career of Omar Sayfo, it is almost impossible to say where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.