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.

Injustice by Swamibu / flkr

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.

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60 comments

  1. No they don’t, but if you were to ever read the neanderthal statements people make, it will make you sick to your stomach. The racism and the name calling is unbeleivable. If Canadian Immigration minister Jason Kenney read over this blog, I think he would reverse his safe country decision on Hungary for sure! LOL! You are an intelligent woman and you speak your mind but keep your integrity at the same time. The commenters here are also a different breed. It is nice to see the disagreements being discussed in a civilized manner. I don’t think I will look back now. There are other sources to get news on in Hungary, no need to involve myself with people like them.

  2. Erzsike, What I am the most proud of when it comes to this blog is that our readers are civilized and intelligent. We have our differences but it never occurs to anyone to make comments like a lot of people make either on politics.hu or in Hungarian-language comments after articles that appear in either in right- or left-wing papers.

    I also want to emphasize that 99% of them time I don’t have to interfere in any way and tell people to behave. It wouldn’t even occur to our commentators to behave in any other way.

  3. Eva: “I’m not a supporter of MSZP, so you are on the wrong track.”
    I know you’re not an MSZP supporter now. You support Gyurcsány, but he was MSZP then. The challenge still stands, name one corruption scandal tied to the MSZP-SZDSZ governance where you think the prosecution is spot on.

    “I just think that the Fidesz leadership is made up of greater crooks. They are much more efficient.”

    In my opinion the level of corruption in both parties are beyond the level when a quality comparison can be mad.

    “And while we are at Fidesz crooks. What about the Gripen case that came up again? There is testimony to the effect that the Austrian count paid off five Hungarian politicians at the tune of 13 million euros in 2001?”

    Yet again the but what about Fidesz thing. But ok, I think the Grippen scandal is the first Fidesz government’s most serious case, far worse than Ezüsthajó/Orbán. On this note, I agree with your next post, this case is probably never going to be proven either and not necessarily because it didn’t happen.

    ” It has been fairly obvious to me–and I guess for everybody else among the commenters–that you lean toward Fidesz.”

    Really? Other’s, did I come off as a Fidesz supporter? Maybe you are not reading people as good as you think.

    Kingfisher: I also had family ties where I get “extra information”, e.g. Hagyó’s kind is one of the reason that my stepfather got fired from a government office. He’s an ardent left-liberal up until this day but he refused to go along and play apart in a few of these “kind requests” about which publisher should win the tender to print their publications and chose the cheaper one instead of the “friendly” and a million little issues like that which is never ever going to be proved of course. I just don’t like to use these arguments because I perfectly understand why one wouldn’t give too much credit to this unless I reveal my identity which of course I just can’t do.

  4. On the original note, to help Eva with her confusion, I really wanted to dig up all the articles that appeared in the left wing media (i.e. papers that are declared credible on this blog too) back in the days about the generational fight between the “youngsters” centered around Hagyó and the old guard of MSZP and how Hagyó’s attempt failed (I remember Ildikó Lendvai threatening anybody who calls her old ever again with a slapping around). A few weeks later his downfall started. Funny coincidence. Unfortunately, work dictated otherwise but it’s a pretty easy search.

    Finally, about any man in his sane mind not doing what Hagyó’s accused of. I had another example at the tip of my tongue but didn’t remember. Now I do. Can you recall that smallholder crook from the first Orbán government who got busted in the lamest way ever exchanging a fortune in a public coffeeshop?

  5. On a less serious off topic note, the nation’s number one standup comedian shined again, talk to you again when I found my chin on the floor…

  6. Jano :

    Finally, about any man in his sane mind not doing what Hagyó’s accused of. I had another example at the tip of my tongue but didn’t remember. Now I do. Can you recall that smallholder crook from the first Orbán government who got busted in the lamest way ever exchanging a fortune in a public coffeeshop?

    But they knew each other. Hagyó and Balogh didn’t.

  7. Well, it seems that the prosecutor’s office is not at all happy. They are planning to sue Mesterházy and Antal on the grounds of falsely accusing them. So, after all, it wasn’t exactly advantageous for these two to withdraw their testimonies and accuse the interrogators of wrong doing.

  8. Jano: “On a less serious off topic note, the nation’s number one standup comedian shined again, talk to you again when I found my chin on the floor…”

    I simply don’t understand that such a man can have a weekly program on any television station. I think I wrote about him once. He is something else.

  9. Eva S. Balogh :
    Jano: “On a less serious off topic note, the nation’s number one standup comedian shined again, talk to you again when I found my chin on the floor…”
    I simply don’t understand that such a man can have a weekly program on any television station. I think I wrote about him once. He is something else.

    OMG. How can this guy be on cable? Planet Hungary Television.

    Heider, Diana and JFK were murdered by the same “background powers”! But wait there is more! They caused the red sludge spill in 2010 to punish the newly elected right wing Hungarian government. Where is my tin foil hat?

    (I haven’t made this up. Really. The guy on on the video says it.)

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