The plight of a Hungarian whistleblower

It was a month ago that András Horváth, a former employee of NAV (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal/National Office of Taxation and Customs), turned to the prosecutor’s office to report a breach of fiduciary duties committed by the top management of this 23,000-employee office. He claimed that large-scale cheating goes on with fictitious VAT reimbursement payments, especially in the case of large commodity distributors and food chains, both multinational and domestic. The figures Horváth was talking about are staggering. He estimates the loss of revenue at 1.7 trillion forints a year.

Since then András Horváth has been in the news constantly. There has been hardly a day that he wasn’t in the electronic media, and thousands of articles have appeared about what is called the NAV scandal. Some people predicted that this affair might bring down the Orbán government, which I very much doubt. These guys are far too foxy to trip over such a “trifling” item as a 1.7 trillion forint fraud.

On November 19 I reported about the affair in as much detail as was available at the time. Predictably, since then politics entered the fray. The first party that offered assistance to Horváth was András Schiffer’s LMP. Schiffer is a lawyer who made sure that Horváth had good legal counsel. At the same time LMP began an effort to get the 78 signatures necessary to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate Horváth’s allegations. MSZP and DK were reluctant to join forces with Jobbik in calling for the committee, which I think was a mistake. I understand that the overwhelming majority of DK’s membership shared my opinion. Well, by the end they managed to get the 78 signatures without current Jobbik members, but Fidesz boycotted a hearing that was supposed to question Horváth on the details. Later Fidesz thwarted the opposition’s effort to set up the committee, claiming  that the existence of such a committee is illegal when a criminal investigation is already underway. I don’t want to delve into the legal complexities of the issue, but legal experts claim that Fidesz as usual was not exactly on the up and up on this issue. Moreover, as it turned out, Horváth was never informed of the investigation launched against him, and his report to the prosecutor’s office on the wrongdoings of the management of NAV wasn’t followed up with any investigation.

Meanwhile direct evidence was mounting that underscored Horváth’s claims. Economic Minister Mihály Varga, under whose ministry NAV operates, admitted in response to a question posed to him by a couple of LMP MPs that NAV investigated only the distributors, not the food chains themselves. This is exactly what Horváth was talking about.

For two years Horváth tried to call attention to the wholesale tax fraud at NAV. He approached several top Fidesz politicians. For example, Antal Rogán and János Lázár. I don’t know why he didn’t go to the Ministry of National Economy where Gábor Orbán, no relation to Viktor, is the undersecretary in charge of taxes and finance in general. Perhaps he had his reasons, although yesterday he said that it wasn’t the government that put pressure on NAV but influential businessmen, oligarchs as he called them.

Yesterday was no ordinary day for the poor Hungarian whistleblower. Out of the blue, at 7:30 a.m., four detectives arrived at Horváth’s apartment and took his famous green dossier, which he carried everywhere he went, claiming that all the information he has is in that folder. For good measure they also took the hard drive from his computer as well as his notebook with the names and telephone numbers of journalists, politicians, and lawyers with whom he has been in contact lately. The sudden and apparently illegal raid reminded people of the surprise visits from the state security authorities during the Rákosi period. They usually arrived at the crack of dawn to arrest people. Everybody agrees that the aim of yesterday’s raid was intimidation. Indeed, Horváth seemed to be genuinely shaken last night when he talked to Olga Kálmán of ATV, although he promised to fight on.

Source: cherispeak.wordpress.com

Source: cherispeak.wordpress.com

It was during during his encounter with the detectives that Horváth learned that a charge had been filed against him: breach of confidentiality. Considering that up to this point Horváth didn’t divulge any details about those companies which were, according to him, purposefully not investigated, it is really questionable whether this charge can be maintained. Later it also became clear that NAV already on December 11 filed a police report against Horváth with the Emergency Police’s National Detective Section, not only in connection with the breach of confidentiality but also with the abrogation of fiduciary duties. They only neglected to inform András Horváth of the charges against him.

A right-wing blog gleefully announced that Horváth might receive a three-year jail term. On the other hand, TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent  of the American Civil Liberties Union, alongside other groups active in the defense of the law like Transparency International, considers the police search most likely illegal. Whistleblowers have appropriate protection in Hungary. According to a 2009 law (Law  CLXIII, Act 21 § (5) “filing for breach of confidentiality cannot be applied unless it was done in bad faith .” That is, if it turns out that Horváth made malicious and unfounded charges. But first his charges must be investigated.

Others rightly compared the case to the UD Zrt. scandal in which the victim, Ibolya Dávid, president of Magyar Demokrata Fórum, a since defunct right-of-center party, ended up being the accused. UD Zrt., most likely at the behest of Fidesz, spied on her and on her party. That was in 2008. By the summer of 2009 she was a defendant, and as of today she still hasn’t been able to clear her name in court. Only recently, after she and her co-defendant Károly Herényi were acquitted, a judge ordered that the whole procedure be started again from the very beginning. Viktor Orbán doesn’t forget easily. He blamed her for his defeat in 2006 when she refused to go along with a joint Fidesz-MDF ticket. But Dávid knew what she was doing. Her experience in a Fidesz-MDF-Smallholders coalition when she was minister of justice taught her a thing or two about how Orbán deals with those whom he needs to acquire power and how he subsequently ruins them.

Viktor Orbán naturally has been fairly quiet on the subject of the possible tax fraud at NAV.  He spent the last two days in Brussels. During the press conference after the meetings he was asked about the scandal. He made no mention of the search and seizure at Horváth’s apartment yesterday morning. Instead he explained why “the state machinery hasn’t moved yet.” He would like “to have answers to three simple questions: who committed what and when.” Can you imagine what would have happened to Horváth if he had obliged and answered these questions? Surely, given how the Hungarian system works, by now he would be in pre-trial detention.

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23 comments

  1. Party campaigns at street level in the last few days:

    Fidesz:
    1. Mayor Tarlos’s self-laudatory brochure
    2. local Fidesz representative’s Merry Christmas card cum calendar
    3. free weekly “Helyi Tema” – denigrating & lying articles about opposition
    personalities –
    they were all in my mailbox

    Jobbik:
    small counter with Jobbik propaganda paper staffed with two people at Lehel market, which is in the leftmost part of Budapest.

    Democratic opposition:
    zero, nothing, zilch, nada

  2. András Horváth is a brave men. But this is nothing compared to the Snowden affair which has wide internation implications. And look what Snowden is facing.

  3. Similarity between Snowden and Horvath is that each is a whistle blower with the purpose of enlightening a wider spectrum of the population on matters likely illegal (tax evasion with government assistance) or unwarranted wire-tapping which may be illegal and unethical and a breach of confidentiality that could be considered a human right.

    Horvath was careful not to incriminate himself by avoiding the divulging of secrets of privacy as pertaining to specific taxpayers or companies suspected in illegal tax evasion.

    Snowden however broke his oath of secrecy required by those working on top-secret matters in the US government. This, irrespective of his motives is among the highest crimes in any country is is punished extremely seriously – beacuse it may put lots of persons in direct danger and defensive systems become highly vulnerable causing untold problems for a country.

    So the two are an entirely different cup of cake, except that the cause was for the enlightenment of the population at large. But Horvath BROKE NO LAW in the process.

    The troubling issue in the Horvath case is that the govenmnet is drumming up patently false accusations against him to throw him off balance and is also DOING EVERYTHING IT CAN TO AVOID and HINDER an investigation into the matters brought to public attention by Horvath. By law the govenment has to accomplish a thorough investigation as the accusations in all respects appear extremely well founded and pertain to very substantial illegal wrong-doing inside the government with responsibilities potentially going to the highest echelons. Additionally “whistle blowing” under strict circumstances that Horvath adhered to is a positive activity and is actually protected by Hungarian law.

    But, as usual, when the law does not fit into the convenient scheme of things, Fidesz takes the law in its hands and uses 1001+ legal tricks to make life impossibly hard for a legal whistle blower whose issue unmasking the truth would mean great embarrassment to the goverment by showing that it is acting in extremely illegal ways… and aiding its friends and cronies…

  4. Comparing Snowden to Horvath is interesting, because Obama plays the game very differently than Orban. Just yesterday a Presidential commission issued a report and recommendations relating to NSA spying on all residents of the USA, no doubt including Eva, myself and other Hungarian-Americans.

    The report reads, or at least what has been publicly released reads, as if Snowden did not exist. Obama will cut his losses, he will impose some restraints on the NSA. In fact at the very end of his term if Snowden agrees to various conditions I would not be surprised if Swonden is given a pardon.

    Obama can do what apparently Orban can’t do with the VAT scandal, why? Because in order to rule Obama does not have to protect his political supporters in the Democratic Party, he can when necessary throw them under the bus. What this shows is that Fidesz functions more like a classic Fascist party rather than a modern bourgeois party. While parts of the US Democratic Party are very corrupt, in particular the Chicago party that Obama came out of, many politicians find that indirect corruption via campaign contributions from economic players of significance is more than adequate. That doesn’t mean here in Chicago politicians do not get in trouble and ultimately convicted of corruption, it means Obama doesn’t have to protect crooks in order to rule. Orban apparently does have to protect crooks in order to protect himself.

  5. The lesson is: if anybody has any incriminating evidence against Fidesz, probably the best they can do is to leave the country and publish the evidence from there. It is less likely that the evidence will be seized and destroyed by the Fidesz machinery. Of course, Horvath didn’t want to commit anything illegal (such as giving out confidential tax information), so it was pretty easy for Fidesz to squash the evidence he had.

  6. Of course corruption is rampant everywhere,but if you compare this case with others in Europe, Germany e g, you’ll see:

    Even very big names like Siemens or the Deutsche Bank and many others have been involved in corruption – but these cases have come to light and the companies had to pay large sums.

    But I haven’t yet heard/read about any case involving the Fidesz mafiosi which seems really strange to me …

  7. Towards total media hegemony before the election:

    In 2010, there were two national commercial radio and two television channels – the majority of people listened to and watched these channels.

    1.
    The government drove one of the radio stations, Neo FM out of business in 2012.

    The other one belongs to a Fidesz-friendly oligarch. A few days ago the Media Authority announced that there will not be bidding for the frequencies of Neo FM – the state radio will broadcast on them instead.

    2.
    Fidesz strawmen purchased TV2 today.

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20131221_TV2_eladasa_bejelentes

  8. The only opposition-like channel, ATV was watched by only 5-7% of the adult population in the 6PM-10PM prime time period in 2012.

    The freshly purchased TV2 was watched by 16-17%.

    Source:
    http://www.atv.hu/Miert%20az%20ATV.pdf

    The audience of the only opposition radio station Klubradio WAS 5% in 2010, before
    the Media Authority closed down its affiliates in the countryside.

    Source:
    klubradio .hu/data/files/Adam/klubradio_prezentacio.pdf

    It is probably a good estimate that Klubradio does not reach more than 3% of the adult population now.

  9. Yes, tappanch, the Hungarian tv situation is really bad. M1 etc I’ve often called “North Korean State TV” – it’s impossible for my Hungarian wife to watch the news in it and whenever I look, they either have propaganda in the news or something totally irrelevant!

    The commercial channels are full of old “Blockbusters” which they show once a month and the crappiest of crappy US movies …

    For us only Spektrum and National Geographic are somehow acceptable – luckily we have a satellite dish which gives us a lot of European programmes – even if my wife has problems following everything.

  10. Not totally OT (“panem et circenses” for the masses to keep them quiet):

    The advertising on Hungarian tv looks to us even more horrible than say in Germany or the USA – right now before Xmas it’s so artificial and falsely sentimental that it makes me want to throw up …

  11. Joe Simon, your comparison is odious and suggests a very weak understanding of the rule of law. There is no comparison at all in the extent or character or the disclosures and each represents a very different legal situation. András Horváth, in his whistle-blowing, is following the letter of the law and his responsibility as a civil servant, to see that the correct amount of taxes are collected. He has not obtained or disclosed information illegally and he has not benefit personally in any way from his disclosures. The response of the government — instead of addressing the substance of the matter by welcoming the opportunity to prosecute those who are breaking the law and doing damage to their country — has been instead to ignore the tax fraud and instead to go after Horváth.

    The Snowden case, on the other hand, involves the disclosure of information which Snowden not only illegally exposed but obtained illegally (among other things, he took his final position, signing confidentially agreements at the time of his employment, AFTER having contacted journalist Glenn Greenwald, and then broke those agreements, demonstrating that he had intent to break the law.) There were ample channels available, channels with democratic legitimization, for Snowden to go through and to register any violations of the government he felt existed. However, there is no absolutely no indication at all that Snowden pursued any of these channels, let alone exhausting them before going public on foreign soil. He acted as an individual and his decision to break secrecy — no matter what you think about the reason for that decision — was made without democratic legitimation. Snowden’s exposures, on the substance, may or may not have been real violations that deserved to have been rectified if not exposed and prosecuted, but his method of exposure was completely improper and it is impossible to find a rule of law argument that the government should act otherwise in attempting to arrest and prosecute him.

  12. Tappanch:

    Jobbik is smart. Since Jobbik is extremely leftist economically and is a real protest party, it is absolutely logical that it tries to be active in regions where there are a lot of poor, probably disgruntled working class people. Jobbik already took over a lot of formerly Socialist voters, why could not they repeat that elsewehere? They will.

    I strongly believe Jobbik will be very successful among these people, because these people are desperate and there is nothing MSZP or Együtt can potentially offer them which sounds exciting and even that is offered in a pretty lukewarm way, at least Jobbik looks agressive enough. These people seek vicarious leadership, power and respect and they can’t get that with the left. I already see that Jobbik will be such a ‘surprize’, pundits will be analyzing it for months to come, but in fact they are on a verge of a huge breakthrough to become a real alternative for Fidesz.

    What is a more important phenomenon is the lack of apparent campaign from the democratic opposition. I do not know them, but this staggering incompetence and lameness in campaginging do not bode well for their ability to govern, not that they will have any chance in the near future. It is as if they are trying to do anything not to get elected, it is a bit weird.

  13. TV2 is sold to the CEO and finance director of TV2. Since the CEO is a known Fidesz-loyalist and the finance director is a wife of a partner of WGM law firm, which is known about it’s closeness to certain Fidesz-related investors, it is pretty obvious that TV2 is bought by Fidesz-leaning people. Yet another Fidesz media. Attaboy.

  14. Jake wrote: “Since Jobbik is extremely leftist economically…”

    This point cannot be emphasized enough, particularly with Americans of Hungarian background, who assume that Hungary has a conventional left-right division. Both Fidesz and Jobbik (there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two with regard to economics!) have economic policies that (with the exception of the regressive sales tax) are strongly to the left of the so-called leftist parties which, in economic terms, can all be situated slightly to the right of the Western European norm (supporting, for example, modest health care co-payments and private supplemental retirement accounts, both measures destroyed by Fidesz, the first through a referendum, the second through theft.) Further, they are both ill-disposed to free trade, preferring trade deals with parties like Russia and (still communist) China to their democratic western partners and advance a system of patronage and cronyism in their support for the non-transparent awards of state contracts, concessions, and leases which go against every principle of free market economics. One might characterize their policy as a mixture of socialism for the many and a reinvention of the landed gentry for the very few party loyalists.

  15. GW: we should say it out, Jobbik is a real Nazi party. This is still politicall incorrect to say as they do not advocate the establishment of concentration camps and that seems to be the important characteristics of the German NASDAP, otherwise someone is just extreme-right or stounchly right wing. (As we know from a new book a lot of Nyilas Arrow-cross Hungarian Nazis were happy under Rákos’s communism, only they thought there were too many Jews in the leadership. But economicaly, culturally, or as regards the dictatorship, 1950’s communism was almost like what they have wanted all along.)

    But if one looks at the policies of Jobbik iit becomes clear that it is a real Nazi party. It is another question whether this is something voters care about or not, probably not that much. Like in the 1930-1940’s, there is now too much desperation by the majority to care about ‘minor’ issues like Gypsies or Jews or people with wealth (companies, interests, investments).

  16. Fidesz is economically leftist ???

    I can’t follow you there! They have a very high VAT (where Germany e g has 7 % on food) and a flat income tax which I translate as inverse Robin Hood aka “steal from the poor to give to the rich” (Robbin’ Orbin …)

    And even those linear utility cuts are better for those people who have a high bill, say because they have a large house with many rooms to heat, with air condition and a pool which uses lots of energy.

    If they wanted to do something for the poor they’d offer them cheap loans to insulate their houses/apartments, install new windows etc …

  17. A few reflections:
    – NSA didn’t started it’s actions because Obama ordered it, its an ongoing process since ages, only the technology changes/advances with time, nothing new really.
    – Horváth is a brave, and unfortunately lonely man with a very slim chance of success – there isn’t anybody with substantial power to support him. Being a totally domestic problem, – unlike of the Snowden case – even emigration is out of question as the means of solution.
    Hungarian reality, in case you wondering.
    – The aimlesly wandering group – called ‘opposition’ for unknown reason reminiscent of a basket full of newborn puppies whose eyes haven’t opened yet. They usually crawl and struggle against each other eagerly, and while they are mostly gullible and cute, they don’t make any change in the real world. They may grow up, may even bite and growl, but at the moment they’re totally harmless. What a pity.
    – Fidesz indeed economically “leftist” – if we must go with the left-right distinction at all.
    In this case you may well forget the general idea of communal welfare, rather the “all power to the soviets” modified version, like “all assets to the chosen few” what you should consider.
    In Orbanistan in principle this is the same thing, with a good measure of national flavor added, I would say, this is the refined version of National Socialism, – welcome in the all new state of “Hungarian National Communism”. Sounds left enough, isn’t it?
    Remember, the welfare of the masses wasn’t ever a question whenever communism ruled, was it?

  18. For a far right party to have economic policies that appear to be anti-capitalist is actually normal. We saw this with both the Nazis and Italian Fascists leading up to WWII. However, when Jobbik representatives have come to Chicago they did not talk that game because they did not want to alienate potential investors. As we all know Franklin Templeton currently holds about ten percent of all Hungarian debt, Hungarian-Americans with money here in Chicago have invested in these growth funds, which are not growing by the way. But the interest rate is far higher than US debt instruments.

    The MSZP is identified among Hungarian-American investors with the EU which is a bigger disaster than rhetorical attacks on capitalism unleashed by the Jobbik. The Hungarian-American community has accumulated a lot of capital primarily through frugality and very low risk investments. The investments in Hungarian national debt have been the exception and the EU is held responsible for the downgrading of Hungarian bonds among these folks. As long as the Jobbik continues to talk about a greater Hungary and the oppression of Hungarians in Romania and Serbia they will continue to have support here in Chicago.

  19. @Istvan – Please, notice, that it still could be well profitable, – from abroad, that is – even if the theoretical ground is rather “shaky” to say the least.

    In my opinion there is no clear ideological basis what Fidesz would be able to show up for scrutiny, it’s a mashup of the seemingly appealing phrases with no real substance.

    If you look at the result of the local elections of the village Ásotthalom, it clearly represents the ideological awareness of the populace.
    In short, doesn’t matter if the Jobbik or even the Fidesz qualify for nazi or communist, the people goes for the loudest convincing one.
    That’s the way it is in Hungary nowadays.

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