It was in early February that Gábor Simon, one of the vice chairmen of MSZP, was discovered to have a large account in an Austrian bank. Magyar Nemzet reported that the socialist politician had made two deposits, of €575,000 and $163,000, in April 2009. The problem was that Simon, who was a member of parliament, failed to include these deposits in his yearly report on his personal finances. In no time Simon was removed from the party and shortly thereafter he resigned his parliamentary position.
MSZP desperately wanted to put an end to this embarrassing revelation; its leaders kept emphasizing that Simon’s financial affairs had nothing to do with the party. Their political opponents, however, refused to let go of the story. Magyar Nemzet published numerous articles in which they tried to connect Simon’s millions to MSZP. Surely, the argument went, Simon was hiding the party’s money in his own foreign bank accounts.
Eventually Magyar Nemzet stopped pursuing that alleged chain of guilt, although for a while they tried to tie the money to an MSZP politician in Budapest’s District XIII. But then came the news on March 6 that Simon’s money most likely had something to do with Tamás Welsz, a businessman with a checkered career whose activities ranged over three continents: Europe, Africa, and South America. Welsz in the past had had some run-ins with the authorities and was (until yesterday) wanted by Interpol. Yet the Hungarian police and prosecutors didn’t arrest him. In fact, last November, after being interrogated, he and his girlfriend Andrea Horthy were released.
Index reported on March 6 that Simon had another bank account in Hungary which he had opened under a false name. Magyar Nemzet, which has excellent connections with Hungarian prosecutors, seemed to know that the relationship between Simon and Welsz came to light as the result of a search of Velsz’s house in Érd. There in a safe they found a forged Guinea-Bissau passport in the name of Gabriel Derdák. Simon’s mother’s maiden name is Erzsébet Derdák. The authorities allege that Welsz, who had good relations with the totally corrupt government of Guinea-Bissau, got about 500 blank passports which he sold to people who for one reason or another needed an alias or just another passport. Simon/Derdák with his African passport opened an account in a MagNet Bank on Andrássy Street. The deposit was again large: €250,000.
Shortly after the revelations about the safe and the false passports Magyar Nemzet went into high gear. Welsz was described as a man with “excellent” connections to MSZP politicians. They claimed that several MSZP politicians wanted to buy Guinea-Bissau passports, not just Simon. They singled out János Veres, former minister of finance who seems to be a favorite target of Magyar Nemzet and HírTV, both owned by the same concern. Veres announced that he doesn’t know Welsz and that he has no Guinea-Bissau passport; he sued both Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Magyar Nemzet retreated somewhat, saying that Veres only “contemplated” acquiring a false passport but in the end changed his mind.
Why did the investigators decide to search Welsz’s house? My hunch is that Welsz offered to give up Simon if the Hungarian authorities would release him. I suspect that the investigators knew about Simon’s bank accounts as early as last November when Welsz and his girlfriend were arrested. And not just the bank accounts in Austria but possibly about the €250,000 under the name of Gabriel Derdák as well. The authorities may have postponed acting on this information so it would have the maximum electoral punch. At any event, four days after the police searched Tamás Welsz’s house, on March 10, Simon was taken into custody.
Once the authorities went public with the information about Simon’s wrongdoings, they dragged the story out for a month, thereby providing political fodder for the pro-government press. Day after day the public read about the sordid financial activities of this high-ranking MSZP official, activities (so the accusations went) that implicated the party as a whole. Four years ago similar stories helped propel Fidesz to its overwhelming victory. Why shouldn’t the strategy work again?
All seemed to be going according to plan, but then came yesterday’s shocking news. According to the Budapest police, Welsz was sitting in the back seat of a police car heading to the Budapest Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office in Budapest when he suddenly became ill. He was to taken the nearest hospital, but the doctors couldn’t revive him. Welsz was 41 years old and looked like the picture of health. So far the police have not provided any official information about his death–I assume they are waiting for the results of the autopsy–and as a result all sorts of rumors are circulating.
Leaked police information is contradictory. Some reporters claim that Welsz was already feeling ill before he traveled from his home in Érd to Budapest. Others say that he told the police he had taken poison and would die soon. (But then why didn’t the police immediately call an ambulance?) Some people talk about his excellent health and his upbeat mood; others report his anxiety. One report insists that he was hand-cuffed; others deny it. HVG told its readers that the people Welsz was fingering are not at all those everybody suspects, i.e., MSZP politicians. His revelations, they wrote, will surprise everybody. From this one would surmise that he had information on some Fidesz people. Whatever happened, Welsz is dead under very strange circumstances which means–as Veres pointed out yesterday on ATV–that anyone can use the blank passports to frame opposition politicians. Dead men don’t talk.
Many people think that Welsz may have been a Hungarian national security agent. József Gulyás, formerly an SZDSZ member of parliament and now a supporter of Együtt 2014, is demanding that the parliamentary committee on national security convene to question representatives from the Office of the Defense of the Constitution and other organizations dealing with national security.
This whole story is too bizarre for words. And extremely suspicious. But the more convoluted the story is and the longer it takes to decipher, the more it would seem to serve Fidesz’s political purposes. This will be a front-page story for quite a while, unless Fidesz has something else up its sleeve. They did promise three surprises: the Simon case was first, then came Zuschlag. Who will be the third?