Another look at the Hungarian-Swiss connection

Ever since yesterday I have been mulling over the mysterious Swiss visits of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and János Lázár, his chief of staff. As I mentioned yesterday, Demokratikus Koalíció suspects that Viktor Orbán’s recent trip to Switzerland and his stopover in Zurich between Lausanne and Budapest had something to do with banking, perhaps of a private nature. However, we know for sure, thanks to the information released by the prime minister’s office, that János Lázár’s trip to Switzerland at the end of March 2013 was undertaken in order “to have talks with a German citizen” and that the topic of the conversation was “Hungarian-German and Hungarian-Russian relations.” This led me to another angle: the large presence of Gazprom in Switzerland.

Just in Zug, a tax haven south of Zurich, three Gazprom companies have their headquarters, or to be more precise it is in Zug that they are incorporated: Gazprom Marketing & Trading AG at 19 Dammstrasse, the Nord Stream AG at 18 Industriestrasse, and the joint Russian-Ukrainian RosUkrEnergo AG at 7 Bahnhofstrasse. There are hundreds of Gazprom subsidiaries, and it is instructive to take a look at them collected in one place. I went to a few of their official websites. Gazprom Marketing & Trading AG opened for business in February 2012 “aiming to support Gazprom’s international development strategy.” They “trade natural gas, power, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, clean energy and carbon, and oil.” The Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream AG is an international consortium of five major companies.

And let’s not forget about the Zurich based Gazprom Group, which has several subsidiaries, of which “the most spectacular company is Gazprom Switzerland AG.” The company is situated in the heart of Zurich’s financial district and deals in natural gas from Central Asia. Gazprom Switzerland is a wholly owned subsidiary of Gazprom Germany (Gazprom Germania), which is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Gazprom Export, Russia. According to TagesAnzeiger of Zurich, this company has about two dozen employees yet in 2012 it generated sales of CHF 7.3 billion and a profit of 76.1 million.

Here we arrive at an intriguing piece of information. The chairman of Gazprom Switzerland is Matthias Warnig, formerly head of the Russian division of Germany’s Dresdner Bank AG, who in his earlier life in the German Democratic Republic worked for the Stasi. Back in 2005 The Wall Street Journal found documents that proved that as a major in the East German intelligence service he developed a close friendship with Vladimir Putin during the time that he worked in East Germany as a KGB agent. Apparently Warnig helped him recruit spies in the West. Warnig is not just the chairman of Gazprom Switzerland but also a director of Nord Stream with headquarters in Zug.

Old friends from Stasi and KGB days: Vladimir Putin and Matthias Wawnig Source

Old friends from Stasi and KGB days: Vladimir Putin and Matthias Warnig

Warnig is a very powerful man indeed, but the Ukrainian crisis is having a negative effect on his network. He is a member of the board of directors of several Russian banks, including the Bank of Rossiya and VTB Bank, whose assets have been frozen by the United States. Warnig is also a board member of the energy company Rosneft and of Rusal, an aluminium producer. Both are the largest companies in their field in the world. An excellent summary of the history of Warnig’s friendship with Putin can be found in The Guardian (August 13, 2014).

Is it possible that János Lázár talked with Warnig, the “German citizen”? Warnig would have had the clout to deal not only with energy supplies but also with inter-country friendship. It’s possible that Lázár solicited Warnig’s assistance in reaching out to Putin about the future of Russian-Hungarian relations and Paks. The reference to “Hungarian-Russian relations” points in this direction.

The August 2014 trip of Orbán and Lázár in the company of their wives might have had something to do with Gazprom affairs. Someone spotted them on a flight to Zurich on Thursday, August 21. According to Orbán, they spent Thursday night with friends in Germany, but even if this was the case, there was a whole Friday during which the two men could have conducted business with Gazprom officials. Zurich, as we have learned, is the perfect place for such transactions.

Viktor Orbán’s most recent trip to Switzerland followed a different pattern. No serious business can be conducted in a train station during a quick stopover, especially not on such serious matters as Russian-Hungarian relations or energy supplies by Gazprom. Demokratikus Koalíció might be on the right track: it’s possible that Orbán was conducting a different kind of business, very possibly of a private nature.

All this is thoroughly speculative. Perhaps someone with better access to Hungarian and Russian energy providers or government “travel planners” will ferret out the truth.


  1. Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, is also a prominent representative of Gazprom and bizarrely praised Putin as a “flawless democrat”. But I wonder if he would stoop to talk to an Orbán. In this excerpt of the Swiss Official Commercial Gazette you’ll find another German on the MET board (no idea if he is involved):

    SHAB: 180 / 2014 from 18.09.2014
    MET Holding AG, in Zug, CHE-135.897.834, Aktiengesellschaft (SHAB Nr. 91 vom 13.05.2014, Publ. 1498287).
    Statutes changed: 10.09.2014. [Änderung nicht publikationspflichtiger Tatsachen].
    SHAB: 091 / 2014 from 13.05.2014
    MET Holding AG, in Zug, CHE-135.897.834, Aktiengesellschaft (SHAB Nr. 76 vom 22.04.2014, Publ. 1462593).
    People deleted or signatures revoked: Matos Dr. Zoltàn, ungarischer Staatsangehöriger, Szentendre (HU), Mitglied des Verwaltungsrates, mit Kollektivunterschrift zu zweien;
    Olden Peter, irischer Staatsangehöriger, Sevenoaks (UK), Mitglied des Verwaltungsrates, mit Kollektivunterschrift zu zweien.
    Peoples registration new or modified: Massmann Jan, deutscher Staatsangehöriger, Düsseldorf (DE), Mitglied des Verwaltungsrates, mit Kollektivunterschrift zu zweien;
    Nagy György, ungarischer Staatsangehöriger, Budapest (HU), Mitglied des Verwaltungsrates, mit Kollektivunterschrift zu zweien.

    Just to highlight, this year:
    September 10, by-laws were changed (details didn’t have to be published)
    April 22, Jan Massmann (a German) was appointed member of the board.
    (Other details show people who are no longer members of the board.)


  2. Ah, yes, here is another MET guy, a Hungarian living near Zurich:

    SHAB: 076 / 2014 from 22.04.2014
    MET Holding AG, in Zug, CHE-135.897.834, Aktiengesellschaft (SHAB Nr. 250 vom 27.12.2013, Publ. 1260325).
    Peoples registration new or modified: Laszlo Paul M., ungarischer Staatsangehöriger, Rüschlikon, Zeichnungsberechtigter, mit Kollektivunterschrift zu zweien.

  3. OT: Two days ago I received a letter from the UPC, the organization I am buying my Internet, and TV service in Hungary. Essentially it says that from now on as an UPC Internet subscriber, I will be able to use FREE WI-FI all across Hungary. I will be able to use three different mobile devices outside my home with my user id.
    UPC is part of the largest international cable company, Liberty Global (Virgin Media, Liberty, UPC, etc.). I believe they just sticked their middle finger at Orban!

    Örömmel tájékoztatjuk, hogy elindítottuk legújabb, UPC Wi-Free nevű kiegészítő szolgáltatásunkat, amely minden kábel- és mobilinternetes ügyfelünknek díjmentes vezeték nélküli wifi internetezést biztosít otthonukon kívül, országszerte, a UPC hálózatai mentén.

    Örömünkre szolgál, hogy internet-előfizető ügyfelünkként Önt is a UPC Wi-Free szolgáltatás felhasználói között üdvözölhetjük!

    UPC Wi-Free felhasználóként Ön:
    • szabadon és díjmentesen internetezhet a UPC Wi-Free vezeték nélküli hálózaton, az ország számos pontján;
    • egyszerre akár 3 mobil eszközzel is internetezhet otthonán kívül a UPC hálózatán;
    • könnyedén csatlakozhat a vezeték nélküli wifi hálózathoz, mert az azonosítókat egy eszközön csak egyszer kell megadnia, azt követően automatikusan kapcsolódik

    Tájékoztatjuk, hogy UPC Wi-Free elnevezésű vezeték nélküli hálózatunkhoz otthonán kívül az alábbi azonosítókkal tud csatlakozni hordozható eszközeivel:
    A UPC Wi-Free szolgáltatásról bővebb információt, bemutató videókat és a felhasználás feltételeit megtalálja a oldalon.

    Minden további kérdésével kapcsolatban szívesen fogadjuk megkeresését a oldalunkon vagy a 1221-es számon.

    UPC Magyarország Kft.

  4. For Orban to have a Swiss account in his name would be insanity.

    People like Simicska, Csányi et al long ago moved their wealth to Singapore, Hong-Kong and elsewhere.

    Even with accounts in Switzerland, oligarchs usually set up trusts and foundations and companies which then open the account and hold the money, instead of having the account directly in their names. It’s much more difficult legally to seize property of a seemingly independent entity than of a natural person. Smart people don’t even even own the property they live in, but rent it from an off-shore vehicle their uncle control through layers of off-shore vehicles (some Russians like to use no less than seven layers).

    I cannot exclude the possibility that members of the Orban family (wife or kids or son in law) has an account is Zurich, but I would still be surprised. If that was the case, that would be a clear message that the king is truly crazy and the end is near.

  5. I always thought that it was Rothchild, which gave advise on the Paks 2 project connected Orban with some German Russia-versteher industrialist.

    If this “German friend” Orban and Lazar have been seeing lately was indeed Warnig then that was a huge let down.

    I would not exclude the possibility that Lazar met with his contacts when he was in London and in Rome too. London is a centre for Russians and Rome had traditionally one of the biggest residenturas for Hungary. I would have thought Lazar and his girlfriend would to Paris for a real romantic outing (rather than to London), however there French intelligence is too strong and the Hungarians don’t feel natural.

  6. Just a remark re Schengen:

    It’s true that usually there are no passports checks in the Schengen area but if you bring money from Switzerland into the EU (or vice versa) you still have to tell customs! There are regular reports of Germans being caught with tens of thousands of €s in their car or hidden on their body …
    The customs people seem to have a knack for this – let’s say someone returns from Switzerland in a big Mercedes with no luggage – that might have been a day trip to his bank …
    And the customs people will not only take around a quarter of that money as a fine but will also tell the tax office which will then ask you where the money’s from!

    Dung heap btw describes nicely what the Fidesz mafiosi are sitting on …

  7. @Some1, re:UPC

    I believe it was the other way round – the Gov’t nearly ruining the UPC operation – as such moves are planned a while in advance. But obviously, it is an example of the absurdity of a per traffic tax when the broadband access providers’ promise to customers has always been (since the early days of cable and satellite television): just use the bandwidth!

  8. Exxon, Shell, BP are deeply involved in oil exploration and production in Russia, inspite of sanctions. Orban just met the President of the Karpataljai Kulturalis Szovetseg regarding an oil pipeline diretcly across Ukraine. OV has a positive role to play here to maintain the stability of energy supply in the region.

  9. Today is Veterans Day in the United States. It is a time for citizens here to pause and think about our national defense. It is true as Joe Simon indicates that there are US firms that are still involved in oil and gas development in the Russian Federation.

    But it is also true that repeatedly in the last two months Russian military aircraft have made threatening approaches to US airspace and have approached the airspace in proximity to our warships in international waters. Russian Bear ‘H’ bomber aircraft practiced what security analysts belief were simulated cruise missile strikes against the US in the Labrador Sea, near Canada, in September. The London-based think-tank the European Leadership Network (ELN) released a report this week documenting numerous such aggressive actions by the Russians in the last two months.

    Commercial interests between the west and Russian can’t put a break on the new Cold War. Putin has started this Cold War with the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation, and his ongoing tests of NATO and U.S. air defenses. Commercial interests will be secondary to the defense posture of my nation, there should be no illusions about that. Contrary to what Joe Simon argues PM Orban can best promote good behavior on the part of Russia by fully enforcing sanctions and increasing Hungary’s defense budget.

  10. ” OV has a positive role to play here to maintain the stability of energy supply in the region.”
    And that’s why he goes on secret trips by train through Europe? Poor guy – others would use a private jet …
    Simple Simon is so funny when he tries to divert …

  11. Just a tidbit. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder was an advisor at Rothschild (which for all we know may still be advising Orban on energy issues) as well as the head of the supervisory board of North Stream where Warnig is the managing director.

    According to Deutsche Welle: “The 61-year old former chancellor is also an advisor to Swiss media group Ringier and international investment bank Rothschild and has made lucrative public-speaking appearances.”

  12. Is this the [beginning of the] end of the European Union?

    11 November 2014
    European Court of Justice permits discrimination by a member state between citizens of the member state and citizens of other member states.

    “not precluding legislation of a Member State under which nationals of other Member States are excluded from entitlement to certain ‘special non-contributory cash benefits’ within the meaning of Article 70(2) of Regulation No 883/2004, although those benefits are granted to nationals of the host Member State who are in the same situation, in so far as those nationals of other Member States do not have a right of residence under Directive 2004/38 in the host Member State”

  13. Tappanch, no, it’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the beginning of some rationality. This ruling does something positive for the EU. In this case, it applies directly to a Romanian who sued for unemployment benefits (Hartz IV) in Germany although she had never been employed in Germany and had never seriously sought work in Germany; effectively, she came to Germany for the purpose of receiving unemployment benefits.

  14. Conclusion:

    We know that the Hungary – Gazprom long term natural gas supply agreement is up for renewal in 2015.

    Orban and Lazar have been negotiating the details mostly alone and outside Hungary.

    We also know that although this would be the most natural course Gazprom never concludes an agreement directly with a customer, shady middlemen not unlike MET AG almost always participate.

    We also suspect that Paks 2 is part of the gas deal (grand bargain) Orban and Lazar have been negotiating with Warnig and his people.

    While they’re at it, Orban and Lazar also take the opportunity to take care of their share of the deal, which is only logical. Luckily for them, there’s by now an existing Hungary-related corporate/banking infrastructure in Switzerland.

  15. OT The CPH:DOX (Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival) this year was opened with the documentary film “1998” on the events leading up to the removal of the border fence between Hungary and Austria and the ensuing collapse of the DDR. Bits and pieces of original film reportages and reconstructions of dialogues are bound together by a narration by Miklos Nemeth, then prime minister of Hungary. This fascinating film was transmitted simultaneously in many European countries not including Hungary.

    The film will be retransmitted by ARTE on November 18th at 8.55 o’clock.

  16. some1: “OT: Two days ago I received a letter from the UPC, the organization I am buying my Internet, and TV service in Hungary. Essentially it says that from now on as an UPC Internet subscriber, I will be able to use FREE WI-FI all across Hungary.”

    Cable companies in the USA have been providing this service for a very long time. Different cable companies share their Wi-Fi facilities between each other, so subscribers from one coast can use services form a company on the other coast, when they travel.

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