I have been so involved with the political aspects of the Orbán regime that I have neglected the suspicious enrichment of some of the most prominent Fidesz politicians. If a researcher had half a year (and a team of investigators) he could easily write a whole book about these people’s wrongdoings.
A quick look at the list of names that crop up most often in the media leads me to believe that being the mayor of a city or a Budapest district offers excellent opportunities for corruption. Just to mention a few politicians who have been the targets of journalistic inquiries: Lajos Kósa, until recently mayor of Debrecen; János Lázár, who was mayor of Hódmezővásárhely until he became head of the prime minister’s office; and Antal Rogán, who in addition to being the whip of the Fidesz caucus was also mayor of Budapest’s District V. Larger towns or cities offer ample opportunities for city officials, including mayors, to extract kickbacks for municipal contracts. Rumor has it that the average bribe is 10% of the value of the contract. In Debrecen, apparently the price was double that amount.
The finances of Lajos Kósa became the subject of scrutiny of late when his explanation for how he acquired a very expensive apartment in Budapest was found less than convincing or when he was found to have traveled to New Zealand for three days for a Rolling Stones concert.
János Lázár also had some hard times of late when it turned out that he purchased an apartment in Budapest for his ten-year-old son for 60-70 million forints. Naturally, that piece of property did not show up on the financial statement he submitted to parliament.
And finally, there is Antal Rogán, the number-three man in Hungarian politics today. His fraudulent financial statements have been the talk of the town. He greatly minimized the areas of his real estate and landholdings and was forced to correct them several times.
Given the limited space, I will spend less time here on Rogán’s fictitious financial statements and more on the possible sources of his and his political friends’ enrichment.
It was discovered back in March that Rogán, his wife, András Puskás (Rogán’s deputy), and his common-law wife jointly own 490 m² (almost 5,ooo ft²) apartments worth 300 million forints. For Rogán, who has never had any job save that of a politician, such a purchase under normal circumstances would have been beyond his means. And this is not the only piece of real estate he and his wife own.
A month after the revelations about Rogán’s luxury apartment(s) and his other rather shady real estate holdings, Bors, a tabloid, found out that the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office is looking into possible corruption in District V. A businessman who has several restaurants in Budapest won a tender for a piece of property in Rogán’s district where he wanted to open another restaurant. When he went to sign the contract, he was told in no uncertain terms that they expect several more million forints “under the table.” The businessman refused the generous offer and and pressed charges against the district, naming the man who approached him. By June Népszabadság learned that at least three real estate sales are under investigation.
There have also been some rather strange comings and goings in the mayor’s office. First, András Puskás, Rogán’s deputy who is implicated in the luxury apartment case, suddenly quit his job because he was “badly needed” in the foreign ministry. Almost at the same time the man in charge of the everyday running of the affairs of the municipality (jegyző, a kind of city manager) quit in a great hurry. His replacement a few months later was seen wearing a pair of Amadeo Testoni shoes worth 980 euros. The man’s monthly salary is 433,000 forints.
But the story doesn’t end here. Puskás’s replacement, Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, became the owner of an apartment in a stately apartment building in Szerb utca which he purchased for a mere 19 million forints, paying in monthly installments of 63,000 forints. The market value of such an apartment in a historic district is worth many times that amount. Meanwhile Szentgyörgyvölgyi became the new mayor, and on November 21 he decided to give the apartment back to the District. He claimed to be perfectly innocent in the affair; “he just got tired of all the attacks against him.”
Upon closer observation, investigators found that during Rogán’s eight-year-long tenure as mayor of District V one-third of all the real estate owned by the municipality was sold to individuals. One especially egregious case that surfaced lately is the business real estate that was sold to the common-law wife of Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer, back in 2011. The scheme seemed to have been the following. According to a city ordinance, the tenant of a property owned by the municipality has the right to purchase the property at a reduced price. Portik’s common-law wife became a tenant of a 212 m² business site in October 2011, and by December it was hers for 52 million forints. In July 2012 Portik and girlfriend sold the property for 102 millions, its fair market value.
Rogán’s bad luck is that Péter Juhász (Együtt), who was Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s opponent in the municipal elections in October, is a former human rights activist with vast experience as an investigator of corruption cases. And he is now a member of the District V city council. According to Juhász, under Rogán’s watch downtown Pest was the scene of incredible corruption. By now Rogán is a member of parliament and because of his immunity he himself is untouchable. However, András Puskás and Zoltán Sélley, who actually ran the municipality’s affairs and who prepared the contract with Portik’s girlfriend, can be sued, and Juhász is on their case.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, just one of hundreds. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the spectacular enrichment of Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s pipefitting friend from Felcsút. He also seems to be forgetful. Just lately he forgot about more than 1 billion forints he happened to have in his bank account.
No wonder that struggling Hungarians are outraged. Even some of the Fidesz true believers are angry. Yet the people involved don’t seem to realize that their conspicuous flaunting of their riches is not exactly going over well in one of the poorest nations in the European Union.