The good name of Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior

Two days ago a lengthy interview appeared in Magyar Nemzet with Sándor Pintér, Viktor Orbán’s “perpetual” minister of the interior. He was named interior minister in 1998, in 2010, and in 2014. Why is Sándor Pintér so indispensable to Viktor Orbán? It’s become almost a commonplace in Hungary to say that “if Viktor Orbán could relieve Sándor Pintér he wouldn’t have appointed him in the first place.” I guess one doesn’t need too fertile an imagination to guess what these wagging tongues have in mind.

Pintér’s past is full of question marks. In October 2013 I wrote a post on Pintér, “Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?” In it I gave a fairly detailed description of Pintér’s ties to members of the Budapest underworld while he was chief of the Hungarian national police force. In fact, he might have been involved in the so-called “mafia war” that began in 1996 with the murder of a crime family member and continued a few days later with the murder of the driver of his race horses on the Budapest trotting course. There is at least one witness who claimed that Pintér as police chief appeared at the murder scene and removed the murder weapon. The two murderers got off scot-free. Apparently, they were awfully pleased when they saw “Sanyi bácsi” (Uncle Sanyi) on the scene.

Pintér was also involved with two other Hungarian underworld characters in the 1990s–Dietmar Clodo, a German, and the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, “Szeva bácsi” to his friends, who now lives in Moscow. Clodo was not so lucky. He was convicted in Hungary and allowed to serve his prison term in Germany. He was released in 2011. Two years later he gave an explosive interview to Antónia Rádai, a reporter for HVG, which was inexplicably overlooked by the rest of the Hungarian media. Let me quote a passage from that post of mine on Pintér:

Semion Mogilevich, whom Clodo described as his friend, asked a favor from Clodo. Mogilevich gave him a Hungarian politician’s telephone number. Clodo was instructed to phone the number and invite the Hungarian politician to his house and hand him a brief case supplied by Mogilevich. Clodo had to insist that the politician open the briefcase on the spot because in Clodo’s study behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. There were one million deutschmarks in the briefcase. The exchange took place in 1994. At that time the name of the politician was not familiar to Clodo. “To me he was only one of the many corrupt characters to whom I had to hand similar packages in the middle of the 1990s.” In addition to this encounter there was another meeting with a politician from the same party. “The others were police officers.”

Dietmar Clodo told Antónia Rádai the name of the politician but HVG, after consulting with the paper’s lawyers, decided to withhold it.

Whoever the politician was cannot rest easy because that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

Magyar Nemzet was planning an interview with Pintér on a wide range of questions, from the police’s handling of the demonstrations to the size of the public workforce. So, the reporter must have been quite surprised when during the discussion of the American ban on certain corrupt officials Pintér complained to him that he himself “had to endure several attempts at character assassination by foreign organizations that tried to associate [him] with certain events that have never taken place.” While Pintér was not willing to elaborate on the specifics, he added: “for example, recently the persons in question were planning to discredit [him] sometime in the near future but they were forced to give up their activities. Thus, the story is no longer of any interest.”

"By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!"  "It is taken care of....

“By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!” “It is taken care of…”

What was Pintér’s point in informing the public of his alleged harassment by foreign organizations that have been trying to blacken his good name? Given all the stories about Pintér’s past, the headline of Jenő Veress’s Népszava article on the topic was apt: “Who here has a good reputation?” Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of the same paper, in his editorial  wonders how Pintér could “force the foreign organizations not to commit character assassination.” How did he learn about such attempts, he asks. Whom does Pintér have in mind? Németh suspects that Pintér is alluding to the United States. Perhaps he fears or even knows that the Americans have something on him and thinks that it is better to forestall the impending scandal by telling the world of his innocence. However, if I may remind Pintér and his friends, that kind of tactic backfired when the government leaked information about the American investigation into Hungarian tax fraud. All the trouble started with that article in Századvég’s Napi Gazdaság. So it does not seem to be a good way of handling the dirty laundry.

—–
*The reference to “Comrade Bástya” in Gábor Pápai’s cartoon is to Béla Bacsó’s famous film, A tanú (1969).

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46 comments

  1. Mi ez?
    Narancs
    Narancs?
    Az új magyar narancs. Kicsit sárgább, kicsit savanyúbb, de a miénk.

    This conversation – and the whole movie – is so fitting for the party of Orange.. and for the country too

    One might wonder if it is the people of that tiny country – because to me everything always feels the same, regardless of the political system – just going around, and around in a circle.

    And I know i was told to too that it “mindig élen járt a sportban” and “mennyi Nobel díjast adott a világnak”. Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever…

  2. I am a little confused by your quotation from the Radnai Antonia interview in HVG. I can well imagine people reading this and deducing you think the politician was Pintér himself. Clearly it could not have been as he was not a politician until 1994, and for once, it couldn’t have been Fidesz either … so perhaps you could clarify quite how this relates to Pinter (other than him as an aside that he also met police officers.)

    Pintér’s appointment in 1998 was a shock and the impression most of us had at the time is that he appointed himself! I don’t know what sort of hold he has over Fidesz, but the explosions outside Szajer and Torgyan’s houses in the 1998 election campaign were palpably staged and a friend of a friend who worked for TV2 at the time, and was sent to the scene of the Szajer explosion, maintains to this day that the police helped stage it.

    Another thing about Pintér that has always interested me is that by the end of his first term in 2002, his cabinet at the Interior Ministry was almost entirely composed of the board of his company in 1998! Oh, and when he was head of the police, it was his company that policed the Jozsefváros chinese market — talk about conflict of interest.

    A major crook but not a member of Fidesz and if there was ever to be some sort of coup in Hungary, I could imagine Pintér orchestrating it, although his motives would be something rather less honorable than “saving democracy.”

  3. @HiBOM – it was Pinter, who was working for the Min. of Defense in those days. In another recent interview in Germany, Clodo describe in detail his first meetings with Pinter, a business deal Pinter offered him (very corrupt), and why Pinter got angry with him (he refused the deal).

  4. The Nol article dates their first meeting as being in 1997, to Pintér clearly was not the figure in the paragraph Éva quotes in a way as to suggest (very likely inadvertently) it was…

  5. @Webber, sorry, I see you said “minister of defence” so my above point is invalid. But I’d be curious to know why you think so…

  6. @HiBoM – I am saying no such thing – read it again. I said Pinter was working for ministries, not that he was a minister. Radai’s piece also does not say minister – just politician. But I’ve just re-read the entire interview with Clodo, and it’s quite possible that the politician in question who took the bribe wasn’t Pinter. Pinter, however, comes up elsewhere in the interview – where he is named – and in VERY interesting circumstances.

  7. Also, more than a decade ago László Juszth edited a weekly magazine that was suddenly banned for revealing state secrets, and copies of the last issue were withdrawn from newsstands. Some copies of that last issue are still in private hands, of course. Two interesting stories were in that issue. The first was an article about the on-going secret police monitoring of (all) American citizens in Hungary – monitoring that citizens of other Western countries were not subject to. The second was about the murder of an otherwise unknown person, and strange things that happened in the investigation of that murder. Pinter appeared in that second article in rather odd circumstances.

  8. @Cat – No, no burial at all (if you have links to that, that too would be nice to see here).
    It was a case of a body being found by two policemen lying on the side of a road, near Budapest, allegedly with Pinter standing nearby, and of the police report disappearing, except for a carbon copy nicely saved by one of the policemen who filed the report – passed on to the press, at which the (upstanding) policeman got in serious trouble.

  9. As they say in Hungarian: régen volt, igaz se volt.

    More or less: “It was a long time ago and it wasn’t even true”.

  10. It’s just a rumor I heard, but as far as I know it originated from a reliable source. I’m not as brave as Ms. Radi.

  11. Cat: you probably heard a rumor involving the story of Szlavy Bulcsu, the early 1990s mafia “King of the Balaton” who actually organized his criminal operation into a political party, the “Hungarian Republican party” (Magyar Republikánus Párt) in 1993. He was connected to a lot of the unsavory figures of the 1990s. He disappeared in 1997, only to be found buried in cement in a parking garage in Buda in 2005.

    http://m.168ora.hu/itthon/garazsmenet-1348.html
    http://magyarnarancs.hu/belpol/szlavy_bulcsu_elete_es_halala_garazsmenet-61877
    http://444.hu/2014/05/14/het-ev-a-padloba-betonozott-szlavy-bulcsu-megoleseert/

  12. This is a good time to re-ask a question I posed a while ago and never got an answer to: what kind of dirt does Pintér have on Fidesz that keeps him in power?

  13. Buddy, as I hinted in my post, he will be aware of the fake bombings in 1998, and I imagine he will know about the many dodgy financial dealings. In his first term in office, he was involved in the Gripen affair where there was clearly a bribe taken … so I imagine both sides are now compromised. But he has more friends in organised crime which is why they continue to give him a wide bearth.

    Incidentally, when he was made Interior Minister in 1998, certain people were describing him as a good choice because of his contacts with organised crime, meaning he could tackle it more efficiently. Rarely has Hungarian politics been that honest.

  14. @buddy – In addition to his skill at making connections with Russians, and his enormous personal wealth, Pinter is good at arranging protests and violence. He delivered skinheads to whistle/boo down President Arpad Goncz on 23 Oct. 1992. That was done for MDF. When interviewed, the skinheads (mostly from Tátabánya) mentioned that they were brought to Budapest in police vans. All that was arranged by Pinter (documented nicely by an article in Beszélő). Pinter also has good connections with football clubs/hooligans. Who knows what else he has delivered? To this day, I haven’t read a decent explanation of what happened in front of the television building in 2006, when a thin line of policemen were viciously attacked, and many injured, by a mob that included not only football hooligans, but other policemen (in civilian clothing). Despite repeated calls for help by the commanding officer, reinforcements weren’t sent to back them these policemen up.

  15. “Rablóból pandúr” (making a policeman of a robber) or something of the sort is common in most languages near Hungary (sorry for the poor Hungarian).

  16. Webber, buddy:

    In 2006 all the major news outlets were warned, their attention called to certain important events which were to happen that night (at the TV headquarters). The anonymous future teller turned out to be right.

    Elek Tokfalvi, the blogger suspected as many others do that the 2006 events were carried out by a bipartizan, rogue faction of the national security apparatus called by Tokfalvi the “Brancs” or something like the outfit, the cabal, the gang. The 2006 events were, in his view, a retaliation by the Brancs because Gyurcsany cut the influence of this group after he replaced Andras Toth with Szilvasy. Andras Toth, although nominally an MSZP politician (and formerly of MSZMP) was actually loyal to the services not to politics or ideology.

    This Brancs is supposed to include a lose group of service people mostly, but not exclusively those who entered the services prior to 1990. Let’s not forget that the identities of only III/III agents and their handlers (though not even all of them) were made public (with some exceptions, like Janos Martonyi who was an III/II informant), the rest of the apparatus and their network effectively remained intact and for all we know is still operational (on the UD Zrt. tapes published on youtube one of the UD Zrt. people, a former professional serviceman, says that he just talked to an SZDSZ politician whom he knows from the ‘old days’, ie from the pre-1990 times).

    I assume from the above comments that Pintér, besides being a policeman was also likely an SZT officer or something similar to that position, ie. a professional secret service person having a full time cover job too (such as a policeman, border guard etc.).

    Most likely Pinter is the most senior member of this ‘Brancs’, which decided to support Orban (Fidesz) and in exchange Orban let its members operate freely and nurtured their influence. The Brancs must have realized at some point that real power resides with Orban not with the perennially impotent left wing and thus they became loyal to Orban. 2006 was a retaliation, and a successful one at that. A message that nobody messes with the Brancs. Lo and behold Gyucsany was marginalized, and Szilvasy and his appointees were charged with various, though probably bogus crimes.

  17. karak86 – Bingo!
    Pintér is another example of how and why Hungary’s lack of lustration is so corrosive. Fidesz has voted against lustration every time it came before parliament. Unless I’m very much mistaken, those few Fidesz members who voted for lustration the last time it came before parliament (it was an open vote) were taken off the Fidesz lists in 2014 and are no longer in parliament.

  18. @Buddy re your question. I agree with HiBoM that Orbán and Pintér were in cahoots in staging the phony bomb attacks at Fidesz and Smallholder politicians’s houses or apartments. I also suspect that the politician who received the millions of Deutschmarks might have been someone from Fidesz and that Pintér knows the identity of that person. Wild guess, I admit but not impossible.

  19. @HiBoM – Bela Turi-Kovacs… Possibly, though I’d like to have another look at the list of who voted how that day.

  20. Obviously what Pinter knows is everyone’s wild guess. I am sure Orban knows about a lot about Pinter too. In fact what others do in Fidesz is a conversation piece that is going on for years on this blog. EVa published countless of articles about 2006, Orban possibly involvement, why the police did not show up, etc… THere is no new information brought forward in the last dozen of posts but repetitions of hundreds of previous post, so I am still not sure what is the smoking gun buddy is expecting or where is the new info that was not published before.

  21. Eva, why do you think that Fidesz would have been involved in that sort of business in 1994. They were at that point fairly marginalised and part of their lunacy that began in 1998 was trying to exact revenge for having been left out of the corruption and redistribution of wealth that occured post 1989…

  22. Guess what?
    I’ve personally met with a lady – on the other side of the World – who were involved in time the oil-bleeching business to deliver a case of hard cash to “uncle Alex” (Sanyi bácsi) with her chief, who was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the Eastern regions of Hungary at the time. (Loved soccer too, too much, I would say. Today sick and forgotten.)

    Since she has no interest to lie, I’ll rather believe her, why shouldn’t I?

    At any event, Pintér wasn’t only involved in the Gripen affair, obviously.
    Oh well, it’s only the usual Fidesz success story, won’t you say?

  23. HiBOM: Fidesz was very popular in the first half of 1994, it looked like a couple of months, even weeks before the 1994 elections that Fidesz was going to win big time. At that time it would have been logical for a person like Mogilevich to support Fidesz. Fidesz performed very badly, but then it needed money, lots of it. Of course this politician Clodo referred to might not be from Fidesz, or someone who now works for Fidesz. On the other hand, Putin has been bankrolling Jobbik for a long time now, the Russians tend to invest in an early stage, they plan for the long-term.

  24. OT:

    News of the day:

    We know that poor TESCO had been pouring money into Fidesz, mandating Századvég to carry out bogus studies, paying Fidesz via using Fidesz-prescribed advertising agencies and whatnot in order to get a favorable treatment.

    Then Fidesz enacted laws which were specially designed to tax TESCO and some similar companies and benefit CBA (a local franchise). Some of the more affected companies complained at Janos Áder, who sent the bill back to the Parliament instead of just signing it as he does everything (Áder is just as willing an underwriter as Pal Schmitt was).

    Fidesz approved the laws again the next day, only the terms of the new taxes and other restrictive laws become much stricter.

    The usually idiotic foreign companies thought they could buy off Fidesz, that they could have a deal with Orban.

    I hope this is a great reminder that there’s never a deal to be had with a bully dictator. Ever.

    Only the hopelessly naive foreigners could have believed Orban when he said that this time, this time really he will behave and the keep his word. By the way he probably didn’t even say anything. The foreigners paid anyway. Succckerrrssss

    Merry Christmas!

    http://444.hu/2014/12/23/meg-jobban-nekimegy-a-kormany-a-tesconak-es-az-auchannak/

  25. Regarding Bóni gróf’s story, here is another one:

    The young prince wandering about the great forest in search of the beautiful princess to marry her – according to tales – when he stumbles upon this old witch, and he asking her:
    “And just who could you be, old and ugly lady of the forest?”
    “I am the young and beautiful princess whom you seek!”
    “Oh? But you don’t look the least of the part, so what are you talking about?”
    “Well, make loveto me three times, and I’ll turn to be a young an beautiful princess of the forest, you’ll see!”

    The young prince already wandered quite some times and got pretty tired of it, so after some consideration he said OK, and performed(..!)
    Then nothing..!
    The prince asked: “Hey, aren’t you supposed to turn into a young and beautiful princess???!!!”
    “And how old are you, dear prince? asked the old hog.

    “Well, around twenty five..”

    “Some age.. And still believe in fairy tales, do you?”

  26. @lag and @eva, you are mis-remembering history. Fidesz was at its peak of popularity in 1992, but then the székházügy broke and in the first half of 1993, its popularity plummeted. In October, Fodor left, who was then the most popular MP in Fidesz and they were floundering. There was never any remote sense they would win the election going in 1994 (and I say that as someone who had to translate reams of interviews with the various party leaders, and there were far more than there are now, and Fidesz was no where then.) At the election that year, the came within only a few 10 000 votes from losing their places in parliament.

    So no, there was no reason whatsoever to think that Fidesz would ever be a horse worth betting on in 1994, and however despicable they are now, fantasising that Clodo’s politician was a Fidesz MP is simply rewriting history.

  27. All this talk of “hopelessly naive” foreigners by snarky commenters on this site gets rather tiresome.

    Tesco is just a company trying to make money. If some government in a given country says, you need to pay this amount to this person to stay in this market, well, then what other option do they have? Their best bet is just to pay whatever they’re told and hope for the best, because their only other option is to pull out of the market completely, and if they do that then they’ve not only lost all of their sunk costs but have permanently sacrificed the market to competitors.

    None of you people ever say what these companies should have done instead of what they’ve already done. But maybe I’m the naive one, so please Mr. Bóni gróf, pretend that you’re the wise CEO of Tesco and educate me on how your company should have handled this situation (keeping in mind that hindsight is 20/20).

  28. HIBOM,

    You are partly right. Indeed Fidesz’ fall began earlier. However, as late as the 1Q of 1994 Fidesz was still the second most popular party behind MSZP (although its lag become significant).

    I think Fidesz’ position perhaps not in May or April, but in the first quarter of 1994 could have been such that it would have been logical for a mafioso to subsidize Fidesz.

    The Russians probably had good connections to MSZP anyway, and wanted to diversify. Is this implausible? I’m not saying that the particular politician in this case was a fidesznik one, just that it is entirely plausible to assume that he/she could have been a fidesznik (for example László Kövér was head of the national security committee between 1990 and 1993 which fact must have given stature to Fidesz in these circles).

    http://www.tarki.hu/adatbank-h/kutjel/pdf/a922.pdf

  29. Webber:

    What’s the connection to Jobbik or Miép? That Russia only supports extreme parties and that was Miép and not Fidesz in 1994?

    I think the Russians always wanted to diversify and invest early, as Russians always play for the long term, they never think in 4-8-year cycles. Fidesz was a plausible investment target in 1994. Perhaps not Orban, but certainly people around him.

  30. But in 1994, Fidesz was still a liberal party. They only changed direction after the got clobbered in the election. So the idea that the Russians would invest in them is extremely fanciful. Also, in their first term in office, they were pathologically anti-Russian which I don’t think was faked. The pro-Russian thing is much more recent…

    There were a lot of Russians buying companies in Hungary because it was clear it would eventually become part of the EU, but I think Russia was a slightly different beast in 1994 in any case…

  31. No, remember Fodor left in October 1993 but that was more the authoritarianism within the party, not because the party had changed direction. After the election, Orbán semi-withdrew but then returned and I think it was 1995 that they relaunched themselves as the Polgári party … it was only seeing the MDF wiped off the map in the 1994 elections that Orbán identified a niche he could fill.

    Do you remember the election posters they had in 1994? I remember Deutch dressed up as a cool youngster with this thumbs up, leather jacket etc? They were still pushing the “youth” angle then.

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