government circles

A new political bomb: Did the Gyurcsány government spy on Fidesz politicians?

I’m in a real quandary.  Someone complained that I didn’t mention the very successful Walk for Life on Sunday while somebody else suggested that I should say something about the case of Miklós Hagyó, former deputy mayor of Budapest who went all the way to the European Court of Justice about what he considered to be his illegal detention for nine months without being charged.

But in addition to these two topics there are others that should have been talked about. For example, the anti-Semitic Patriotic Bikers whose ride across Budapest took place even though they had been forbidden to do so by the police at the instruction of Viktor Orbán. Or, that an amendment to the law was passed that forbids the use of symbols associated with right or left dictatorships. And there are the latest Eurostat figures that show that Hungary’s deficit is lower than anyone expected. It is 1.9%!

However important and interesting these topics are, I think I ought to write about the so-called Portik-Laborc affair although I’m somewhat handicapped here because I didn’t follow the police investigation of the case of Tamás Portik, a well-known figure in the Budapest underworld. However, I knew that something was afoot in government circles to connect György Szilvásy, former minister without portfolio in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány government, and Sándor Laborc, head of the National Security Office, to Tamás Portik. It was more than a year ago that stories began to float about these two government officials having questionable dealings with a known criminal. I wrote about the story at the time in a post entitled “Another ‘surveillance’ case is being hatched by Fidesz.” It took more than a year, but now the bomb has been dropped.

Magyar Nemzet, which by now can safely be called the official paper of the Orbán government, managed to get hold of an edited transcript of a tape recording of two meetings between Laborc and Portik. According to the article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the paper, Tamás Portik in 2008 was so terribly concerned about Fidesz winning  the election in 2010 that he offered information on Fidesz politicians designed to help MSZP ruin Viktor Orbán’s party. According to Magyar Nemzet,  Portik was allegedly worried that a future Fidesz government would pursue some of his earlier crimes. The article claims that the transcript in the paper’s possession clearly proves that there was “an intimate connection between the Gyurcsány government and the underworld.”  A rather sweeping statement.

Today Magyar Nemzet published excerpts from the two meetings between Portik and Laborc. I should mention here that Szilvásy was told back in 2008 by a third person that Portik would like to get in touch with someone from the National Security Office because he had information about people who might be cause for concern. Szilvásy in turn got in touch with Laborc who pursued the lead. The excerpts Magyar Nemzet decided to publish are hard to follow. Most likely this was the paper’s intent. One doesn’t always know what the subject of the conversations between the two men really is. According to one reading of the text, Portik is offering dirt on certain Fidesz politicians that Laborc gratefully accepts; others view the conversation as an attempt on Laborc’s part to find out about the reliability of the informer.

Since then the text of the excerpts from the transcript has become available. This gives a somewhat clearer picture of what transpired at these two meetings between Laborc and Portik during the summer of 2008. The conversation begins with a discussion of the right-wing influence in the police force which “XXX directs.” Portik claims that the police are badgering him to give them incriminating information about leading member of MSZP. But at the same time he tells Laborc that he delivered cash to MSZP politicians, which might be true but might be merely a stratagem to establish his credibility. Let’s not forget that he is a criminal.

By the second conversation it looks as if cooperation between Portik and Laborc had been sealed. “It’s good that we found each other. Something serious may come of this,” says Laborc. This is followed up by an outline of the points of cooperation. “What interests us most is which politicians, judges, and prosecutors are under whose influence.” And, adds Portik, “perhaps the police.” Laborc agrees. On the surface this sounds fine. Laborc wants to find out about corruption and political influence in government offices. But when in the next sentence there is talk about catching people in a brothel it doesn’t sound so innocent. Laborc here gives the impression that he is trying to find dirt on men in the service of Fidesz.

Eventually Laborc even gave Portik his own secure cell phone number. Portik seemed to be very eager to cooperate because he was certain that he would end up in jail in case Fidesz wins the next election. Laborc interrupted him, saying that it is possible that “they will take me as well.” I assume he was thinking of the UD Zrt. case in which he ordered the monitoring of telephone conversations that included calls between Fidesz politicians and the men running UD Zrt. that was spying on the National Security Office’s activities. He was not far off in his prediction.

All in all, it looks pretty bad. The MSZP leadership seems to be split on the issue. According to Attila Mesterházy, “both the style and the content of the conversations are unacceptable.” On the other hand, Zsolt Molnár, MSZP chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, who seems to have more information on the case because of his position, claims that Laborc’s conversation with Portik contains nothing that could be considered illegal. He was just doing his job.

Szilvásy pointed out in an interview on Klubrádió that the transcript about whose authenticity we know nothing is being used for political purposes. After all, said Szilvásy, if Laborc considered his conduct illegal he wouldn’t have ordered the conversations to be taped and transcribed. Laborc’s lawyer seems to know that the transcriptions are edited. The transcript of the first conversation, which lasted an hour and a half, took up 41 pages while only 24 pages of the second one, which was two and a half hours long, were published. On his client’s behalf he will demand to see the complete transcript. DK considers the released text “a complete jumble-mumble without names.” I tend to agree. Without the complete text we don’t really know what happened.

The Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) and LMP both demand setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the case, but apparently Fidesz is not too eager to oblige. Only they know why.