Lőrinc Mészáros

Péter Szijjártó bought a luxurious house from gifts and loans

Over the last four days the Hungarian media have been having a heyday with Péter Szijjártó’s real estate purchase in Dunakeszi, a town northeast of Budapest on the left bank of the Danube, right across from Szentendre Island. It was RTL Klub that broke the news that the young couple with two small children had just purchased a house for 167 million forints or $680,000. Just for comparison, the average Hungarian employee earns 2,850,000 forints a year. The news broke on the very day that Szijjártó was sworn in as foreign minister, but interest in his finances have been the subject of scrutiny before. It turned out that according to his most recent financial statement he saved more money in 2013 than he earned. Demokratikus Koalíció and Együtt-PM turned to the chairman of the parliamentary committee in charge of possible corruption cases among members of parliament and asked for an investigation. Since such efforts have failed earlier, György Rubovszky (KDNP), who by the way thinks that the Orbán administration’s mandate empowers it to introduce “the dictatorship of the majority,” will undoubtedly turn their request down. For Rubovszky, Szijjártó’s word is enough. And Szijjártó told him that the money came from investments.

In May Szijjártó had 82 million forints in addition to three houses he owned in Győr, his hometown; at Lake Balaton; and in Dunakeszi where he has been living since 2006, first as a bachelor and later with his wife. In 2011 the first child arrived and this year the second. That means that his wife’s only income in the last three years has been the child support every mother receives who decides to stay at home with the baby. The first Dunakeszi property, a duplex, was not cheap either. It cost 27.5 million forints. However, as we learned, in the last three years they have been thinking about moving because of the growing family. Well, they found their house. It is not exactly tiny: 700 m². It is a three-level house. The ground floor is 200 m² with a seven-meter cathedral ceiling. The house has a five-car garage with its own car-wash system. Naturally it has a swimming pool, which can be used even in winter because it is covered. It also has a fitness room with a jacuzzi and sauna.  As far as the number of bathrooms is concerned, apparently it has currently three but, according to some accounts, the Szijjártós would like to have five.

The question is how Péter Szijjártó managed to buy this house when he did not take out a mortgage and he had only 82 million forints on hand in May when he purchased the house. Well, Szijjártó presented the public with two versions. The first was that he put in 80 million forints, his wife came up with 10 million, and so did her parents. His own parents gave him 33 million as a gift and lent him 34 million. A day later, he changed these figures. In the new version he paid out only 67 million forints while his parents lent him not 34 but 45 million. I guess the correction was necessary because if the young Szijjártós were left with only 2 million forints to their names he couldn’t explain how he is paying for the very extensive renovations that have been going on ever since May and will continue for several more months. Szijjártó hopes that perhaps by Christmas they will be able to move in.

MTI / Szilárd Koszticsák

MTI / Szilárd Koszticsák

The house, in my opinion, is hideous. The inside is no better, but I understand that the furniture does not come with the property, so perhaps there is hope. For more pictures of this monstrosity built for some Hungarian nouveau riche I suggest looking at the ad the real estate agent placed online in September 2013. It has about 20 photographs of the interior of the house. The original price was 189 million forints. So, just as Szijjártó said, it was a bargain. He managed to “save” 37 million forints.

This is not the first unusually rapid financial success of a Fidesz politician, including Szijjártó’s idol Viktor Orbán, who could never quite explain where the money came from for his family’s extensive landholdings and the purchase and enlargement of a house in a very elegant and expensive part of Buda. Or, there is Antal Rogán, whose several real estate purchases couldn’t possibly have been paid for out of his stated income. Perhaps the most mysterious story is that of Lőrinc Mészáros, the humble pipe fitter from Felcsút who in four years became a billionaire. All that while Viktor Orbán promised a “puritanic” and “plebeian” government.

Here, instead of playing detective, I would rather talk about the generosity of Szijjártó’s parents. His parents are very well-off people, and it looks as if ever since his late teens and early twenties they have been coddling him. He is perhaps even financially dependent on them. Here are a few facts. When Szijjártó was eighteen years old, his parents bought him a house in Győr. When he became a university student in Budapest, they bought him an apartment there. They were the ones who bought him the Dunakeszi house he and his wife currently live in. In that year, at the age of 28, he had three pieces of property and 43 million forints in savings. So, I am inclined to believe that the purchase of his new house was largely facilitated by Szijjártó’s parents.

Not long ago we talked about how Hungarian parents dote on their children, especially on their boys who as a result never really grow up and are completely dependent on their mothers and eventually on their wives. I remember that one of our commenters from Great Britain remarked that single Hungarian males are pretty hopeless as immigrants because they are unable to look after themselves. The situation in Szijjártó’s case is extreme because the parents seem to have more money than they know what to do with. The result? The man achieved almost nothing on his own. His early political career was made possible by his financial independence, while it was Viktor Orbán who elevated him to serve as his spokesman, most likely because he was flattered by young Szijjártó’s devotion. At the age of seventeen he decided that his goal in life was to serve the great man.

An article in gepnarancs.hu appeared today with the following title: “Why on earth are you envious of Szijjártó’s house in Dunakeszi?” After all, he was put into a position he knows nothing about. His boss managed to maneuver Hungary into a position of isolation. “Almost everybody hates us. Name me one country where Hungary is thought of with love and esteem. There is not one but, don’t worry, the Szijjártó family will take care of it.” Or, what about an editorial by Gábor Horváth of Népszabadság who is convinced that it is totally irrelevant who the next minister of foreign affairs of Hungary is? “Old or young, an expert or a bungler, a moderate or a hawk, a diplomat with a distinguished career or a spineless official from the ministry of justice, or, as it is from here on, a football player with gelled hair…. According to a historical anecdote, Caligula wanted to appoint his horse consul. The noble animal was called Incitatus and surely it was an excellent horse. But isn’t it all the same?”

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Hungarian microcosm: municipal elections in Felcsút

In the last few weeks we have talked about what in political science is called “high politics” or in Hungarian “nagypolitika.” But I think that the essence of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary can be captured, albeit anecdotally, at the microcosmic level. The story I will tell here brings home the kind of atmosphere that has by now engulfed the whole country. It is both suffocating and menacing.

The story takes place in Felcsút, a village of 1,600 inhabitants where Viktor Orbán spent a few years of his early life. It is here that a new football stadium for 3,600 sits right next to the house he built for a home away from home in the Buda Hills. Ever since he began his own football academy in Felcsút, the village became a fiefdom of the Orbán family and their supporters. Nothing can happen in the village which is not approved by Viktor Orbán himself or his faithful thanes. The most important of these is the mayor of Felcsút, a former installer of gas lines who today is among the one hundred richest people in Hungary. He achieved this feat in the last three or four years.

How did Lőrinc Mészáros become mayor in 2010 when the winner was György Varga, an independent candidate who had been the mayor of Felcsút since 2002? At the time there were jokes about the outcome of the election in Orbán’s village where the Fidesz candidate lost. Orbán was not happy. He became even more unhappy when Varga and the members of the town council refused to sell Felcsút’s small sports stadium and the land surrounding it for 20 million forints to the Puskás Academy. Apparently, the property was estimated to be worth 184 million forints. Well, that was that! Nothing of this sort could possibly happen in Felcsút to Viktor Orbán and his academy. Varga had to go. And he went. It was discovered that Varga owed a small amount in back taxes which allegedly barred him from public office. The election had to be repeated and, behold, it was Lőrinc Mészáros who took his place. That was the beginning of Mészáros’s spectacular career. Since then nothing happens in Felcsút without being approved by Mészáros or his many relatives.

Municipal elections will take place on October 12 and it is not yet known whether Lőrinc Mészáros, who is a terribly busy man nowadays, will run again. Until recently it wasn’t clear whether anyone would be brave enough to run against him or whoever else is designated by Viktor Orbán. György Varga, the former independent mayor who has been unemployed since 2010 because no one dares to hire him, announced in April that he will pick up the gauntlet, but then he thought the better of it. For a while András Váradi, a local sheep farmer who lost his land to Lőrinc Mészáros, was talking about running against Mészáros or whoever is the Fidesz candidate. He also abandoned the idea.

Now we have a woman, the owner of a small farm and stable, who has decided to try. Her name is Judit Horváth, who in the middle of August feared that “at the election I can only lose.” I guess what motivates her is that she, who has only 4 hectares, applied for an additional 26 for her 23 goats and received nothing. Later she learned that “they did not even open the envelope.” According to her, one got land around Felcsút only if one first went to Mészáros “to talk things over.” Horváth is quietly supported by all the democratic parties except for LMP. LMP’s decision is peculiar because from the interview Horváth gave to Magyar Narancs it is obvious that she is very interested in renewable energy and the environment.

To give you an idea of the hopeless situation facing anyone who dares to go against Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, Judith Horváth, when asked what would happen if by some miracle she wins, laconically answered, “then they will pass a new law that will enable them to remove me.” This is a slice of the new Hungarian reality. The hopeless lives of the former now unemployed mayor, the sheep farmer who has no land to feed his sheep, and a woman who knows that even if she wins the election they have all the means necessary to remove her.

Right now Judit Horváth is collecting signatures in Felcsút. András Pungor of 168 Óra followed her while she tried to talk to the locals about the chances of an independent candidate. A middle-aged man’s first words: “I refuse to say anything…. I live here while you just a visitor.” He was, however, ready to talk about life in Felcsút nowadays. He claims that the people in the village did not want to have the stadium but no one asked them. The monstrously big stadium interferes with wi-fi on the street that ends at the stadium. People have difficulties with their cell phones. In addition, the place is neglected. Last year the town built a community center but since then only an exhibition and a wedding were held there. More than twenty houses are for sale. Young people leave in hordes. In the last few years the town couldn’t even pay its electric bill; the central government had to bail them out.

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter
Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judith Horváth began campaigning in earnest and arranged with the town that last night she could have use of the new community center for a discussion about the needs of the village. When the journalists of Magyar Narancs arrived at the appointed time, they learned that permission to hold a political forum there had been withdrawn. They were shown a document according to which there was an “extraordinary meeting” of the town council on August 7 when a decision was reached that no political event can be held in a building owned by the town. Although there was such an extraordinary meeting of the council, this particular item was not on the agenda. The person who gave permission to Judith Horváth to hold the meeting in the community center only learned about this new regulation on Thursday.

Otherwise, very few people showed up. They said that the locals are afraid to openly declare their support for Lőrinc Mészáros’s opponent. Almost everyone Horváth invited to the meeting told her that they will not attend because they are afraid of reprisals. And for good reason. While all this was going on in front of the community center, cars from Mészáros’s firm stopped far too often in front of the building and one was permanently stationed next to the building so its driver could see who arrived for the cancelled meeting. As 444 noted,”Lőrinc Mészáros does not leave anything to chance.”  This is what has become of Hungary in a mere four years under the rule of potentates with unlimited power.

Orbán’s clan is plundering the state coffers: The world is taking notice

The talk in Hungary is about corruption. Corruption that seems to consume every nook and cranny of political life. It is an open secret that one of the main aims of Viktor Orbán, in addition to making sure that he will be the prime minister of Hungary for a very long time, is the enrichment of his friends and family. Thanks to the work of some investigative journalists, like Krisztina Ferenczi and Attila Mong, more and more evidence is surfacing that Viktor Orbán is feathering his and his friends’ nests.

Orbán is not like Viktor Yanukovycz, who lived lavishly in tasteless gilded palaces. Considering his estimated wealth, Orbán and his family live modestly. They have a comfortable but unpretentious house in one of the more elegant parts of Buda and an outright humble-looking house, designed in the style of the adobe peasant houses of yore, in Felcsút. The family’s landholdings are something else. Year after year Orbán’s wife, Anikó Lévai, added cheaply acquired lands in and around Felcsút where Viktor’s family spent some time when he was a young child. Moreover, almost everybody is convinced that the Orbán family’s landholdings are much more extensive than official documents attest to. The rest, perhaps thousands of acres, is held under the names of front men.

Viktor Orbán's country home in style of old adobe peasant houses

Viktor Orbán’s country house

For some time Hungary has been brimming with anecdotes and speculation about the Orbáns and their friends, but the charge of wholesale stealing from the national wealth could not be contained within the borders for long. Only two days ago an article appeared in one of the most influential German papers, Der Spiegel, with the title: “Orbán’s clan plunders the state coffers.” As Krisztina Ferenczi told the author of the article, Keno Verseck, “Hungary has become in recent years a kind of large estate” and the lord of the  manor is Viktor Orbán himself.

One reason for the disguised land ownership, assuming the charge is true, besides the obvious one of undeclared wealth without any legitimate means of accumulating it, is that the landholdings are heavily subsidized by the European Union even if they are left fallow. Surely, it would look bad if the European Union were paying millions for the lands of the Hungarian prime minister. There are several indications that Orbán has two front men in Felcsút, Lőrinc Mészáros and János Flier. Both by now have thousands of acres they received fraudulently from the state on twenty-year leases. Neither has any experience in agriculture. Flier used to be an electrician and Mészáros had a small business bringing gas pipes to the inhabitants of the village a few years back. Now they are in charge of large farms.

Viktor Orbán is as upstanding in politics as he is in his financial dealings. The electoral law and its execution are based on fraud. Since he has a pathological need for power, he will never allow a reprise of 2002 and 2006 when he lost the elections. This time he is covering all his bases. We talked a lot about the coming elections and concluded that the final results would be questionable, but I still suggest taking a look at some of the comments on the topic by readers of Hungarian Spectrum. Unfortunately, since the Orbán government is in charge of the mechanics of the election we will never be able to prove fraud, however obvious it might be in places.

Orbán is a role model for Fidesz officials, and part and parcel of that model is his outsize accumulation of wealth. The latest official to come under scrutiny for unexplained affluence is Antal Rogán.

Rogán belongs to the younger generation of Fidesz officials. He had just finished high school at the time of the regime change. In college he majored in economics and soon after graduation was heavily involved in Fidesz politics. By the age of 26 he became a member of parliament and three years later one of the deputies of Viktor Orbán. Currently, he is the leader of the large Fidesz parliamentary caucus.

It seems that Antal Rogán was equally successful when it came to enriching himself. We don’t know how, but Rogán, his wife, and two young children live like nabobs in “Pasa Park.” This gated community is in a part of Buda called Pasarét (Meadow of Pasha), hence the name of the building in which many top Fidesz officials live, including Mihály Varga, minister of national economy. The Rogáns have two and a half apartments worth about 300 million forints. People who are investigating the case claim that Rogán’s total career earnings so far amount to no more than 16 million forints. His wife doesn’t work. His current salary is 1.3 million forints a month, but his expenses far exceed his income. He is still paying about half a million forints a month on his 60 million forint mortgage, he has to pay 300,000 a  month for maintenance, he pays 250,000 to lease an Audi 6, and the two small boys go to a private kindergarten for 300,000 a month. And presumably the family doesn’t starve.

Rogán got into trouble because he did exactly the same thing as  Gábor Simon (MSZP): he didn’t tell the whole truth about his wealth on the financial statement he has to provide to parliament. But while Simon is in jail, Rogán only had to “correct” his financial statement. He may have to keep making corrections as new pieces of information surface. It seems he owns property that he inherited from his grandmother and father in his hometown as well as a country house in Balatonlelle.

Given the way Orbán’s “justice” works, we can be assured that nothing will happen even if the accusations turn out to be correct in every detail. Nothing will happen not only because investigation and punishment depend on the ruling Fidesz party but also because all Hungarian politicians made sure that these financial statements are not worth the paper they’re written on. If, for example in this case, Rogán says that the money for the real estate and the lavish lifestyle comes from loans extended by family and friends, the authorities will be satisfied. He will not have to give any proof of actual transactions. Knowing the high moral fiber of Hungarians, I’m sure there would be plenty of people who would gladly swear that they were the ones who extended the money to Rogán.

That’s how things are in Hungary. It’s no wonder that people are not outraged about the rumors of electoral fraud or the plundering of the state coffers. They are accustomed to corruption and think it best to remain silent. They cannot do anything about it in any case.

“Is Hungary being ruined by a scoundrel or a fanatic?” A debate

Bálint Magyar’s interview describing the Orbán regime as a post communist mafia state made a big splash in Hungary. The phrases “mafia government” and “mafia state” spread like wildfire. Readers may recall that I gave a fairly detailed summary of this interview in three parts under the title “Bálint Magyar: Viktor Orbán’s post-communist mafia state.”

Given the Hungarian penchant for open discussion it was not surprising that soon enough a critique of Magyar’s thesis appeared in the same publication, Élet és Irodalom, in which the original interview had been published. Gábor Horn, the author of the critique, is, like Magyar, a former SZDSZ politician. Horn disagrees with Magyar in fundamental ways. A week later, Horn’s article was analyzed by Mihály Andor, a journalist whose articles and short pieces often appear on the Internet site Galamus.

I will leave a discussion of  the merits of Horn’s arguments to the readers. I’m sure that an animated debate of his and Arnold’s arguments will follow. Here I will merely add a few new pieces of information that might be relevant to the discussion.

Gábor Horn considers Magyar’s analysis a good starting point, but he himself sees Viktor Orbán and his regime “fundamentally differently.” After briefly outlining Magyar’s thesis, Horn says that Magyar is on the “wrong track.” His findings are the “result of wrong perception.” Because “the situation is worse.” It would be better if Hungary were a well organized mafia state. Mafias work rationally.  Mafia leaders want to gain maximum profit, they leave those who don’t break the rules alone, they are interested in prosperity.

But, Horn claims, “the government of Orbán is anything but rational. … Viktor Orbán is not a godfather, not an anti-Semite, not a racist as so many people want to portray him. None of that is true.” He is not a mafioso, although Horn admits that people close to him “managed to receive considerable economic advantages.”

Instead, “Viktor Orbán truly believes in his own version of a unique third road for Hungarian economic development.” Here Orbán echoes those populist/narordnik/népies writers and ideologists of the 1930s who thought in terms of a third road, something between socialism and capitalism, that would make Hungary a prosperous, mostly agrarian state.

Source: artsjournal.com

Source: artsjournal.com

So, Horn continues, the “mafia-like signs” are not the bases of Orbán’s system; they are only “collateral expenses” of the real goal. After all, Orbán knows that politics costs money. He “tolerates these political expenses but neither individual enrichment, money in general, nor economic gain is the goal of his politics.” This (I guess the mafia-like behavior) is “an important instrument in the service of the GREAT BELIEF.”

In Horn’s opinion it this zealous belief in an ideal economic and social system that drives him to take on the European Union, the IMF, the multinational companies, the banks, and everything else that stands in his way. Just as he truly believes that the old-fashioned school system serves his vision because it will lay the foundations for a better world. He is doing all this not because of dictatorial impulses but because he is convinced that “individual ideas are common fallacies and fallacies lead to blind alleys.” Orbán truly believes that the steps he is taking will lead to “the salvation of the country.” They are “not for his individual enrichment and his family’s economic supremacy.” Horn quickly adds that naturally Orbán has no objection to “doing well himself, but that is only a secondary question for him.”

Horn is also certain that “not for a moment does Orbán think that we don’t live in a democratic country. He just thinks that interpreting the law according to his will also serves the interests of the people. As all followers of the third-road ideology, he moves in a system completely outside the realm of reality, except in his case he manages to receive unlimited authority to execute his ideas.”

This is more or less the gist of Gábor Horn’s argument which, it seems, didn’t convince everyone. It certainly didn’t convince Mihály Andor. After reading Bálint Magyar’s interview and Gábor Horn’s article, he posed the question whether “the country is being ruined by a scoundrel or a fanatic.” That question can be answered definitively only by looking into Viktor Orbán’s head. Since we cannot do that, we have to judge from his actions, and from his actions “a cynical picture emerges of a man who wants to grab and hold onto power at any price.”

Andor outlines a number of Orbán’s moves that aim at sowing hatred between different groups in order to ensure his own unlimited power. If it were only great faith that motivates him, he wouldn’t have to turn man against man. When it comes to ideology, the originally atheist Orbán “paid off the churches that would take up the work of educating obedient servants of the state.”

If Orbán is not primarily interested in his own enrichment, what should we do with all the information that has been gathered over the last ten or fifteen years about the shady dealings of the extended family? Andor finds it difficult to believe that Orbán’s attitude toward money is no more than “collateral expenses in the service of politics.” Andor, like so many others, including Ferenc Gyurcsány and Mátyás Eörsi, believes that the Orbán family’s enrichment is one of the principal aims of the prime minister of Hungary.

Andor brings up a recent news item. Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and chairman of the Puskás Academy, just took out 800 million forints worth of dividends from his construction company that employs 250 men. I wrote about this mysterious fellow who not so long ago worked as an artisan. He used to lay down gas pipes going from the main into the houses of Felcsút. Today he is obviously a billionaire. And, by the by, he also received 1,200 hectares of land through the land lease program of the Orbán government. Some people think that the connection between Orbán and Mészáros is more than meets the eye. They suspect that Mészáros is a “stróman” (the Hungarian spelling of the German Strohmann, dummy, front man) in Viktor Orbán’s service.

And more news about the strange financial dealings touching on the Orbán family appeared only yesterday. In 2008 Mrs. Orbán (Anikó Lévai) purchased a 90m² apartment on Gellért Hill where Ráhel (24), the oldest Orbán daughter, lives. Krisztina Ferenczi, an investigative journalist who has been looking into the Orbán family’s enrichment for at least ten years, found out lately that the apartment right next door was purchased by István Garancsi, who just happens to be the owner of Viktor Orbán’s favorite  football team, Videoton. He is also the man who owns the only credit union that will not be nationalized, ostensibly because he is in the middle of converting it into a full-fledged bank. Most likely Orbán told Garancsi about the impending nationalization and advised him to begin converting his credit union into a bank to save his business. By the way, it was Garancsi’s credit union that lent a considerable amount of money to the Puskás Academy.

It turns out that Orbán’s only son, who plays for Videoton, has been living in Garancsi’s apartment ever since 2011. Apparently the young Orbán is neither a good football player nor a particularly enthusiastic one. He played only once last season. But Garancsi doesn’t seem to hold that against him. He is renting out his apartment to the young Orbán. The financial details are of course not a matter of public record.