Miklós Hagyó

The European Anti-Fraud Office is a bit slow: The case of the Heart of Budapest project

Well, we are back in Budapest’s District V, which is known by many names: Lipótváros (Leopoldstadt), Belváros (Downtown), or lately for a little political propaganda “The Heart of Budapest.” At least this was the name of the mega-project undertaken within the boundaries of the district that made the historic district mostly traffic-free and repaved the streets between Kálvin tér and Szabadság tér, stretching 1.7 km, with fancy cobble stones. Like everything else, the project was largely financed by the European Union.

It was Antal Rogán, the newly elected mayor of the district, who came up with the idea of revamping downtown Pest shortly after the municipal election of 2006. He convinced the City Council of Greater Budapest to apply to Brussels for a grant, and it seemed that at least on the surface the SZDSZ-MSZP city and the Fidesz district were of one mind. We mustn’t forget that at this time Antal Rogán was considered to be a moderate and reasonable man. Later the Fidesz media praised him as a truly remarkable Fidesz mayor who managed, despite the fact that the city of Budapest and the government were in SZDSZ-MSZP hands, to receive a huge sum of money for the development of his district. Well, the Heart of Budapest project really was impressive. A good portion of District V became something of a showcase.

The renovated Károly körút - Photo András Földes

The renovated Károly körút – Photo András Földes

As we know, Antal Rogán has had his share of his political trouble ever since Péter Juhász, who was Együtt’s candidate for mayor last October, decided to investigate shady real estate deals during Rogán’s tenure. I wrote about corruption in the district in December and again in January. Juhász, unlike most Hungarian politicians, doesn’t give up. Whether he will succeed in putting Rogán in jail remains to be seen.

What Rogán did not need was another scandal. But he’s under attack yet again, this time in connection with the Heart of Budapest project. The internet site vs.hu reported yesterday that OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office working under the aegis of the European Commission, found serious irregularities in connection with Rogán’s project. According to vs.hu, OLAF finished its investigation at the end of last year and called upon the Hungarian Chief Prosecutor’s Office to begin an investigation of the case. Naturally, OLAF’s findings were also sent to the European Commission. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office admitted that they received the documentation that supports OLAF’s case but said that “currently work is being done on the translation of the material.” Knowing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, they will work on that translation for months if not years. Moreover, some opposition politicians learned that in the last few years the Chief Prosecutor’s Office received several dozen such complaints, but as far as we know Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt’s crew did nothing about them.

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the project. At the end of 2012 OLAF found that not everything was in order. There was a good possibility that both District V and the city of Budapest would have to pay sizable fines: about 900 million forints each. The charge? The officials of the district and the city who were handling the bidding process demanded such unnecessary qualifications from the applicants that only one combined firm, Reneszánsz Kőfaragó Zrt and Bau Holding 2000, forming the Heart of Budapest Consortium, could possibly undertake the work. The bidding was theoretically open to foreign firms as well, but I doubt that much effort was put into finding non-Hungarian companies for the job.

What kinds of unreasonable demands did the authorities insist on? To qualify, a company had to have references for 1.2 billion forints worth of work on historic buildings even though the new project focused on repaving streets. There was absolutely no restoration of historic buildings. This ploy is commonly used in Hungary to make sure that the “right” company is the successful bidder. In Hungary 40% of all projects end up with a single bidder. Every time such a thing happens we can be pretty sure that corruption is not far away.

In 2012, when this story broke, Rogán and his deputy András Puskás, who has since left the district under the cloud of possible corruption, argued that there was nothing wrong with the project. It was done properly. The problem, they countered, was that the European Commission didn’t like the Orbán government and concocted this case to attack Viktor Orbán and his politics.

Now that OLAF finally got to the point of calling on the Chief Prosecutor, the district is trying to shift the blame to the current opposition. After all, the argument goes, the first phase of the project was finished in 2009 when Gordon Bajnai was prime minister. And Gordon Bajnai was present at the official opening. I guess that, according to the brilliant logic of the editorial offices of Magyar Nemzet, Bajnai had something to do with passing on the job to an earlier designated firm just because he cut the tricolor ribbon at the opening ceremony. For good measure, Magyar Nemzet added that Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair of Együtt and then Bajnai’s chief-of-staff, participated in the negotiations. Szigetvári calls the accusation a lie.

In addition, Magyar Nemzet blames the SZDSZ-MSZP administration of the city of Budapest. “All this happened during the era of Demszky-Hagyó-Steiner.” Pál Steiner was the whip of the MSZP caucus on the city council while Miklós Hagyó was the MSZP deputy mayor. Hagyó was later accused in a vast corruption case, which is still pending. The lurid details of the case tarnished MSZP and helped Fidesz coast to an overwhelming victory, resulting in a two-thirds majority in 2010.

OLAF has been investigating for the last six years. Right now, the Chief Prosecutor’s office is busily, or not so busily, translating. When do you think we will know exactly what happened? If you ask me, never.

 

No conspiracy, no crime, only dereliction of duty: “The Siege of the Television Station”

More than six years after the events of September 18-20, 2006, the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Debrecen came to the conclusion that there was enough evidence to indict a few high-level police officers. They were involved, even if indirectly, in the “Siege of the Television Station” that did  considerable damage to property and endangered the lives of the ill-equipped police officers ordered to defend the building.

The plan to prosecute these police officers was hatched right after the second Orbán government was sworn in. When parliament convened, a sub-committee was created that was charged with investigating all the illegal activities of the socialist-liberal governments between 2002 and 2010. After a less than fair investigation the committee’s Fidesz and Jobbik members, with the active assistance of the same Tímea Szabó who nowadays is the bright star of the Jávor faction of LMP, voted for an official investigation of some  high police officials. Gergely Gulyás (Fidesz), the chairman of the subcommittee, turned to the prosecutors to investigate three specific issues. First was the lack of disciplinary action against the police officers involved although the police chief of the country knew about their shortcomings. Second, the police officers who were on the scene couldn’t be identified by the number that they were supposed to wear. Third, the policemen, after leaving the building, failed to ensure the security of the employees of the TV station.

It was on November 2, 2010 that Gulyás asked the prosecutors to investigate. For two years one heard nothing about the status of the investigation. Finally, on November 12, 2012, Magyar Nemzet learned that the Debrecen regional office of the Central Investigative Prosecutors Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) had finished its investigation and that an indictment could be expected soon. At the same time the media learned that five high-level police officers would most likely be indicted: Péter Gergényi, Budapest police chief; László Bene, police chief of Hungary; József Dobozi, former chief of the Rendészeti Biztonsági Szolgálat that in the past dealt mostly with football hooligans; Zoltán Majoros, who was in charge of the men at the television station; and Gábor Mittó, who commanded the police stationed at Szabadság tér. As I found out, these were the people who actually tried to do something while others who later criticized them either did nothing or completely lost their heads.

The siege of the television stationSeptember 18, 2006

The siege of the television station
September 18, 2006

Three more months of silence transpired. It was only yesterday that we learned that, in addition to the five officers, more policemen will probably face charges. Zoltán Majoros is charged with not taking good care of his men (elöljárói gondoskodás hiánya). According to the prosecutors, Majoros knew that his men were not properly outfitted “yet he did nothing to supply them with the missing items.” I might be a bit dimwitted, but I have to ask how on earth Majoros could have done that when the entire Hungarian police force lacked the necessary equipment for such encounters.

Gábor Mittó is accused of  insubordination. Péter Gergényi is charged with negligence of measures required of a superior (elöljárói intézkedés elmulasztása). If he is found guilty, he might face a five-year prison term. László Bene is charged on two counts: not initiating disciplinary action against some of his subordinates and neglecting to enforce the law on identification numbers. József Dobozi is being indicted for not investigating the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.

In addition, the prosecutors examined 190 alleged cases of police brutality but found only ten policemen whose conduct might warrant indictment.

On the surface  the long awaited indictments seem to indicate that there might be some foundation to the Fidesz-Jobbik charges against these high police officers. And yet the results of the investigation are meager from the point of view of the government. Because we mustn’t forget that, despite their best efforts, the “crimes” that were enumerated by the so-called Balsai Report couldn’t be substantiated by the very biased Hungarian prosecutors. Or at least they didn’t feel confident enough to include these accusations in their indictment. Because what did the Balsai Report allege? The 142-page report was written by István Balsai, who was later rewarded for his efforts with a seat on the Constitutional Court. The document was full of unfounded allegations that were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány gave direct orders to the police to commit crimes. Anyone who’s interested in the details should read my post entitled “The long arms of Viktor Orbán: The Balsai Report.”

The right-wing rhetoric about police criminals who shot out people’s eyes led nowhere. The only accusation they could come up with was dereliction of duty. There is not one word about the “cavalry charge against peaceful demonstrators” or “blinded pedestrians.”  Péter Hack, a professor of criminal law, told Népszava that if the police officers didn’t take proper care of their men they should be punished. But the charges that Balsai leveled turned out, as I always suspected, to be a pack of lies. The picture painted of the events of those days is one of the biggest falsifications in modern Hungarian history. (Another is the Kádár regime’s rewriting of the 1956 revolution to transform it into a Nazi uprising that aimed to restore the Horthy regime.)

And while we are on the subject of collapsed accusations, let me mention another interesting development in the Miklós Hagyó case. Hagyó as deputy mayor of Budapest was alleged to have carried home a 40 million forint bribe in a Nokia box and to have committed all sorts of other crimes that caused huge losses at the Budapest Transit System. I reported that one witness after the other during the trial changed his testimony, claiming intimidation by the investigating prosecutors.

When he feared that he would be arrested and that all his real estate holdings would be seized, Hagyó distributed his properties among family members. Naturally, the right-wing media cried foul. But the Kecskemét Court found that Hagyó’s properties were purchased long before he entered politics and therefore had nothing to do with the case. So yet another accusation collapsed. This is not the first and presumably not the last. Perhaps one day we will be able to get rid of all these lies.