Semion Mogilevich

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.

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

Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?

This is a very old story with a new twist. It goes back to what is known as the Hungarian “mafia war,” which began with the murder of József Prisztás in 1996 and continued a few days later with the death of Csaba Lakatos, the driver of Prisztás’s race horses, on the Budapest trotting course. It was in connection with this murder that Sándor Pintér’s name emerged as someone who might know more about the mafia war than he should. I remind you that Sándor Pintér was chief of the Hungarian national police force between 1991 and 1996 and has twice been Viktor Orbán’s minister of interior.

In the 1990s the most important figure of the Russian mafia, the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, lived in Budapest. Right now he resides in Moscow and, although the Russian authorities have to be fully aware of all his crimes, he is left to live a life of luxury with his Hungarian wife and three children. Another famous mafia chief and a friend of “Szeva bácsi” (Uncle Seva), as he was called by his friends in Budapest, was the German Dietmar Clodo, who in the 1980s was arrested for bank robbery at least twice in Germany. Eventually Clodo was arrested in Hungary and received a ten-year jail sentence which he was able to serve in Germany. He was released in 2011 and since then has been living in Berlin running a security firm.

What does all this have to do with Pintér? In 1998, after Pintér was nominated to be minister of the interior, the parliamentary committee on national security headed by György Keleti (MSZP) found evidence that Pintér might have been involved with some of the important characters in the Hungarian underworld. Specifically with Clodo. During the interrogation of someone who himself became the victim of the mafia war it came to light that Clodo’s wife testified that a high-ranking policeman, who turned out to be Pintér, visited her husband several times sometime in 1997. This testimony reached the parliamentary committee that was deciding on Pintér’s appointment. During the questioning Pintér had serious mental lapses concerning his relationship to Clodo. At first he denied that he ever met Clodo, but eventually he admitted that he had met him once at a trade show but didn’t know that Clodo was Clodo because he introduced himself as Edward. A few days later Világgazdaság learned that Clodo registered at the trade show under his own name. In brief, Pintér’s story was full of holes.

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

But that was not all. There is a good possibility that Pintér might have been involved after the fact with the murder of Csaba Lakatos. Although he denied it, according to the police report filled out at the time he either removed the gun found at the crime scene or replaced it with another gun. When the police eventually found the twins who apparently killed Lakatos, a policeman present at the arrest reported that they were relieved when they were arrested and that they said “as long as Uncle Sanyi is the chief of police … we will be safe.” The next day the two men were released from custody.

And back to the present. HVG‘s Antónia Rádai, who once already revealed details about the connection between civil servants and the Hungarian mafia, decided to have an interview with Dietmar Clodo.* Why exactly now is an interesting question. After all, Clodo has been out of jail for the last two or three years. It is possible that Clodo was the one who approached HVG with his story. In any case, Rádai had a long interview with Clodo.

Here it is what she learned. According to Clodo, he met Pintér three times. First, indeed, at the trade show in 1997 when Pintér was no longer the national police chief. Clodo at that point was in the safety glass business and Pintér was the owner of a security firm called Preventív Security. They met two more times, but at the end there was no business deal.

Apparently Pintér’s offer was more than shady. Now shady deals were part and parcel of Clodo’s business practice, but if he took a risk at least he wanted to reap benefits from the deal. What Pintér offered would have benefited only himself. He proposed that Clodo replace the safety glass used in police cars with the kind used in shop windows. Pintér would make sure that the police units in the provinces would buy his safety glass. The difference in price between the real and the inferior glass would go to Pintér. No wonder Clodo said no. If true, this story certainly calls into question Pintér’s “business dealings.” Sándor Pintér, it should be noted, is an extremely rich man.

Potentially even more damning are Clodo’s stories about the connection between the Russian mafia and a Hungarian politician. 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.

The amazing thing is that practically no one picked up on this story. Perhaps one reason is that the younger generation of Hungarian journalists simply don’t remember Clodo or Uncle Seva and don’t realize the significance of this interview. But it is hard to believe that no one is interested in the person who allegedly received the one million marks from Semion Mogilevich in that briefcase. The only reporter who followed up on the interview was György Bolgár, who interviewed Rádai on his radio show. He rightly pointed out that, if this story is true, whoever this politician is can’t feel safe. After all, that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

What about the opposition parties? Well, MSZP and Együtt-PM don’t seem to be too sharp either. It was only DK’s Ágnes Vadai who asked Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt whether he is planning to investigate this old case in light of this new development. Vadai added that if this story is true there are people who play important roles in Hungarian politics who might have committed serious crimes twenty years ago. I guess we can pretty safely predict that if Vadai gets an answer at all it will be in the negative.

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*The full interview by Antónia Rádai is still not available on the Internet. I had to rely on summaries of the story given by other publications.