Mud slinging, a Hungarian pastime

Not much happened during this weekend, at least nothing terribly important, but Hungarian politicians can certainly make a mountain out of a mole hill. If there is nothing they will create something, preferably something big, even if dredged up from the past. Re-enter the "oil mafia" story.

The occasion was the alleged beating of an investigative journalist, Irén Kármán. A good ten years after the fact (and after many books by others), Kármán wrote a slim volume of questionable importance. She is in the middle of putting together a documentary film on the illegal activities surrounding the difference in price of heating oil and diesel. (See my post of June 28 for background.) Kármán’s story of her alleged beating, which to me sounded a bit suspicious from the beginning, seems to be perhaps not quite accurate. There is no question that somebody beat her up, but perhaps not the men of the "oil mafia." The police think that it might have been a family quarrel made to look like something else.

The story of the beating gave an opportunity to the warring parties. A few days ago the opposition Fidesz repeated an earlier accusation that a company in which Gyurcsány had a minority stake in the mid-1990s had something to do with the illegal oil business. That accusation initially surfaced when Ferenc Gyurcsány first appeared on the political scene as an advisor to Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy right after the 2002 elections which the Fidesz unexpectedly lost. At that time the police and the prosecutor’s office investigated and found nothing illegal. Now, Kármán’s accusation has given the Fidesz another opportunity to warm up this old story.

Immediately after the alleged attack on Kármán, the government decided to make public all 80,000 pages of documents concerning these illegal activies. My suspicion is that among these documents there is something unsavory about some Fidesz politicians, perhaps even about Viktor Orbán. This attack on Gyurcsány is a preemptive move.

Well, the other side didn’t remain quiet either. The socialist party’s spokesman wrote a letter to the Fidesz in which he inquired whether a certain Béla Tóth is still is a close advisor to Viktor Orbán. Tóth worked as a campaign manager for the Fidesz and is still associated with different companies with very close Fidesz ties. He is currently the most important suspect in the so-called Energol case before the courts at this very moment. This same Béla Tóth, together some other well known names from the "oil mafia," was also involved in another questionable business dating from the last days of the Orbán government. The government came up with a highly suspect plan, which they named the Széchenyi Plan after the great Hungarian reformer, István Széchenyi. The alleged aim was to give a helping hand to small Hungarian businesses. The grants were not loans, but absolutely free money. The whole program was a hotbed of corruption. It seems that this Béla Tóth, together with some important members of the oil mafia, received a very large grant for a thermal spa somewhere near the Austrian border. Apparently, there is no sign of a thermal spring anywhere close to the proposed site, but I don’t think that the government really investigated the situation. To date there is no spa and, of course, no money. It is likely that for one reason or other they wanted to give a very large sum, 175 million forints, to Tóth and his friends. The socialist spokesman also mentioned an odd coincidence. Tóth’s lawyer is the same Attila I. Szász who is a close friend of Orbán and a business partner of Orbán’s wife in a much criticized vineyard scheme in Tokaj.

I am waiting for developments with great interest.