In today’s papers there was a short news item: Béla Szabadi’s court case at the Court of Appeals is again postponed. Considering that the original court date was December 8, 2007, and now according to the article the court will continue the case in April, one can only wonder about the speed with which Hungarian courts handle cases. Especially since the case has been "considered" for seven years by now.
But let’s go back a bit. Who is Béla Szabadi? Our legal story begins in February 2001, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people aren’t familiar with his name. Szabadi was József Torgyán’s right-hand man in the Ministry of Agriculture under Viktor Orbán. He got there in the following way. In 1998, after the first round of elections, Fidesz wasn’t doing well. MSZP was leading, but József Torgyán’s Smallholders had put in a creditable performance. So, according to some people, an unholy alliance was formed between Orbán and Torgyán. In more than 100 districts Torgyán recalled his party’s candidates before the second round, thus allowing Fidesz to win the elections. After the successful second round a coalition was formed between the two parties: the Smallholders got a few ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture which Torgyán himself occupied. His undersecretary was Béla Szabadi, whom Torgyán considered a "genius."
Szabadi finished Karl Marx University and was employed by the Economic Research Institute between 1979 and 1999. At that point the Economic Research Institute was under the Hungarian Statistical Office, and it seems to me that at the Institute Szabadi busied himself mainly with statistical analyses. He then spent five years in Moscow (1980-1985). He claims that he had to be satisfied with an assignment in an Eastern bloc country because his brother had left Hungary illegally. Whatever the case, Szabadi was employed at the secretariat of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the socialist countries’ answer to the Common Market. He worked there as a statistician.
Torgyán, as a lawyer in Budapest, knew next to nothing about agriculture. I don’t know whether Szabadi, his deputy, knew anything or not, but he had to run the ministry because the minister was galloping around the world. After all, what a wonderful opportunity to visit distant, exotic places. Especially if someone else paid the bill. Orbán promised Torgyán the position of president when Árpád Göncz’s tenure expired. Orbán, of course, had no intention of fulfilling this promise because it would have been a disastrous choice. Torgyán was basically a country bumpkin who would have been absolutely unsuited for the dignified position of the president. Somehow Orbán managed to convince Torgyán to give up the idea (or perhaps he blackmailed him). In any case Torgyán didn’t become president and soon enough he had to resign as minister of agriculture as well. Orbán had come up with the brilliant idea of preparing a budget not for one year as is customary in any normal country but for two years. As soon as the government parties voted for a two-year budget, Orbán no longer needed Torgyán and his party. Indeed, the budget was passed in December 2000 and in February 2001 Torgyán was gone. A few days after his departure his deputy, undersecretary Szabadi, was arrested and kept in preventive custody for three months. Altogether Szabadi spent thirteen months in solitary confinement. Eventually, in 2006 he received a two-year suspended sentence. The original charge was misappropriation but, according to Szabadi, that couldn’t be proven and therefore the charge was changed to abuse of authority. The charge was based on Torgyán’s generous gifts to a professional soccer team.
Ever since Szabadi has tried to convince the world of his innocence. According to him, the whole procedure against him was politically motivated; its aim was the destruction of the Smallholders’ party. Of course, I know only Szabadi’s side of the story. However, I asked someone in Hungary who is familiar with the case and, according to this person, it is very possible that Szabadi is actually innocent.