“Dirty tricks” and a myopic Hungarian judicial system

Because I left Hungary as a college student and had no opportunity to get acquainted with the Napoleonic Code or the Csemegi Kódex (1878), the foundation of modern Hungarian criminal law, the little I know about law I picked up in the United States. As we all know, the difference between the legal system of the Anglo-Saxon countries and that of the Continent is substantial. The latter system is based not on precedent but on statutes. I happen to prefer the Anglo-Saxon system because to my mind it allows for greater flexibility in assessing a situation. Life is too complex to codify all its aspects. In any event, perhaps I'm baffled by Hungarian legal responses because my understanding of Hungarian law can best be described as rudimentary. But if prosecutors and judges are faithfully executing the law, then Hungarian law appears sorely in need of change. That may be true. I also suspect, however, that Hungarian prosecutors and judges need a new vision of the law as a vital force in a democratic society.

Let's take the latest. A few days ago I gave a fairly lengthy description of a telephone conversation between the president of Hungary's largest bank and the CEO of UD Zrt. UD, I subsequently learned, is the abbreviation of "Ultimate Data"; among its business activities it seems to specialize in political "investigations" with the intent of discrediting political opponents of Fidesz. I reported that Ibolya Dávid, president of Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), was a target of their intelligence gathering, presumably because her relationship with Viktor Orbán, head of Fidesz, has been anything but friendly. UD's top echelon are all closely connected to Fidesz. The alleged customer who ordered the investigation was István Stumpf, former minister and friend of Viktor Orbán. A CD with a recording of the telephone conversation between Sándor Csányi, president of the largest bank in Hungary and UD's CEO reached Ibolya Dávid, who turned it over to the Budapest Prosecutor's Office for their information. She was not asking the Prosecutor's Office to bring charges. And a good thing!

Today the Prosecutor's Office announced that it would not investigate the case because there is nothing to investigate. No crime occurred. After all, the written answer stipulated, "private investigation" is not considered to be a crime. To carry on the job of a private investigator is a perfectly legal activity. Moreover, it continued, there is no other evidence beside the copy of this telephone conversation and after all talk is just talk. And "dirty tricks" are legal. To be more precise, I assume, "dirty tricks" are legal if they don't involve any illegal actions.

And so once again the Prosecutor's Office cleared its desks. But the CD that Iboya Dávid submitted to the Prosecutor's Office is a mere fragment of the mounting evidence against UD, some involving computer hacking (which let's hope is illegal in Hungary, though earlier cases got a pass from the legal establishment). Moreover, Ibolya Dávid wasn't Ultimate Data's only target.  Another was allegedly Gordon Bajnai, minister of economic planning and development, whose name has been bandied about as an "expert" prime minister to replace Ferenc Gyurcsány. Whoever is behind UD, and some people think that it is Fidesz, also wanted to discredit Bajnai as well.

There are several reasons to suspect Fidesz involvement. László Kövér, former minister of national security, used to be able to get information from the National Security Office through his "spies." When the "spies" were discovered, they were let go. Fewer and fewer leaks reached Fidesz. Kövér, now a member of the Committee on National Security, complained that they were not getting enough information from the National Security Office and would have to develop "their own sources." Apparently a year later UD Zrt. was established. It now seems to function as a shadow national security office.

Although I'm convinced that this is a very serious affair, I suspect that just as in the past nothing will happen. The prosecutors will announce that it is a moral, not a legal matter, and that will be the end of it. They won't dig into violations of the law that occurred in the course of the "moral lapse." (Poor Richard Nixon; he should have been a Hungarian politician!) A few months ago I was hoping that the Hungarian judiciary would respond to the public outcry over their activities and would mend their ways. Today I'm not at all sure.

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“In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous.” – Publius Cornelius Tacitus

Odin's lost eye
There are European laws the most important of which is The Convention for Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms (aka European Convention on Human Rights). This convention was signed by Hungary before it was allowed to join the EU. There is a useful website (now with –at last- Hungarian language on it) it is eur-lex.europa..eu. European law is very clear about invasions of privacy. It supersedes and overrides Hungarian law. I suspect that as “eur-lex” has only recently been available in Hungarian the legal authorities in Hungary are not yet aware of it. @Professor you say *** “I happen to prefer the Anglo-Saxon system because to my mind it allows for greater flexibility in assessing a situation. Life is too complex to codify all its aspects.” ***. I will agree with you but the authorities even in some parts of the Anglo-Saxon world do not. They want rules that can be used to help them ‘manage the people’. The Anglo-Saxon world has one great benefit, which is the ‘private prosecution’ in a criminal case. It is like the citizens powers of arrest. The citizen does not have to wait for the police/sheriff etc. Citizens can do it themselves, and… Read more »
This time I think you are mistaken. It must be admitted, if someone talks about it that doesn’t mean he also did it. In the case of the ominous CD the whole thing is just talk an that cannot be construed as some crime. However, you are correct saying that the fidesz’s shadow spy agency this time went well beyond the tolerable limit. But, in my opinion, the legitimate secret service will not be as tolerant as the judiciary usually is, because the spying compromised the national system. Also, by setting up their computer bug at headquarters, the fidesz guys embarrassed the official ones. This they shall not tolerate. Mind you, if we can believe their claims, they discovered the spyware early and fed the the fidesz spys a lot of misinformation while spending months to discover their identities and methods. This affair is in a very early stage yet. I would rather expect that the “organs” are timing it to explode just in time for the next election. To Odin’s: yes, there is private prosecution in the Hungarian system. It was a notable case when an MP (Eorsi Istvan, now deceased) few years ago privately prosecuted a journalist for… Read more »