Strange turns of justice in Hungary

It was on September 12, 2008, that I first wrote about the Hungarian scandal later nicknamed Polypgate. In the subsequent few weeks I had to return to the topic several times because it was a story that didn't want to die. It looked for a while as if Fidesz was in serious political trouble. To make a long story short, on September 10, 2008, the Hungarian National Security Office raided a company called UD Zrt, a close corporation with the standard "everything under the sun" business mandate, including and obviously its primary focus, computer security. As it turned out, the National Security Office had been watching the activities of UD Zrt for months and asked for a court order to wiretap the company's telephone conversations. The National Security Office was mostly interested in their attempts to obtain highly secret government information that they suspected was being passed on to Fidesz. Indeed, among the later released tapes there were several highly embarrassing conversations between UD's owners and Ervin Demeter, the minister in charge of national security in the second half of the Orbán government.

Among these tapes there was one that had nothing to do with the National Security Office; rather, it addressed Fidesz's attempt to ruin Ibolya Dávid and MDF. Dávid had been a thorn in Orbán's side for a long time–ever since MDF under her leadership refused to buckle and join Fidesz. So the bigwigs in and around Fidesz decided to use an indirect method to remove Dávid. They found their man in Kornél Almássy, a young MDF member and one of the deputies of Dávid, who seemed to be a willing partner. The hope was, of course, that Almássy might win and under his direction MDF would eventually join Fidesz. However, they were not quite certain that in a clean competition the young and rather inexperienced Almássy could win against the popular Ibolya Dávid, so they approached UD Zrt to see whether they would be interested in finding some dirt on her. This telephone conversation was caught on the National Security Office's wiretap together with the hundreds of others dealing with other matters.

It didn't take more than a day before a CD containing the information about the plans of Fidesz reached Ibolya Dávid's desk. I gave a fairly detailed translation of the conversation that took place on August 1, 2008, between János Tóth, one of the owners of UD Zrt, and Sándor Csányi, CEO of OTP, Hungary's largest bank ("A Hungarian Watergate?" [September 12, 2008]), so I'll be brief here. My suspicion is, and I'm not alone, that UD Zrt and Sándor Csányi had a very close relationship. I wouldn't be surprised if he had actually been the "boss" there and not just one of UD Zrt's customers. On the CD János Tóth, one of the owners, is basically asking Csányi's advice or perhaps permission whether the company should accept the job. According to Tóth, it is András Tombor, head of the national security cabinet under Viktor Orbán, who is the prospective customer. According to the tape István Stumpf and "his associates" will pay for services rendered. I assume I don't have to introduce Stumpf, formerly head of the all-powerful prime minister's office of Viktor Orbán. Csányi didn't reject the proposition out of hand. He simply said at the end of the conversation that he would think about it and the two of them would talk about it later.

We don't know who gave the CD to Ibolya Dávid. She claims that she herself doesn't know. It came without a return address. Dávid, a lawyer and former minister of justice, was very careful. When she made the CD's contents public she used only initials. However, a day or so later, HVG published the text including full names: Csányi, Stumpf, Tóth, Almássy, Tombor, et al. Moreover, Ibolya Dávid sent the CD to the prosecutor's office asking their opinion on the matter. A few days later the prosecutor's office returned the CD, claiming that there was nothing to investigate.

To most people the case was clear-cut. Some people in and around Fidesz wanted to get rid of Dávid and  used Almássy for that purpose. Of course, no one fessed up. On the contrary, they vehemently denied that they played any role in this sordid affair. Stumpf was indignant and promised to sue Ibolya Dávid. (I think he actually did and the case is still dragging on.) Almássy admitted that he talked to one of the owners of UD Zrt but not about Ibolya Dávid or MDF; he wanted to use UD Zrt's services to make sure that his apartment was secure. In plain language that there were no bugs because he was suspicious.

Eventually UD Zrt hired a laywer, Barnabás Futó, who seems to represent every right-wing defendant. What Futó usually does is not to defend but to sue. It seems that Barnabás Futó managed to convince the chief prosecutor that the true victims are Sándor Csányi, János Tóth, and Kornél Almássy, not Ibolya Dávid. They are charging her and Károly Herényi with coercion and "violation of personal data" of the people mentioned in the telephone conversation. The chief prosecutor asked parliament to suspend the two members' parliamentary immunity.

Coercion? Yes, says the prosecutor in his letter to the parliamentary committee on immunity questions, because Károly Herényi talked to an adviser of Almássy, a political scientist close to Fidesz, András Giró-Szász, and told him that they were in possession of the tape. Herényi also talked András Tombor who apparently initiated the "business proposition." He told him that Almássy had until noon to decide whether to give up his parliamentary seat and his membership in MDF; otherwise they would make the tape public. Herényi's version of course is different. He simply wanted to save the young Almássy from embarrassment. Ibolya Dávid got the job of talking to Csányi, who admitted that such a conversation had taken place, but right in front of Ibolya Dávid he called János Tóth and inquired from him whether they had gathered any information on Dávid. Over the speaker phone Tóth said "no." However, he did admit that his partner had met with Almássy, but only about "debugging" his apartment. Apparently, Dávid asked Csányi to handle the "Almássy affair." Although Csányi indignantly answered that he could not be blackmailed, he did talk to Almássy who apparently refused to give up his plan to run against Dávid. Then Dávid allegedly told Csányi as well that in that case she would make the tape public. Csányi apparently denied permission.

The conversation between Csányi and Tóth over a speaker phone seems to support Almássy's story–which, let's face it, is highly unlikely. But there might be a simple explanation. Csányi, Tóth, Almássy, Tombor, the whole crew already knew before September 12 that Ibolya Dávid had received the CD with the incriminating conversation and would most likely make it public. So they had time to coordinate their stories. Why do I think that? Because there was a bit of a slip-up on the part of Ervin Demeter, former minister for national security, whose conversations with one of the owners of UD Zrt were also in possession of the authorities. Demeter got so nervous that he phoned József Bencze, head of the country's police force, on September 11, a day before Dávid made the tape public, and tried to convince him to stop the investigation of UD Zrt. Demeter, according to Bencze's notes on the conversation, seemed to know that there would be revelations about the attempt to blacken the name of Dávid. So Csányi, UD Zrt, and all the others were expecting Ibolya Dávid to show up and were ready with their coordinated story.

Meanwhile, Ibolya Dávid, who was greatly wronged, is the accused. An interesting twist in the sordid story of Hungarian justice. Ibolya Dávid said that she feels ashamed to be part of the system of justice that exists in Hungary today. If I'm more charitable, I can say that the Hungarian prosecutors' logical powers are not as keen as I would expect from prosecutors who not only initiate formal charges but are also supposed to investigate.