Corruption: The Hungarian judiciary and politics

Courage is a rare commodity in Hungary and perhaps not without reason. The one-party dictatorship, "soft" though it may have been, didn't exactly reward those who criticized the fundamentals of its so-called socialism. It was safer to be quiet, minding one's own business. The fear of repercussion is never too far from Hungarian thinking. Nor is repositioning oneself, preferably before a change in the political winds.

Now that a Fidesz victory seems almost certain, people are already thinking of the future. After all, the leaders of Fidesz said in no uncertain terms that a "just punishment" awaits those who in the last few years sided too openly with the socialist-liberal government that ruined the country. One can see a shift even in liberal circles. Not long ago three liberal commentators (all of whom happened to be women) were discussing the political situation on József Orosz's Kontra (Klub Rádió). To my utter surprise I heard one of them say that she is actually looking forward to the formation of the Fidesz government because "the sooner we get over the whole thing the better." She compared such an event to a case of the measles. Once a child has measles he has immunity. Four years of Viktor Orbán and the Hungarian people will discover the benefits of liberalism! Or, as one of the editors of Népszabadság put it the other day: "The only force that can consolidate the country is Fidesz and Viktor Orbán!" He belongs to the growing number of people who believe that only Fidesz can handle the extreme right. The assumption is, I think, that if Fidesz turns against Jobbik the politically uneducated will follow and will turn against Gábor Vona and Krisztina Morvai. I very much doubt the validity of this assumption. Moreover, until now I haven't seen signs of any serious Fidesz criticism of the neo-Nazi ideology of Jobbik.

But let's return to courage. Zoltán Somogyi, director of Political Capital, showed courage when he wrote a fairly lengthy and thoughtful piece about political corruption and its influence on the judiciary. Specifically on the prosecutor's office that, as opposed to many other countries, is independent of the government. Political Capital (http://www.politicalcapital.hu/index.html) is a business venture begun by Zoltán Somogyi and Krisztián Szabados, two political scientists. A team of political scientists maintains an internet newspaper Hírszerző (http://www.hirszerzo.hu/), writes analyses, and gives advice to foreign governments and parties. For a number of years Zoltán Somogyi has also been an advisor to MDF and Ibolya Dávid. Political Capital is a conservative group in the true sense of the word.

Somogyi never made a secret of his job as a political advisor, and in television discussions he often admitted that he couldn't be 100% independent in his opinions on MDF. This is a welcome change from all those so-called independent political scientists who are anything but. Two of them are prominent in this story: István Stumpf, formerly minister in Viktor Orbán's government, and András Giró-Szász, who works alongside Stumpf in Századvég, a Fidesz think tank. The names of Somogyi, Giró-Szász, and Stumpf came up in connection with the drama over the case of Ibolya Dávid, who from victim became the accused thanks to the machinations of Fidesz with the help of the chief prosecutor's office.

I wrote so much about all this that I'll give only the briefest of summaries here. Those of you who want more details can search for previous references. The upshot of it is that UD Zrt., a firm that specializes in "private investigation," had strong ties to some Fidesz politicians who were curious what went on in the National Security Office (NBH). NBH became suspicious and got a court order to tap UD Zrt.'s telephones. Among the thousands of telephone conversations there were some that clearly indicated that Ervin Demeter (Fidesz-Jobbik) and László Kövér (Fidesz), both former ministers in charge of national security, were asking UD Zrt. for information about the inner workings of the National Security Office. As an added bonus was a tape that indicated that István Stumpf and others had cooked up a plan by which they hoped to oust Ibolya Dávid as head of MDF. That tape somehow ended up in Ibolya Dávid's hands; she then went with it to the prosecutor's office, asking them to investigate. A week later the prosecutor's office returned the tape saying that there was nothing to investigate, and a few months later the same prosecutor's office asked parliament to suspend the immunity of Ibolya Dávid and her right-hand man, Károly Herényi, because they now wanted to question her not as a witness but as the suspect, charged with divulging private information. Zoltán Somogyi was present at one of the ensuing conversations between Ibolya Dávid and "the people and their representatives" from the other side. One "representative" of István Stumpf was the allegedly independent political scientist András Giró-Szász.

Once Somogyi's name appeared in the papers in connection with the case, he decided to retire from active management of Political Capital. Moreover, he made his opinions about this whole witch hunt public in today's HVG. Somogyi's complaint is that Fidesz, instead of turning against Jobbik which he considers a real threat, does everything in its power to ruin Ibolya Dávid and MDF. As Somogyi wrote, "Hungarian democracy's greatest challenge up to date is the appearance of Jobbik," yet Róbert Répássy, Fidesz's legal expert, "demands summary proceedings against the leaders of MDF from the prosecutor's office." As for the prosecutor's office, Somogyi didn't mince words: "The charges against Ibolya Dávid–and in that connection the activities of the Hungarian prosecutor's office–are concerns of Hungarian democracy." This is not a simple criminal case; here we are dealing with something that can only be described as political criminality. The accused wasn't even questioned; her accuser was deemed the sole witness. Information leaked out from the prosecutor's office to people who most likely committed the alleged crime. It was the head of UD Zrt.who "informed" the public about the intent of the prosecutor's office concerning the leaders of MDF. Károly Herényi was told by a newspaperman two weeks before he received any formal notice that he and Dávid would be charged. "Any one of these strange happenings would be enough in a country of law for the chief prosecutor to resign."

Somogyi then turns to the topic of "independent political scientists."  He happened to be present "when fellow political scientists, some of them even friends of [his], begged Ibolya Dávid not to make public more recordings…. [He] heard them give details of how they approached with 'special enticements' members of the presidium of MDF, how they wanted to make Kornél Almássy president [of MDF] … only to use him as a puppet. . . . And [he] saw how they changed their tune once it became clear that the prosecutor's office was 'with [them]'." 

Somogyi claims that he was "in the wrong place at the right time" and thus witnessed something he hopes to be able to tell in court. Today, it's dangerous to expose cases of corruption because it can easily happen that the injured party will get burned. "This is a game of corrupt helping corrupt." Somogyi doesn't spare the "depraved journalists" who became no more than propagandists or "media businessmen" who bark out orders to the journalists dictating which party to write about and what to say. Somogyi also suspects that the incorrect predictions of certain opinion polls about MDF's prospects were not exactly a matter of chance or a lack of expertise. These are harsh words. Harsher than most publicists left of Somogyi who, being close to MDF is presumably a conservative, would ever dare to utter. And, by the way, Herényi just announced that MDF will spend its summer looking into corruption cases. After all, someone has to do something if the prosecutor's office, instead of investigating crime, helps to cover it up. Don't forget that MDF is headed by a former minister of justice.