Back to Hungarian justice

I was slightly amused the other day when on a TV segment dealing with Romania a Hungarian journalist, an expert on Romanian affairs, and a Romanian-Hungarian journalist who also works for the Hungarian paper Népszabadság, were asked by the interviewer about Romanian corruption. Especially about the European Union's criticism of the Romanian judiciary that is, according to the Union, "under political pressure." Where is the European Union when it comes to Hungary? Because what's going on in the Hungarian judicial system is really unspeakable. Let's concentrate here on the prosecutor's office that is, as Ibolya Dávid said the other day, "a state within the state," responsible to no one. On paper the network of prosecutors' offices is responsible to parliament, but this doesn't mean serious supervision. If parliament gets really concerned about a case, the chief prosecutor of the country is hauled into one of the parliamentary sessions to be interpellated. The chief prosecutor, currently a former military prosecutor close to retirement, gets up, answers the questions, and his answers are normally "not accepted." They vote him down. And then he goes back to work as if nothing had happened.

At the time of the regime change the democratic opposition was quite mindful of the power of the prosecutor's office and, because they had had bad experiences with prosecutorial practices under the supervision of the government, they wanted to make the office "independent." Hence the idea of subordinating it to parliament. There was another anomaly: in order to approve the appointment of the chief prosecutor a simple majority was enough. But to dismiss him the law prescribed a two-thirds majority. In the first four years, between 1990 and 1994, it was amply demonstrated that this arrangement was unsatisfactory, and when the coalition of socialists and liberals came into power and together had more than two-thirds of the seats they could easily have changed the constitutional arrangement. They began working on subordinating the prosecutor's office to the ministry of justice. But unfortunately they ran out of time. The new Fidesz-MDF-Smallholders government of Viktor Orbán didn't have a two-thirds majority so they decided to act fast. Under very mysterious circumstances they managed to convince the chief prosecutor, who had served to everybody's satisfaction ever since 1990, to retire and with a simple majority replaced him with their own man. From that time forward, the Hungarian prosecutorial system began to serve political purposes. So when Ibolya Dávid, Orbán's minister of justice, picked up the old socialist proposal to put the prosecutor's office under her ministry, the socialists who had wanted to do the same thing a few years earlier, voted it down. And to change the status of the prosecutor's office one needed a two-thirds majority!

A few days ago Ibolya Dávid, who has had her own problems with the prosecutor's office of late, minced no words. She announced that "the situation is untenable." The list of procedural failures is growing. She mentioned cases both old and new–Globex, Tocsik, Postabank, and Energol–where the indictments were so poorly prepared that they simply didn't stand up in court. Dávid refrained from recalling such outrageous cases as when the chief prosecutor of the City of Budapest practically dictated the confession that was most likely false to one of the accused who was squealing on his accomplices. The video was leaked, so one could see the whole sorry affair; after one of his statements the accused said that "the ceiling might fall down" on him as a result of such lies. Or when after a bloody bank robbery where eight people died the police and the investigating prosecutors  accused the wrong men in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Or a current case when a local Fidesz politician, a woman, was murdered. For a whole year they were busily investigating and eventually found their man: the woman's son who had an iron-clad alibi. They immediately locked him up and he spent a year in jail. A few days ago it turned out that, of course, the murderer was somebody else. Some of the subsequent investigation had to be done by the son's lawyer. The prosecutor's office didn't move a finger. And one mustn't forget about the UD Zrt case where the guilty ones were exonerated and the victims became the accused.

In the UD Zrt. case the minister responsible for the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (NNI) has already been charged and it looks as if the same fate awaits Sándor Laborc, head of NNI who in disgust retired after his failure to win prosecutorial support for his case against UD Zrt. Laborc gave an interview to Népszava on July 27 in which he told some mind numbing stories. The prosecutors turned down the case because, according to them, NNI didn't turn in sufficiently relevant material. According to Laborc the material they submitted was "many hundreds of terabytes worth of material"–more than one hundred thousand pages. The speedreading prosecutors arrived at their decision to drop the case in nine days.  Moreover, NNI suggested that the prosecutor's office enlist the services of a particular computer expert who was familiar with spyware, but the prosecutor's office refused to hire him. They got someone on their own who apparently couldn't even access one of the servers. What did the prosecutors do? They asked the "expert" of UD Zrt to come to their rescue!!! According to Laborc, all four people whose cases were sent over to the prosecutor's office were former employees of NNI, later members of the UD Zrt "family," who had specialized in computer spyware while in government employ. Laborc told the reporter that there are all kinds of tricks that can be used to destroy unwanted material–for example, the order of booting up. Although UD Zrt was also snooping into the activities of several politicians, including Gordon Bajnai and Ibolya Dávid, the prosecutors decided that this allegation was irrelevant. Moreover, I heard one lawyer with obvious sympathies with the political right argue that there is nothing illegal about such "investigation." Well, it all depends on how it was done.

Laborc lodged a complaint over the prosecutor's decision but it was turned down on July 30. The Budapest prosecutor's office announced that the authorities "did their work expeditiously, thoroughly, and lawfully." The spokesman said that if NNI had wanted to have favorable results it should have submitted material that proved its case. But the Budapest prosecutor's office didn't stop there. Today a news item appeared in Népszabadság announcing that the office of the chief prosecutor is contemplating official proceedings against Laborc for "having made false accusations" in the Népszava interview.

However, the office of the chief prosecutor might change its mind after what happened this past week in the Budapest prosecutor's office. One of their prosecutors was caught taking a bribe from a woman accused of fraud in exchange for a reduced charge. But that's a story reserved for tomorrow. Very juicy, and it might ruin the career of Sándor Ihász, the chief prosecutor in Budapest. Ihász has had his heart set on replacing the seventy-year-old former military prosecutor, Tamás Kovács, as chief prosecutor of the land.