Lawyers and white collar crime in Hungary

My personal impression is that Hungarians, like Americans, don't have a very high opinion of lawyers. (According to a Gallup poll taken last December in the U.S. lawyers and members of Congress, though ranked higher than car salesmen, have major image problems.) The general suspicion of lawyers will only grow after the arrest of three or four lawyers in some version of an overbilling/kickback scheme. The criminal investigation is focused on the conduct of two general counsels, György Sziebert of BKV (Budapest Közlekedési Vállalat/Budapest Transit Authority) and Krisztina Rényi-Vámos of BA (Budapest Airport). In addition to these two, one or two lawyers working for a private law firm were arrested. (The media reports simply cannot agree on the numbers.) The charge is that the law firm that performed services for these two companies at the behest of their general counsels either overcharged them or received payment for work not performed. All that with the help of Sziebert and Rényi-Vámos. In return, the lawyers expressed their gratitude in the form of hefty sums of cash.

So what is the connection between Sziebert and Rényi-Vámos? Sziebert used to work under Rényi-Vámos at the Budapest Airport between 2003 and 2005. In May 2008 Sziebert got a new, more prestigious job at BKV. He was apparently hired on the recommendation of two insiders, one of whom was BKV's CEO at the time. There were no other applicants and the job wasn't advertised.

My suspicion is that the Sziebert-Rényi-Vámos "partnership" goes back a long way. According to some people in the know, the newly discovered case is only the tip of the iceberg. The Budapest police, the National Security Office (NNI), and the police of the Budapest Airport together have been investigating the case since April 15 when they got a tip from an anonymous informer. The informer must have given very detailed and accurate information because the police seemed to know the time and place of the meeting where one of the partners of the law firm handed over 10 million forints in cash to Sziebert. The man who brought the cash tried to escape, but agents from NNI were there and stopped his car.

In addition to the law firm there is another company that was most likely a "partner" of Sziebert. It is an unnamed software company that for 28 million forints prepared a "database of BKV's contracts." Wow! That must be quite a database. 

There are at least four, perhaps six, suspects in these cases. The two general counsels, one or two lawyers, and one or two businessmen. Sziebert lost his job. The owner of the software company was arrested. The Airport police, the men of the NNI, and the Budapest police armed with search warrants combed through the apartments of Sziebert and Rényi-Vámos. They also searched Sziebert's offices at the BKV headquarters, Rényi-Vámos's offices at BA, and the offices of the still unnamed law firm. They took away documents, computers, disks, DVDs, and other devices holding data. Once again, the information the police received from the informer had to be detailed: the officers knew exactly what they wanted. It seems that the police suspect wrong-doing going back to 2005.

If this is only the tip of the iceberg at two companies, how many more cases will be discovered? And in how many more companies are there Szieberts and Rényi-Vámoses? Dozens, hundreds? Although these people are crooks, pure and simple, everyone is looking for political connections. Fidesz is zeroing in on an alleged MSZP connection between Sziebert and a former CEO of BKV. The other side is also busy. They are pointing to Dávid Vitézy, a Fidesz delegate on the board of directors, who is the nephew of Tamás Vitézy, a wealthy businessman who spends a fortune on publishing a local paper called Helyi Téma with a decidedly right-wing political mission. Perhaps between the two sides they will unearth where millions or billions went. But that money is undoubtedly gone forever.

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Well let’s hope there isn’t a political connection because then it would probably get covered up. Thanks for this report. Hard to get any detail in English.


I am not sure I agree with your view that Hungarians do not have a high opinion of lawyers. It seems to me that lawyers (including the odious Notaries) are held in very high esteem. Not that they deserve it.