I should emphasize that my comments on József Debreczeni's book should not be taken for a book review. I'm just picking and choosing among topics I find intriguing. So, after yesterday's post on Viktor Orbán's early life and his insatiable appetite for power, I move on to another timely topic: the corruption of the Orbán government. Lately, Fidesz has succeeded in making Hungarians forget about the incredible corruption on all levels between 1998 and 2002. Moreover, while the current corruption cases usually stem from greedy individuals, the corruption of the Orbán era was centrally managed with political aims in mind. Fidesz needed money and needed a monied class that would support the party in the future.
Debreczeni told us even in his earlier book that Orbán found Antall's activities wanting in two important aspects: he neglected to build up a pro-government media empire and he didn't pass government goodies on to ambitious Hungarian businessmen who in the future would be faithful supporters of the Hungarian right. Not only with their votes but also with their financial generosity. He told Debreczeni that he wouldn't commit a similar mistake. Thus between 1998 and 2002 he and his closest associates, László Kövér and Lajos Simicska, an old friend from high school and college whom his friends considered to be a "financial genius," worked out a plan to ensure that Fidesz wouldn't find itself in financial straits in the future because the party would be able to rely on the economic elite of the country, some of whom the party helped to create. According to Debreczeni most likely only these three people grasped the breadth of the effort, although contemporary observers named a few more in the top echelon of the party who were involved in this "money making enterprise."
Again I am returning to an HVG cover from December 1999. It is a group picture. In the middle, sitting in an armchair, is a smiling Viktor Orbán; around him six men are standing. All in black suits and hats, reminiscent of the Chicago underworld. The caption read: "Team spirit." Among the "gentlemen" one can see János Kövér, János Áder, Attila Várhegyi, and István Stumpf. Out of these people, only Attila Várhegyi got into trouble. He received a suspended sentence and had to resign his parliamentary seat. The others managed to get off scot free, mostly due to the appointment of their own man as chief prosecutor with a six-year term. He could be removed from office only with a two-thirds majority of the votes. Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, was Fidesz's insurance policy in case there was trouble. And there might well have been trouble, but thanks to Polt Viktor Orbán could breathe a sigh of relief after losing the elections in 2002.
Behind the figures in the public eye there were others who worked assiduously in the background to fill the party coffers, let's face it, by illegal means. Through kickbacks and corruption. Debreczeni uses a word borrowed from Bálint Magyar (SZDSZ) who called this crew "szervezett felvilág" as opposed to the normal word "szervezett alvilág" (organized underworld). "Felvilág" is a word coined by Magyar referring to the mafia-like organization that existed at the top, in the upper echelons of Fidesz.
Apparently the "brains" behind this mafia activity was Lajos Simicska, who was a very clever crook. Orbán's first move was to appoint Simicska as the new director of the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service. Suspicion was immediately aroused, and it hasn't died down since, that Simicska's job was to destroy any and all traces of financial wrongdoing of the several "companies" Fidesz established under various phony names. But even earlier we knew of many companies with millions of forints of unpaid taxes that were "sold" to foreign nationals like Kaya Ibrahim, a Turk living in Germany whose passport mysteriously ended up in the hands of Csaba Schlecht, another Fidesz "financial wizard." I wrote about the whole affair on September 9, 2008 ("An almost forgotten name from the past: Kaya Ibrahim"). As it turned out, Orbán made a mistake by appointing Simicska to an important position. He may have gotten rid of embarrassing evidence, but at the same time he was a crude man who drank a little too much and eventually became a burden to the party. After a year he had to depart. But he didn't go far. To a state-owned bank through which some of the illegal activities of Fidesz were conducted.
Also one can consider the appointment of Sándor Pintér, the former police chief, as minister of interior as part of the "mafia activities" of the party. Rumor has it that Pintér had to be paid off because he knew too much about the rather suspicious explosions in front of the headquarters of Fidesz and the Smallholders' Party as well as at the houses of József Torgyán, party chief of the Smallholders, and József Szájer, who today is the leader of Fidesz's EP delegation. Suspicion again lingers that these "explosions" that did only minor damage were staged by Fidesz in order to turn public opinion against the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition just before the elections.
The most often used method of getting cash into party coffers was to give huge contracts without any control mechanisms in place to firms close to Fidesz. For example, a 600 billion forint order for road construction went to a firm that until then had had had absolutely nothing to do with road construction. Parliamentary control was avoided by using a state-owned bank for the transaction. (And who worked by that time in the bank? None other than Lajos Simicska!) The second method was the use of "consolidation" of state-owned firms in trouble. The most spectacular among these was the case of the Postabank that went under. The "bank experts" exaggerated the losses and thereby more money was pumped into the failing bank than was necessary. The leftover most likely went to Fidesz and friends. The third method was passing on valuable state property for practically nothing to private persons. This method is called by Debreczeni the "Defend method." For instance, a slice of Postabank was sold for a pittance to Defend, a company specializing in private security services. The owner of Defend, a former security man who had performed services for Fidesz in the past, received fantastic contracts from various state-owned companies. Therefore its future was ensured and, in addition, who knows how much of Defend's profits went to the party.
Many people became very rich thanks to the "generosity" of Fidesz. Of course, it was the poor overtaxed Hungarian citizens who unwittingly financed these new billionaires. They were ignorant of the range of Fidesz techniques used to build a faithful "holdudvar" (close orbit), as Hungarians call the people who are devoted party supporters. As Debreczeni says, these people remained faithful throughout Fidesz's "seven lean years" although for them these years were not at all lean. They could build on the foundations that were provided for them by Fidesz. Today they are richer than they were seven years ago and have been faithful financial backers of the Fidesz media, the party, whatever was necessary. Now the whole "upper mafia" is ready to return to their old position of power. As Kövér said not long ago: "back to the fincsi." Fincsi is a variation of "finom" meaning "fine." I'm sure that for Kövér and his friends all that was very fincsi.