I'm usually at a loss when I have to deal with legal terms in Hungarian. Here is this "hűtlen kezelés" (unfaithful handling) business. Everywhere you turn you hear about former politicians or businessmen heading state firms committing "hűtlen kezelés." The old and largely useless Országh dictionary lists at least five or six English equivalents which mean obviously different things: fraudulent misuse of funds, fraudulence, malpractice, malfeasance, peculation. Surely it cannot be malpractice. It cannot be fraudulent misuse of funds either because I heard from a lawyer that "hűtlen kezelés" doesn't involve the misappropriation of funds. Eventually I turned to the Hungarian criminal code [§319(1)] and there I found a definition. Someone can be accused of "hűtlen kezelés" if he is entrusted with handling the property of others and he does not follow the rules and regulations. In reality one can read about scores of people who were in one way or the other involved in state property transactions, who didn't demonstrate the necessary caution, and who agreed to a sale disadvantageous to the Hungarian state. This accusation is usually based on some assessor's decision about the value of the property.
The latest case is a building in Moscow owned by the Hungarian government and used by the commercial arm of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. The building, erected sometime in the 1980s, was built in the typical shoddy Soviet style of the day. Half of the building couldn't really be used for offices. And there was another drawback: either the City of Moscow or the Soviet government owned the land on which the building stood. In the last twenty years or so the size of Russian-Hungarian trade didn't warrant the upkeep of a large building and thus for a number of years the building stood empty. For years the Hungarian government wanted to sell the property but it couldn't be done without the agreement of the Russian government.
Let me state at the very beginning that the "seller" wasn't the Foreign Ministry because any transaction involving state properties is handled by the Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő (MNV). Until recently the head of MNV was Miklós Tátrai, about whom I wrote already last December in connection with the Surokó entertainment center. He was accused of "hűtlen kezelés" in connection with that land transaction. Tátrai was barely out of jail when he was arrested again, this time in connection with the sale of the Moscow office building. But Miklós Tátrai wasn't the only alleged culprit. Also cited in the case were Márta Fekszi, earlier undersecretary for foreign affairs, Árpád Székely, former ambassador to Russia, and today the prosecutors even questioned Kinga Göncz, foreign minister at the time. Magyar Nemzet was delighted to hear that they questioned her for three hours.
According to people who know something about the case there is the strong suspicion that this criminal investigation is once again no more than a political witch hunt. One way to direct attention away from current problems (for instance, the ill conceived tax code) is to point to the alleged corruption of former politicians. We are still in the middle of the Moscow affair, but today there was a new "hűtlen kezelés" involving the sale of the post office headquarters. The charge is always the same: they sold under value.
As the former Hungarian ambassador to Moscow explained in Népszabdság, the Russian government pretty well insisted that the Hungarians sell the building to Air Diamond registered in Luxembourg. (The Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has close ties to the Kremlin, is in some way involved with Air Diamond.) Earlier the Hungarians tried to negotiate with the Russian government about buying the land on which the building is situated, but to no avail. The Russians weren't selling although they own the land in Budapest on which the Russian embassy stands. As for the choice of the assessor the Hungarians made sure that it was neither a Russian nor a Hungarian firm. Eventually the American (with a huge global presence) Cushman & Wakefield did the assessment; it assessed the property's value at $20 million. In the end Air Diamond paid $23.3 million for the building.
So far so good, one could say. Ah, but here comes the Orbán government's desire to find criminals. The Kormányzati Ellenörzési Hivatal (Government Audit Office) found a Hungarian assessor who was sent to Moscow in the last few months. He announced that the building was sold way below its true market value of $52 million.
Meanwhile Russian newspapers unearthed the fact that if there was corruption it wasn't on the Hungarian side but on the Russian. Viktor Vekselberg in no time sold the building to the Russian government for seven times what he paid for it. Regnum.ru, an online paper close to President Dmitry Medvedev, a few days ago accused the Orbán government of creating the case against the Hungarian foreign ministry officials in order to put pressure on the Russian government just before Viktor Orbán's visit to Moscow.
Perhaps Regnum.ru exaggerates and the current investigation has no foreign policy implications, but the very fact that several Russian papers accuse the Hungarian government of creating a case in order to pressure the Russian government tells us something about the current state of Russian-Hungarian relations.