We talked a lot about György Hunvald, the former MSZP mayor of District VII (Erzsébetváros) who was arrested more than two years ago and kept in jail without being charged. Eventually the prosecutor's office came up with an explanation for keeping this man in jail for so long: he conspired to cheat Erzsébetváros out of 300 million forints. Again the same old story: he sold properties belonging to the District below market value. And because he allegedly did this by conspiring with others, he can receive a jail sentence of up to twenty years. Keeping him in jail was also justified by the charge of conspiracy.
A few weeks ago the case got to the trial stage. The prosecutors produced thousands and thousands of pages of "evidence," except the indictment was so poorly constructed that the presiding judge simply didn't see any rationale for the accusation of conspiracy. She asked the prosecutor's office to amend the indictment but the prosecutors refused to oblige. Most likely because they had no more to show than the half sentence that was in the original indictment. The judge thus decided that continuing to hold Hunvald and his "co-conspirator" György Gál in jail was unwarranted. On Friday, May 13, they were abruptly informed that they were free to go home. That pretty well indicates to me that the charge of conspiracy will die in the courtroom. Thus remains the contention that the eight pieces of property whose sale the city council unanimously approved were sold at a discount to market price.
Hunvald, now at home with his wife and four children, gave several lengthy interviews. A video is on ATV. He also gave an interview Saturday to Népszava that was published today. In it Hunvald claims that no crime was committed. On the contrary, selling the eight pieces of property was actually "a success story." He is also certain that his case will be taught at law schools sometime in the future as an example of the worst kind of prosecutorial proceedings.
Hunvald had a long time to get familiar with the passage of time. He spent 823 days in jail. Not even armed robbers spend that much time in jail without an indictment. He claims that the only reason he managed to survive psychologically was that he knew he was innocent. Hunvald's lawyer some time ago turned his case over to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because of the incredibly long incarceration during which he had no way of proving his innocence.
Hunvald also claims that the prosecutors are unfamiliar with the most commonly used economic terms like ownership, market price, income, profit. Although this contention seems far-fetched, we know from other cases that the prosecutors and the judges are woefully ignorant of the business world.
The real story, at least according to Hunvald, is that Erzsébetváros owned several rental apartment houses. They were built more than one hundred years ago without modern conveniences. Inhabitants of several apartments had to share the same toilet somewhere at the end of the corridor. The local government had no money to fix up the buildings and modernize them. Therefore the decision was made to sell them. However, before such a sale could be effected the city fathers had to find alternative housing for the people who lived in these apartments. It became evident after a while that finding acceptable residences for these people would cost the District more than the amount of money they could get for these old properties. Thus, the council decided that they would sell the old houses for less money but make the new owners responsible for relocating the residents.
Hunvald claims that the transactions actually brought 300 million forint in profits to the District because that was the difference between monies received and the market value of the houses. Several experts were asked about the market value of the properties and they all more or less agreed that the price was fair. At the same time Hunvald claims that in the almost two and a half years that he was in jail the prosecutor's office didn't bother to ask a real estate appraiser to determine the value of the properties in question.
Apparently all told the Erzsébetváros city council sold about forty houses and managed to arrange better accommodations for more than one hundred families. The prosecutors targeted eight of these sales.
As is being increasingly clear, judges often find the prosecution's cases inadequate. And since more and more people suspect that the prosecutor's office is independent only on paper and has actually been serving the political purposes of Fidesz for years, there is still trust in the judiciary. But that happy state of affairs will not last for long. We know what has happened to the Constitutional Court already, and soon enough instead of eleven judges the Fidesz-run parliament will vote on the appointment of four new ones, bringing the total to fifteen. We also know that about two hundred judges will soon be departing because they are over 62 years old. Until now the judges didn't have to retire until age 70. In the not too distant future not only will the prosecutor's office be "the extended arm of Viktor Orbán" as Ferenc Gyurcsány said the other day, the judges will also be in his pocket.
Meanwhile even the old constitution had to be changed in order to pass another unconstitutional act: about 30,000 retired members of the police, army, firefighters, and border guards will have to return to work. They are retired no more. After hearing the spokesman for these groups, I would be worried if I were the government. These guys are not joking.