A botched-up show trial in Hungary

I’m going to write today about the infamous Hagyó affair. Miklós Hagyó, who joined MSZP in 1998, was a wealthy businessman who soon enough became an important political figure in Budapest. He was one of the deputy mayors in the administration of Gábor Demszky, who led the city between 1990 and 2010. Among other things, Hagyó oversaw the business practices of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). The losses at BKV were staggering; year after year the central government had to come to its rescue. The business practices of BKV had been under fairly close scrutiny, and it was discovered that management didn’t always run the company in a judicious manner.

But in March 2010 came a bombshell. Zsolt Balogh, one of the many CEOs of BKV, said on HírTV that he, as the newly appointed head of BKV, paid a courtesy visit to Hagyó, who right on the spot instructed him to hand over 40 million forints. Balogh obliged, and the next day he brought the money to the deputy mayor in a box originally designed as packaging for a Nokia telephone.

Injustice by Swamibu / flkr

At this point I said to myself: something is wrong here. There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam. During their very first encounter. Hagyó tried to clear his name but couldn’t. In late May, right after Hagyó lost his parliamentary seat due to the change of government, he was arrested. Obviously, the Hungarian prosecutors didn’t share my doubts.

Miklós Hagyó spent nine months in jail and several months in a prison hospital. Eventually his health deteriorated to such an extent that the authorities decided that perhaps he should be released and spend the rest of the time before his court appearance under house arrest.

The investigators spent two and a half years gathering evidence. Originally the prosecutors hoped for some spectacular revelations. They would have liked to have proof, for instance, that the money Hagyó allegedly extorted from the CEOs of BKV actually ended up in the coffers of MSZP. But the evidence was lacking.

In the end, although a total of sixteen people were accused of various crimes in connection with the business practices of BKV, only two important people were accused of anything: Miklós Hagyó and Ernő Mesterházy (SZDSZ), adviser to Mayor Gábor Demszky. The prosecutors tried to build a case of bribery but they couldn’t. Basically they had to fall back on the good old charge of breach of fiduciary responsibility. The only exception was the charge of extortion in the case of Hagyó, based on the fabulous Nokia story. The prosecution demanded jail time for fifteen of the sixteen accused.

In February Hagyó and his fellow accused were told that the court would like to have a speedy trial and that if the Budapest Court were to handle the case it couldn’t be on the docket before the summer of 2013. Therefore Tünde Handó, wife of Fidesz EP member József Szájer and head of the National Judicial Office, assigned the case to the court in Kecskemét, 85 kilometers from Budapest. The suspicion was and still is that the prosecution was hoping for a more sympathetic judge. Hagyó and the others appealed to the Constitutional Court but without success. On September 11 the case began in Kecskemét.

After the prosecutor read the fifty-page indictment it was Hagyó’s turn. He read a lengthy document in which he declared himself innocent. He naturally denied the Nokia story and said that he had sued all those people who, according to him, falsely accused him of wrongdoing. He also maintained that he and the other deputy mayor, Imre Ikvai-Szabó (SZDSZ), actually did a good job because when they took over the supervision of BKV it was stranded with a 70 billion forint debt which the two of them managed to decrease by 11.5 billion.

On September 20 it was Ernő Mesterházy’s turn, who also professed his innocence. In addition, he accused the investigators of illegal activities. He made no secret of his belief that their case was a show trial or, as the Hungarians describe such cases, “koncepciós perek,” i.e. cases based on trumped-up charges with a concept in mind as to its final outcome. He also testified that the investigators had put pressure on him, saying that if he were ready to give evidence against Miklós Hagyó and Gábor Demszky he could leave jail and his own case might be judged more lightly.

Today we heard that another CEO of BKV, Attila Antal, who had given evidence against Mesterházy and Hagyó, withdrew his original testimony. He told the court that while he was in jail he was very ill and the police told him that he would be let go only if “he talks.” His testimony was faxed over to the prosecutor’s office page by page for them to inspect its contents and decide whether or not his testimony was satisfactory from the prosecution’s point of view. Antal asked for Hagyó’s and Mesterházy’s forgiveness.

So, this is where we stand. In the past every time I expressed my doubts about the Hagyó case I received loads of criticism. Even ridicule. And here are the results of the first few days of the trial. Maybe I wasn’t that wrong after all.

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petofi
Guest

Can this kind of prosecution–ie. lacking convincing evidence–be construed in any way as the legitimate legal actions of a government office?

With such disrespect for justice will it come as a surprise when some, armed, group of soldiers or policemen take it upon themselves to act against
the government? Will we be surprised?

petofi
Guest

By the way, the above may, reprehensible as it may seem, be a best case scenario. What if those thousands of Garda, who have already talked of arms and revolution, decide to take things in hand?

Jano
Guest

Well, knowing how incompetent the rest of the government is, why would the SA’s office be any more efficient. Besides, if you are in government there are perfectly legal (though highly immoral) ways to get some chips off the public. Remember that László Keller failed equally abysmally as Gyula Budai has so far, I somehow doubt that the first OV government were innocent in their scandals.

“There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam.” – unless he’s arrogant enough to think that he’s untouchable.

Jano
Guest

Well, you don’t have to be an analyst to know that. And I’m not at all convinced that the accusations were false. Now Antal accuses the police of enforcement (which happened during the Bajnai government). Why would I believe this without criticism and not the previous one. My point was, that it is very well possible that Hagyó&Co didn’t do anything illegal in the literal sense of the word, the moral outcome of the story might still be the same.

At that time scandals were just bucketing out of the Mayor’s office one after another about very concrete incidents, businesses and public investments (e.g. we are still building probably the most expensive metro in history). I just can’t believe that Fidesz had that much power over the judiciary and the police from opposition. Then the MSZP-SZDSZ government was even more pathetic than I had previously thought and I just want them (or now just MSZP) even less.

Jano
Guest

Also, if you remember, at that time there were a lot of rumors about Hagyó and the “youngs” trying to take over the party (taking a look at Hagyó’s very steep upwards curve in wealth and power before, he was no doubt an ambitious man). The most likely scenario for me is that he lost the fight against “the old guard” of MSZP and if anybody, they took care of him, not caring about how much it helped Fidesz as a byproduct.

An
Guest

Eva, if that’s true that Hagyo was really innocently accused, that would be huge. I am still not convinced, but what I am convinced of is that Fidesz is a gang of bigger and more devious crooks than MSzP ever was. And no, I don’t like MSzP, either.

Member

According to Balogh’s testimony losers like him were first forced into a smaller fishy deals then later blackmailed into other things like being a delivery boy of the “protection money”. Don Vito did a favor for them and later they were called up for duty.

Balogh was also accused and later defended by a law firm close to the FIDESZ.

Hagyo will be acquitted for lack of evidence and nothing will happen. Balogh will walk too. What do you expect in a country where the prime minister’s wife’s BFF is the chief justice?

Jano
Guest
Eva: I’ve seen worse. People just start falling in love with their own successful manipulations and they lead themselves into this false sense of safety. “As far as your second point is concerned I don’t even know what you are talking about. Hagyó didn’t do anything wrong legally but the “moral outcome of the story might be still be same.” What on earth are you talking about? It makes no sense whatsoever.” Really, you don’t? So you say that everything that is legal by the word of the code is necessarily moral? That there are no ways for nepotism and clientele building without breaking any laws or doing it in a way that is virtually unprovable? “But I agree one must investigate whether Antal is telling the truth.” Let’s leave it like that. I could come up with other scenarios but it would be only speculation too. If I learned one thing in Hungary is that you never no what’s going on in the background. “God, you are grabbing at straws. So, according to you, MSZP ruined Hagyó and helped Fidesz to win the elections big time.” So who leaked the Öszöd speech? You yourself have written bunch of posts… Read more »
Jano
Guest

“Please, admit, you were wrong. You supported real crooks. It can happen. It is better to get over it sooner than later.”

I don’t even know how should I react to so much arrogance crammed into two lines… How do you even claim to know who I supported when/who voted for?

Whatever, you obviously don’t tolerate anything other than your own thinking, I’ve been reading this blog for a long time because you are a talented and knowledgeable writer and you put a lot of effort to this blog producing some very quality posts every now and then (I think you’re strongest suit is history of course), but I haven’t ever seen you admitting any conceptual mistake (while I did, I didn’t vote for OV, but I thought he was going to be different this time, I was blatantly wrong, here you go), whenever somebody really hits you with solid arguments about e.g. GYF you just don’t react anymore or start being extremely derogatory see the comment above. Debating is not about victory for me, I’m so sorry it is for you.

i-Deak
Guest

This is too bad. The discussion on this subject turned out to be pretty incomprehensible.
Hagyo has become a the victim of an overly aggressive nasty prosecution.
After Angyal’s apology, there is no valid case against Hagyo.

http://www.xpatloop.com/news/71491

Jano may have said some confusing things, but we have to refrain from attacking him.

Eva is undoubtedly a great treasure to us. Let us hope that she can be a forgiving person, too.

Petofi has been a creative extraordinary contributor, and I think he may be right on seeing lots of violence in the future.

Kingfisher
Guest

A former colleague of mine worked for Hagyó for a while. When I heard the Nokia story, my only surprised, based on what I’d heard about him, was that he was demanding so little. It doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily guilty of all the accusations made against him (I really don’t know one way or the other) but please don’t romanticise him: he is a gangster, period. It is also highly significant that the MSZP has absolutely failed to support Hagyó in any shape or form.

And I Jano is spot on,

Kingfisher
Guest

Sorry, ‘And I think Jano is spot on”

petofi
Guest
i-Deak : This is too bad. The discussion on this subject turned out to be pretty incomprehensible. Hagyo has become a the victim of an overly aggressive nasty prosecution. After Angyal’s apology, there is no valid case against Hagyo. http://www.xpatloop.com/news/71491 Jano may have said some confusing things, but we have to refrain from attacking him. Eva is undoubtedly a great treasure to us. Let us hope that she can be a forgiving person, too. Petofi has been a creative extraordinary contributor, and I think he may be right on seeing lots of violence in the future. Thanks for the compliment, Deak. I’m not for violence, but I see the loosening of institutional controls on violent behavior. Toward this end, the worst example, for me, was the short film where a Garda member kicked a police dog in the head and was NOT arrested. If that wasn’t encouragement to right wing elements, I don’t know what is/was. But there are so many other examples: kuruc allowed to spew their hate-filled message; the government chopping trees without due process; Garda allowed to march and congregate in their (forbidden) uniforms; etc. etc. …all the while private, mafia-like, parking firms prey upon the citizens… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Eva S. Balogh : Jano : I’d be tempted to agree with you if only the prosecutors office would have been involved, but Fidesz had zero control over the police (that is why they needed to do a cleansing in the top police leadership. You are grabbing for straws in every single case that happened under the MSZP governance. Can you name one case where you think the prosecution was right, or you really think that only saints were allowed in that administration? Keep the dates in mind. Balogh spilled the beans in May 2010. The police leadership only adjusted to the new situation. They are like that. Don’t think that the current cleansing of the police is to clear up this cesspool but to put their own guys into important positions. I’m not a supporter of MSZP, so you are on the wrong track. I just think that the Fidesz leadership is made up of greater crooks. They are much more efficient. And while we are at Fidesz crooks. What about the Gripen case that came up again? There is testimony to the effect that the Austrian count paid off five Hungarian politicians at the tune of 13 million… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest
Eva S. Balogh : Jano : I’d be tempted to agree with you if only the prosecutors office would have been involved, but Fidesz had zero control over the police (that is why they needed to do a cleansing in the top police leadership. You are grabbing for straws in every single case that happened under the MSZP governance. Can you name one case where you think the prosecution was right, or you really think that only saints were allowed in that administration? What about the Gripen case that came up again? There is testimony to the effect that the Austrian count paid off five Hungarian politicians at the tune of 13 million euros in 2001? That deal lead the US government to fine BAE… sorry for the copy here but the info is in a PDF pub’ed by the DoJ. What leaves me shaking my head is that here is a document that very clearly says.. people in the Hungarian government accepted bribes… those people had to be in high level decision making positions in order to influence a very very large government contract… that has implications with international treaties that Hungary signed up to (NATO being one) and… Read more »
Member
In overall, I think this particular case is only important because it brings to light the still existing high level corruption. I am not only talking about the money to be paid out for various favors, but the “I scratch your back, you scratch mine attitude”. Even if Hagyo was a tainted politician, other tainted elements paid him, tainted police arrested him, the tainted court deals with it , the tainted minister (Orban’s best friend) moves the trials, tainted politicians give statements. The whole affair smells like rotting meet, and the whole gang form the Nokia box to Orban should end up in jail, if not for this particular case, then for all the other ones that go with it. Maybe I sound sarcastic, but I mean it. The point is that this who said what, who did what, who forgives whom, and who will end up in a jail is just so teeth for teeth, eye for an eye, that until a from of general amnesty happens (which would not apply to violent crimes, and would not mean that stolen goods should not be given back) this game will go on forever. I bet most politicians are shaken to… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Ok, I may have written this before, I don’t remember, but it is exquisitely a props of the present topic: a very close family friend who achieved a high level position in a major US electrical company, on his retirement, decided to favor Hungarian high schools with a gift of 1000 used but refurbished computers which he convinced his company to donate gratis. So, he made a preliminary trip to Hungary (which he had left back in 1956) to discuss its delivery and dispersion. The government personnel which he met listened carefully to his proposal and had this to say: “If we allow you to do this….what do WE get?”

THAT is the level of corruption among Hungarian politicians.

Guest
London Calling! In England if a case got this far via the Central Prosecution Service (CPS) then Attila Antal  wouldn’t have been allowed to withdraw his testimony – if the prosecution was still in the public interest. (The CPS is an independent arms-length institution which assesses all the evidence in a trial which has to have a higher that 50% of success and be in the public interest. I know in practice the probability is higher than that – more like 60%, for safety. In Scotland it is very high – more like 70% by the Procurator Fiscal – so you are almost certainly guilty if your case gets to court!) Antal would have been summoned as a ‘hostile witness’ and expected to impart his testimony – including the allegation that he was bartering with the police when “police told him that they would only release him if he speaks up.” This might be regarded as interfering with a witness if proved true – and would be treated as perverting the course of justice – a very serious offence. Since 1984 all interviews are recorded on a dual-tape system – one is sealed in the presence of the witness to… Read more »