A show trial in Orbán’s Hungary

Today, inspired by an anonymous piece of writing entitled “A kémügy” (The spy affair) that appeared online on September 16, I will revisit a case I have written about extensively in the past. In July there was a show trial in the military court of Debrecen where the accused were a former minister and two high officials in the Hungarian National Security office.  We will not know details of the trial or even the charges brought against these men for a very long time because the transcript of the trial and the material gathered by the prosecution will not be made public until 2041. Moreover, a gag order was imposed on the defendants. If they reveal anything whatsoever related to the case they will be charged with divulging “state secrets,” which may mean another trial and another sentence.

The last time a cabinet minister and high-ranking officials were accused and convicted of espionage in Hungary was during the Rákosi period. In 1949 László Rajk, minister of the interior, and several high-ranking army officers were accused of spying, found guilty, and executed. The charges were, of course, trumped up. Times have changed, at least in the sense that Viktor Orbán’s political enemies can no longer be physically eliminated. But even on trumped-up charges they can end up in jail for a few years, their lives ruined.

The defendants in this case were György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány administration, Lajos Galambos, head of the National Security Office, and Sándor Laborc, Galambos’s successor. The court procedures were conducted in the Debrecen military court instead of in a Budapest civilian court.

As I said, I have written a lot about this case, and I suggest that those who are interested in this trial should read some of the older entries. My first post on the subject appeared on July 2, 2011, with the title “More and more arrests, most likely on phony charges,” which was followed by two more in the same month, one of which I entitled “The case against György Szilvásy and the national security chiefs might be of historic importance.” I borrowed that title from Gábor Török, a political scientist, who argued at the time that if the charges turn out to be unfounded “the present government majority can’t escape political responsibility.” In a democracy, said Török, “no political power can use means that are considered to be illegitimate.” Török suspected that someone did use such means and warned that “it will be a black day for Hungarian democracy when we find out who he was.”

Reading this old blog post of Gábor Török from 2011, we can now understand Viktor Orbán’s fury, described by the author of “A kémügy,” when he found out that despite the assurances of Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt the prosecutors’ case against Szilvásy was so weak that a military judge named Béla Varga refused to initiate proceedings against Szilvásy. Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation. But after Varga’s ruling Orbán realized that “his political career is at stake” and that this “mistake” must be corrected somehow. And the situation for Orbán didn’t look good. The prosecutors appealed and the appellate court agreed with the lower court.

It was at that junction, claims our author, that there was a meeting of Fidesz leaders, high officials of the Ministry of Interior, and top prosecutors. Fidesz leaders made it clear that the “problem” must be solved. A guilty verdict must be delivered, at least in the first instance. The burden eventually fell on the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér, who just a bit earlier had received supervisory rights over a new national security organization called Nemzeti Védelmi Szolgálat (National Security Service). He managed to get bits and pieces of information from Laborc’s successor, László Balajti, about some of the cases Galambos and Laborc handled.

Since I already wrote rather extensively about the case, I will not dwell on the details. It is enough to say that Galambos hired an outside firm owned by a person whose father studied in the Soviet Union and whose mother was Russian to conduct lie detector tests on some of the people whom he suspected of being spies for Fidesz within his own office. That became the wedge used to build a case against these three men. The prosecutors concentrated on Galambos with the idea of breaking him. Initially, however, they were not successful and again the investigative judge released him from custody. Again, the prosecutors appealed the ruling and in the second instance the investigative judge sent Galambos back to  jail. But although Galambos was often quite incoherent, he did not accuse his minister of espionage.

It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation because the politician was worried that nothing would come of this not so well constructed phony case. But by law the National Defense Service is not allowed to engage in investigative operations. So, illegally the officials of the Service visited Galambos in jail and asked for his cooperation. Galambos could easily be coerced because he had another court case hanging over his head. They promised that if he cooperates they will drop the charges in the other case. By that time Galambos was in such bad psychological shape that overnight the prison guards checked on him every fifteen minutes. But still no tangible evidence came to light that would implicate György Szilvásy. Eventually, they asked Galambos whether they could “summarize” his testimony.

According to the document, Szilvásy, with the knowledge of Ferenc Gyurcsány, served Russian interests. He tried to pass MOL. the Hungarian oil company, into Russian hands and Szilvásy allegedly had something to do with the collapse of Malév, the Hungarian airline company. The lie detector tests were necessary to prevent leaks because the Russians wanted to be sure that no one learns the details of the planned Southern Stream gas pipeline. The anonymous author reminds us that these accusations are practically the same that Fidesz leveled against the Gyurcsány government. Mind you, even here the officers of the National Defense Service were sloppy. At the time that all these dastardly deeds were allegedly committed, in 2006 and early 2007, there were no talks about Hungary’s involvement in the Southern Stream project.

This so-called testimony, the linchpin of the whole case, wasn’t included with the other pieces of evidence because in that case the defense would have been able to read it before the trial. In which case they would have been able to deny the charges in writing. Moreover, evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in the investigative phase. On the other hand, the judges would most likely accept it as evidence because they were more interested in its content than the way in which it was obtained. So, the decision was made that during Galambos’s trial, Galambos himself would ask for the “summary.” Naturally, neither Szilvásy nor Laborc was present and therefore they had no way of knowing what Galambos’s testimony was all about. Therefore they couldn’t possibly mount a defense against it.

Galambos had to be found guilty because otherwise Szilvásy couldn’t have been charged with abetment and Laborc with complicity. Galambos and Szilvásy each received jail sentences of two years and ten months, Sándor Laborc a suspended sentence of one year.

This is what we can glean from this anonymous document. How much of it is true we cannot know now and perhaps never will. But espionage is certainly a very serious offense. According to ¶261§(1) of the Hungarian Criminal Code, someone who gathers intelligence for a foreign power will receive a sentence of from two to eight years. ¶261§(2) states that if the information passed to a foreign power happens to be top-secret then the sentence will be harsher, between five and fifteen years. Considering that Galambos received only two years and ten months, the alleged evidence was most likely very flimsy.

If political motivation played a role and the prosecutors, the military judges, the ministry of interiors actually conspired to send György Szilvásy to jail just because of his role in unveiling Fidesz politicians’ illegal spying on the National Security Office, then Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law. A friend of mine made an observation that I think is absolutely brilliant.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

In classic show trials the victims were forced to cooperate and in a spectacular public trial they admitted their guilt. Once the authorities got what they wanted, the judges could announce the verdict and the victims naturally were found guilty. But what happens when the accused refuse to admit guilt as these three men did? How do the authorities manage to send them to jail? The Orbán government came up with the perfect solution. They made everything about this trial secret, including the exact nature of the charges. The persons involved are bound by a gag order. The victims cannot even deny their guilt in public. Thus we will never know what they were charged with and why they were found guilty. This is, my friend says, worse than the classic show trials. I tend to agree with him.

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An
Guest

I would like to add that this is going on in the middle of the EU. And Orban can get away with it.

odd2000
Guest

My business partners were similar in their greed to Orban.
Anyway the great spy story must be related to Al Qaeda, which has destroyed some valuable targets of Turul empire..

Unghurean
Guest

An interesting factoid in connection with the Egy-másért story, which is connected to the main story. The whole tax evasion/duty evasion of Egy-másért Foundation was because the processed food items ended up at CBA.

Yes, that CBA, the government favored and Fidesz-supporting grocery retail chain. And of course everybody knows that CBA is open to any kind of shenanigans with food stuffs, like backdating best before deadlines or repackaging stuff under an international label. For whatever reason, though, CBA’s role in this scheme was never really investigated.

And as an interesting coincidence someone told me that some top person at CBA told him that he (ie, the top guy at CBA) used to work with the intelligence — which then neatly ties in with the connection to Egy-másért, which was a kind of front organization for the intelligence anyway.

Kirsten
Guest

An :
I would like to add that this is going on in the middle of the EU. And Orban can get away with it.

Exactly. What a shame that a country can so easily swindle itself into the EU, pretending it is much more advanced than its peers. I suggest to transfer the country back to the Etelköz, and in particular the individuals who are the ones actively doing what is so nicely hidden in passive voice sentences:
“Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation.”
“It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation”
” Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law”.

tappanch
Guest

Wow! The Hungarian text seems to have come from a source “in the know”.

The Fidesz is holding its party congress today. The only candidate they can vote for chairman is Orban.

Live report:
http://fn.hir24.hu/itthon/2013/09/27/ujratoltott-fidesz-konga/

Vice chairman Kövér: The [democratic] opposition parties are those who “sell out the country, accumulate debt, turn Hungarians against each other, lie in the morning, at night and in the evening, who trump up charges against their opponents to besmirch their victims. and create mass hysteria”

I really think this description characterizes Fidesz precisely.

fidesz.hu/index.php?Cikk=196067

Lil Brother
Guest
As much as I know about the workings of the state organizations I have no doubts about the veracity of the Spy Affair story. The only uncertain point is the call between Polt and Orbán, which sounds very much like the first sentences of any American non-fiction book, which are supposed to establish the insider credentials/great scoop-getting capabilities of the author. I am not sure that the author could possibly have had access to the metadata of the call, although the author could well have heard from the more junior/mid-level prosecutors actually working on the case that their direct boss (Polt’s direct subordinate) told them that Polt personally told him (Polt’s subordinate) that he (Polt) talked with Him and got direct orders. But even this point to my ears sounds more likely than not, and I buy the rest. I also wonder whether Galambos’s break was a result of his attorney, at least to a certain extent. In such rare and sensitive matter one would expect that a defendant either wanted to hire a top defense lawyer or a lawyer with connections to the intelligence services. UD Zrt.’s hire of György Bakondi comes to mind (for the avoidance of doubt… Read more »
Guest
So in a way we have not progressed from the old times where any subordination against the king was punishable by death – or worse, like rotting in a rat infested castle cellar for many years and being tortured … Guantanamo isn’t much better than that and who knows what other facilities exist somewhere. The powers that be (whether US, UK or the little Balkan states like Hungary or Serbia …) do as they like – democracy and justice are empty words spoken loudly to the stupid sheep. And anyway a large minority (or even majority ?) doesn’t believe that democracy is better than having a strong leader – sometimes I wonder whether humans are really worth surviving as a species. Still it’s better to live in the “Developed Western Civilisation” than in most Asian or African countries – most people don’t want more than “panem et circenses” aka tv and mobile phones … A bit OT: Since my wife has some eye problems she’s not allowed by the doc to read as much as she would like and so we’ve been trying to find good programs on Hungarian tv – we have so many channels but most of them… Read more »
Esti
Guest

Ah, András Gálszécsy (probably the biggest apologetic for the Hungarian intelligence services, including the communist era snitches reporting on family members), says that the second instance court may change the characterization of the crime from espionage to treason, which, unlike espionage, is punishable by a life sentence. Well, this is indeed a legal possibility and the appeal will be heard by yet another Debrecen court. By the way, Debrecen is an arch-conservative town of about 200,000 citizens, where needless to say all private practice lawyers, prosecutors, judges know each other intimately.

I would love to read the story of how A. Gálszécsy got to be the perennial, old gentleman apologetic of the services.

Anyway, the story is not about the crimes committed, it indeed sounds strange to invite Russian experts to review Hungarian personnel, but whether any acts could have conceivably been committed by or attributable to Laborc or Szilvásy and whether the courts and prosecution acted in accordance with law?

An
Guest

@Kirsten: “Exactly. What a shame that a country can so easily swindle itself into the EU, pretending it is much more advanced than its peers.”

Hungary was not pretending anything. It was pretty much an open book in 2004.

Pete H.
Guest

tappanch :
Wow! The Hungarian text seems to have come from a source “in the know”.
The Fidesz is holding its party congress today. The only candidate they can vote for chairman is Orban.

Johnny Boy
Guest

You admit you do not know anything about the trial or the charges but you think you know it is a show trial.
Isn’t that a little bit of a contradiction?

tappanch
Guest

Pokorni, the moderate compared the Fidesz with the Romans in the movie “Life of Brian”.

I disagree with him: Fidesz has not forced anything good on Hungary (and perhaps the Roman were not as funny in Judea either, contrary to the comedy).

But I can bring a true analogy from the same movie: the opposition is as fragmented as the various small Jewish resistance groups were there.

tappanch
Guest

So Pokorni basically implied that although the Fidesz [the Romans] are like an occupying force in Hungary [Judea], but they brought good things to the Hungarians.

He listed:
1. cuts in the utility bills [why can’t I see those cuts in my bills ? collapse of
infrastructure after nationalization?].

2. decreasing inflation [ are you kidding? what about food prices? deflationary world!]

3. support to families [support to well-to-do families mainly, like the Fidesz bosses]

4. integration of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries [apart from election fraud, what else? Romanian nationalists would be happy if Fidesz caused mass immigration to Hungary]

option1
Guest

Sir Johnny Stalin – thank you for adding some confusion to the glory of FIDESZ.
Are you curious about the background of trials order by the Dear Vezeer?

We should sing again: We do not like this regime….by Dorottya Karsay:

Kirsten
Guest

An, there was a referendum about whether to join the EU or not, at the terms agreed in the accession negotiations. Hungary, and specifically those citizens voting in favour of the agreement, stated that it will not only respect but also promote democratic principles. It will even participate actively in the European integration process, e.g. through providing people who could run European institutions in a democratic manner. So what exactly was so clear, that people who voted in 2003 in favour of joining the EU will quickly find out that they actually find the EU oppressive and their own autocrat and medieval life irresistible?

tappanch
Guest

Will Hungary default after the election in 2014?

Expiring long-term (more than a year) Hungarian debt in billions of euros, as of June 30, 2013:

2013: 5.3
2014: 13.5
2015: 7.7
2016: 9.9
2017: 8.9
2018: 5.0

http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statisztikai_idosorok/mnbhu_fizm_20090330/fmlejarat_hu.xls

Mutt
Guest

tappanch :
Will Hungary default after the election in 2014?
Expiring long-term (more than a year) Hungarian debt in billions of euros, as of June 30, 2013:
2013: 5.3
2014: 13.5
2015: 7.7
2016: 9.9
2017: 8.9
2018: 5.0
http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statisztikai_idosorok/mnbhu_fizm_20090330/fmlejarat_hu.xls

I’m afraid we we will not default.

It doesn’t matter how much you owe. You can go easily above 100 % of GDP (my mortgage is more than two times of our yearly after tax income). What matters is your ability to pay. So if you are an iron fisted dictatorship that will beat out the payments from the people no matter what the investors still will buy your bonds. Unfortunately the Hungarians are starving but the economy is still predictable and its a long way until we max out our credit cards.

enuff
Guest

Eva,
FYI, the links referring to your previous posts on the subject don’t work!

Mutt
Guest

BREAKING

The ongoing Fidesz gathering elected a new party president. It was a real nail biter, knowing that Mr Orban was the only name on the ballot.

And get a load of this! From the 1241 delegates, one brave soul DID NOT VOTE FOR THE FÜHRER!! Who is this national hero? I’d like to meet him or her and contribute to his or her legal expenses if needed …

tappanch
Guest

@Mutt

We do not know the future. The Hungarian government will have to borrow a record amount of money in 2014 – that we know. (about 30% more than in 2013 – the 5.3 refers to the second half of 2013 only).

THe probability of default, as measured by the 5-year CDS is at 18.5%, slightly above the 17.1% when Orban took power. (It reached 40% in January 2012).

Kirsten
Guest

Mutt, perhaps it was OV, he is such a humble man… Or just one of the delegates was so illiterate that he could not even play the envelope system. In any case, 1 relative to 1240 people, the latter number impresses me more. What an elite.

An
Guest

@Kirsten:Huh… I think the EU was living in a pink cloud when they thought that it will be all dandy in Eastern Europe. And they haven’t even learned… now there are having the negotiations for accession with Ukraine… with the country’s excellent record of respect for democracy.

Member

Couldn’t one of them just seek asylum in Strasbourg and tell all?

tappanch
Guest

Stevan Harnad :
Couldn’t one of them just seek asylum in Strasbourg and tell all?

THey should seek asylum in Iceland.

tappanch
Guest

“The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Island, and all European Union Member States are regarded as safe by all European states. ”

http://www.asylumlaw.org/firstaid/4/

Kirsten
Guest
An, who are ‘they’ in this respect. It makes sense to identify those who act and decide and those who create the necessary support (directly and indirectly), and not to think in some abstract or general terms. Applies equally to ‘Europe’ and Hungary. To say in 2003 that the East is not ready for joining the EU, which quite a number of Western Europeans thought and said at that time, was considered arrogant and selfish. Instead, the arguments of those who were in favour of enlargement despite obvious deficiencies, at that time located mainly in Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, was that it will strengthen the positions of those who work hard to maintain and improve the new, democratic, lawful regimes. It was indeed believed that such people exist (and I believe that still, even in Hungary). That the Western countries should provide these democracies and functioning public spheres, perhaps through technical assistance programmes, above all against the will of the population (manifested for instance in willingness to participate in such an effort) has not been part of any deal. So ‘they’ are still paying for this great present of Eastern enlargement, have to cope with this wonderful group of… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Now that I wrote it, technical assistance programmes actually existed in many spheres but not assistance in mass political education or in assisting in running the state or cleaning the state or society from corruption.

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