Ten Hungarian businessmen and government officials can never enter the United States

A bombshell: the U.S. government placed ten Hungarian businessmen and government officials on a blacklist of sorts. They are barred from ever entering the United States. The businessmen in question are known to belong to a small circle of people very close to Fidesz. As for the government officials, they are apparently employees of the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service.

As of now there are two narratives of the event circulating in the Hungarian media. One is the government version, leaked to Napi Gazdaság, a financial paper recently purchased by Századvég, a Fidesz think tank. The other comes from the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

Let’s start with the government version of the story. The Hungarian internal revenue service became suspicious of some American firms doing business in Hungary and launched investigations into their  finances and tax returns. The U.S. government decided to retaliate by barring several Hungarians from ever entering the United States. Behind this “diplomatic duel” are the recent critical statements of former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama with regard to the Hungarian government’s attacks on NGOs. The two American Democratic leaders were especially upset over the fate of the Ökotárs Foundation, the distributor of the Norwegian Civic Funds, whose tax number was recently suspended. Why this particular concern? Because, the article contends, the Norwegians are also generous contributors to the Clinton Global Initiative.

At the end of the article Napi Gazdaság casually mentions that because of the link between the American Democratic Party and the Norwegian government, the Ökotárs Foundation “will not go against the interests of the Democratic Party.” So, the Hungarian government’s investigation of Ökotárs will actually have a beneficial effect. It may “place Hungary’s reputation on neutral ground in the political warfare between Democrats and Republicans.” Here Századvég is speaking, the think tank that owns Napi Gazdaság. Századvég just received a huge contract from the Orbán government to engage in public relations/propaganda in Washington over the next few years. But there might be a bit of a problem here; as we will see later, its CEO is barred from entering the U.S., which might crimp its effectiveness.

Napi Gazdaság contacted the U.S. Embassy, where they were told that they know nothing about any investigation of American firms and that the decision of the U.S. government to bar some individuals from entering the United States has nothing to do with alleged probes by the Hungarian internal revenue service. However, they have good reason to believe that the people on the black list were engaged in criminal activities. They tried either to force American firms to give them kickbacks or to extort special favors from them. They cannot release the names because of American laws prohibiting it.

It didn’t take long for one of the people involved to arrive at the doorstep of ATV and to offer some details about the case. According to him, he and nine others were asked to visit the U.S. Embassy where they were administered the bitter pill. ATV was not allowed to reveal the name of the informer, but the article described him as “an especially important partner of the Hungarian government who currently is participating in several important projects. In the last few years his name appeared frequently in the Hungarian media…. He considers himself a businessmen who is very close to Fidesz.” There is a sentence in this report that strongly suggests that our mystery businessman is not entirely innocent. After all, he found “the measure disproportionate, which further damages American-Hungarian relations.” So he did something illegal, but he thinks that the punishment is too harsh.

corruption4

Both the Fidesz parliamentary delegation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reacted promptly to the news. Fidesz sticks to the story leaked to Napi Gazdaság. The United States government is putting pressure on Hungary because they want to avoid the investigation of certain American firms by the tax office. M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, was called into the ministry, but before his appearance Judit Fülöp, the ministry spokeswoman, gave a short press conference. She stressed the Hungarian government’s zero tolerance toward corruption. She announced that they  are ready to investigate the cases but are waiting for documentation from the American Embassy.

Meanwhile investigative journalists were hard at work. From unofficial sources 444 learned that in the last year and a half there were several instances where government officials and businessmen closely associated with the government party approached American firms for kickbacks. In one case a large American firm applied for an EU grant. At first the government turned them down, but in the second round the management was told that they would receive the money but only if they hire a certain consulting firm that would perform no work at all.

A few hours later some names also appeared. Among them is Péter Heim, CEO of Századvég, the think tank that was launched by Fidesz in its infancy and that is now tasked with improving Hungary’s image in Washington. The news about the Hungarian internal revenue service seems to have been on target. Ildikó Vida, the head of the office, is on the list. Vida is one of the original founders of Fidesz. She is the same age as Viktor Orbán and was a fellow student in the college where the party was born. This is not the first time that she is in charge of the tax office. She held the same position during the first Orbán administration between 1999 and 2002. One must keep in mind that the Orbán government uses the internal revenue service as a political club. Index reported that in addition to Vida two other employees of the tax office are also involved. And then there is Árpád Habony, the eminence grise of Fidesz. He has no official position, but  he is perhaps one of the most important men behind Viktor Orbán. I devoted a whole post to him a while back. Rumors about his shady financial affairs have been circulating for some time. His source of income is shrouded in mystery. According to the latest information, Habony denies being on the list and is planning to visit the United States shortly.

On the surface the affair is solely about corruption, but the American reaction to these cases is politically charged. One has to assume that in countries with rampant corruption such as Hungary the U.S. Embassy receives reports of bribery attempts often enough. There are several ways of dealing with such cases. For instance, one can pay a visit to the country’s foreign ministry and report that such behavior is unacceptable. At the same time the American official can express his hope that in the future there will be no discriminatory measures against American firms and that extortionist activities will stop. But in this case the United States government came out with the big gun. The Americans in Budapest must have known for years about the high level of corruption in government and its satellite business circles, yet it is only now that they decided to move into high gear. This is, in my opinion, a political message to the Orbán government and part and parcel of a new, more forceful policy being conducted by the U.S. government toward Hungary.

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tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

President Clinton’s recent statement on The Daily Show (“Usually those guys just want to stay forever and make money.”) takes on added meaning. No doubt he was referring to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Clearly he is well-informed and his comment suggests he was aware of current thinking in the State Department – as you would expect him to be. As you say Eva, the timing is interesting – rather than the awareness of corruption in Hungary – and is clearly part of a well-thought out and considered policy of the US towards Hungary.

D7 Democrat
Guest

“This is, in my opinion, a political message to the Orbán government and part and parcel of a new, more forceful policy being conducted by the U.S. government toward Hungary.”

But why now? Ukraine?
Rumours recently have circulated about the regime moving its thugs in against *US financed* NGOs (or one specific NGO)? Perhaps the US Admininistration has just fired a very big shot across the regime’s bows in that regard?

I have an amusing picture of poodle Szijjaro presently running around like a headless chicken , completely out of his depth about what he should be doing now that he is in the big boys’ league- probably should have grabbed that Nemzeti Dohany Bolt franchise in Kisszentmiklos when he had the chance.

NWO
Guest

The rampant corruption in circles close to or actually part of the Government has been a constant part of daily life in Hungary, and has gotten far worse and instituionalized in recent years. The seeming indifference of the EU on this matter has been singularly depressing, and the refusal to withhold cohesion funds completely undermining of whatever limited integrity the EU might have otherwise possessed. In this context, the actions by the US Govt is so welcome and surprising. One can only hope more of the details leak out, and the true face of this country is shown to all who care to look.

tappanch
Guest

Szijjarto’s reaction on television was so hysterical that I ask myself:

Is Orban on the list?

Istvan
Guest

Really this is evolving into a tragic situation, largely because Fidesz can never admit its officials were involved in systematic shake downs of American firms, and firms from other nations too I suspect. The easy way out would be to turn over on the most corrupt officials and stabilize relations with the United States. But instead we get this fantastic story of the Hungarian internal revenue service investigating US firms for corruption and tax evasion.

The Russians will love this story and Putin’s arms are open to protect Hungary from the nefarious Americans. There were many ways the Fidesz rulers of Hungary could have dealt with this travel ban against its supporters, but they chose the most aggressive angle possible. The United States is sending every possible type of message to Orban to change course and it is being ignored and refuted.

HiBoM
Guest

Szeszták

zork
Guest

There are a lot of funny posts on tumblr, including this one.

http://martonbede.tumblr.com/post/100264445829/summer-of-69

KTP
Guest

“Napi Gazdaság contacted the U.S. Embassy, where they were told that they know nothing about any investigation of American firms…”

What a laughable statement. It is so interesting that nobody questioned the absurdness of this claim. Did Snowden really did not exist? Did he not tell about the US is intercepting every email every phone call? Yet they claim to know nothing. They claim to hear nothing.

Can anyone take these things seriously? Why wasn’t it enough to say “This case has nothing to do with the investigations of American firms and interests by the tax office”. Why make a claim that is impossible to be true?

1. There are many US companies in Hungary
2. There are random tax investigations against them at least a few based on their number and size – big companies are always investigated
3. It is impossible that the US does not know about these investigations, because it has surveillance on all Hungarians
4. Even if it didn’t this is probably something the companies report – to the Embassy…

tappanch
Guest

Yesterday I quoted the US law, let me repeat it:

“Inadmissibility of Foreign Officials and Family Members Involved in Kleptocracy”

“the Secretary of State shall compile and maintain a list of officials of foreign governments and their immediate family members who the Secretary has credible evidence have been involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries.”

So our Hungarian kleptocrats have probably stolen from the citizens of Hungary!

Mr Peter “Incredulous” Szijjarto should inquire Senators Mikulski & Shelby and Members of Congress Rogers & Lowey about the “credible evidence” in 3 months:

“Not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and 180 days thereafter, the Secretary of State shall report in writing, in classified form if necessary, to the Committees on Appropriations describing the evidence of corruption concerning each of the individuals listed”

Istvan
Guest

KTP you write a number of things that are not accurate. 1 The Snowden revelations clearly indicate that my government had the capacity to look at just about anything myself, Eva, or any other US citizen communicates, not that they did or wanted to. In my opinion the Snowden revelations also demonstrate that the National Security Agency exceeded its authority in a number of domestic investigations of US citizens. 2. Your claim that the NSA or CIA has surveillance on “all Hungarians” is to say the least absurd. Do you think they are watching the csikos horsemen who perform at Hortobagy National Park, or the dancers at Budapest clubs, or the Roma of Tatarszentgyorgy? Much of the data Snowden released is now on line please show us any evidence that my government has conducted surveillance on all Hungarians.

I totally believe my embassy that they had no knowledge of any tax investigations of US firms by the National Tax and Customs Authority (NAV). I also believe that its possible NAV will produce falsified documents of some type showing an investigation, I look forward to reading them. I enjoy good fiction.

Member

Awakenings

Fidesz foul play has become so flagrant, and gotten away with with such impunity, that I think Orban has the delusion that something like this just can’t happen — and that if it does, he can con and bully his way out of it the way he always does.

Bravo for President Obama. And let’s hope this at last rouses the EU out of its anosognosia and somnambulance regarding the malignancy festering in the foul depths of its Carpathian basement.

tappanch
Guest

@HiBoM

“Sesztak”

Mr Goodfriend was quoted as saying “memberS of government” were banned entry.

http://www.hirado.hu/2014/10/17/beutazasi-tilalom-az-amerikaiak-egyelore-nem-aruljak-el-kiket-erint/#

petofi
Guest

@Istvan

“…to turn over on the most corrupt officials…”

What a silly bird you are!
Who do you think sent them out there?
Who do you think follows up, personally, if the first
effort does not work?

Istvan
Guest

Petofi sometimes you have to turn on your own in order to survive, Stalin got that idea. Orban seems to be forgetting how the game is played, or is this his chance to make a clean break with the west?

petofi
Guest

Eva,

How do I reach you by e-mail, off line?

Member

The government is right. I am sure that the Americans were as much worried after the “The Hungarian internal revenue service became suspicious of some American firms doing business in Hungary and launched investigations into their finances and tax returns” as in 1941 when Hungary declared war on the United States on December 13.

syndicate
Guest

I think they can still enter the us with a special visa.

Elek
Guest

Can we say that the Horthy and Orban regimes beat the Kadar regime in corruption?

Every Hungarian must work towards liberating Hungary from the orban-finkelstein-simicska-jobbik elements.

Save Hungary!

oleg
Guest

OT. Let’s go back to Orban’s overlord for a moment:

“There’s a ‘Waiting for Godot’ quality to Western analysis,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Kennan Institute, a research organization in Washington. “It’s always waiting for Putin to blink, to be cowed or shamed or humbled.”

Mr. Rojansky continued: “He stands for Russian resurgence. Ask yourself: When was Peter the Great humble? When was Catherine humble? That’s not part of the role that they play.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/world/unbowed-putin-chews-the-scenery-in-milan.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSum&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Gergo
Guest

I just realized that Zsolt Molnar, fidesz’ mole at MSZP who’s been tirelessly working to kill MSZP’s campaign from the get go is still the head of the national security committee of the Parliament. Right person for the right job.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

syndicate: I think they can still enter the us with a special visa.

Good. Can the U.S. keep them, too? 🙂

KTP
Guest
“In my opinion the Snowden revelations also demonstrate that the National Security Agency exceeded its authority in a number of domestic investigations of US citizens.” You are very kind in discribing criminality and abuse by “exceeded its authority”, What a polite description! “Your claim that the NSA or CIA has surveillance on “all Hungarians” is to say the least absurd. Do you think they are watching the csikos horsemen who perform at Hortobagy National Park, or the dancers at Budapest clubs, or the Roma of Tatarszentgyorgy? ” Yes they are absolutely watching them. At least that is what Snowden revealed. If the dancers at the Budapest clubs make a phone call (and they have phones). The call data and the call itself gets recorded and stored in various US databases(once again this is according to the Snowden documents). If they write an email it is also stored in US databases. I think the storing itself is the “surveillance” and you think the storing is nothing, it would be only surveillance if they look at it. You are following the same line as the NSA pushed during this debate. “Why is it a problem if you have all your emails and… Read more »
Guest

Our new troll aka KTP is trying too hard to divert using its Kindergarten-Logik, it’s almost funny.

The news about the “Zehn kleine Negerlein” (Sorry, couldn’t resist making that bad joke) from Hungary is already in the German media too:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarn-usa-verhaengen-einreiseverbot-gegen-offizielle-wegen-korruption-a-997870.html

PS: There really was nothing at all in the German media about that oh-so-very-important meeting between Orbán and Mrs Merkel! While the meeting next day with the new Polish prime minister was reported intensively – now what does that tell us?

Istvan
Guest

KTP All US companies operating in Hungary are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, this means if they pay kickbacks or bribes officials of these companies are subject to prosecution. There have been a number of high profile cases involving the Act that can be publicly accessed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice are both responsible for enforcing the ACT. The SEC has created a specialized unit for enforcement of the ACT.

So I believe these companies followed US law in order to protect themselves. I also believe that US investigators have knowledge of non-US owned firms operating in Hungary that paid bribes and kickbacks violating fair trade practices.

googly
Guest
KTP, if the surveillance includes US citizens or information about them, the US government must get permission from a judge to look at communications intercept. I sincerely doubt that the government would take the time and effort to do so just so that it can get information about whether or not there is a tax investigation of an American firm by the Hungarian government. The US government may very well be aware of the investigations, but it wouldn’t be from communications surveillance, and the embassy does not necessarily know everything the various arms of the US government knows. After having spent a paragraph explaining how you don’t seem to know what you are talking about (or are pretending that you have some knowledge that the rest of us don’t), I ask a more important question: what difference does it make? Every embassy and every government hides things from the public, both foreign and domestic, and white lies are the bread and butter of international diplomacy. If they are lying about this, so what? Apparently, this particular piece of information is more relevant to you than the fact that the Hungarian government has angered the most powerful country in the world,… Read more »
Member

“KTP” is our latest Fidesz FUDmaster Plant…

May I suggest not playing into the hands of the obvious Fidesz mole/troll “KTP” (just another pseudonym for a single malingerer who has been mal-posting here for years, or a sponsored team of them) by replying to him/her/them as if they were raising valid points, in good faith?

Reply to him/her/them if you like, but make it crystal clear that you are just trifling with a troll rather communicating with a serious and sincere commentator.

Watch how KTP now follows up with the signature Fidesz ploys:

(1) ignore the identification as F-troll and just dig in deeper on the validity of their smokescreen bullet-points,
(2) parrot back any accusation at their accusers,
(3) (anonymous) personal attack on non-anonymous commentators (sometimes with some self-pitying indignation about the unwarranted sullying of their pseudonymous selves),
or
(4) switch identities and carry on…

KTP
Guest
“KTP, if the surveillance includes US citizens or information about them, the US government must get permission from a judge” After you wrote that, you realized that sounds a bit stupid doesn’t it? How would you know something like a wirteap “includes information about US citizens” BEFORE you read or listened to the information… Let’s take the example of Angela Merkel, a German national we know was wiretapped and under constant confirmed surveillance. They listen to the tape and hear Merkel is talking about “information about US citizens”… Then they rush out to a judge and say: “Can we listen to this tape AGAIN, judge?” But not only that is the problem. Even when there were some outside involvement in the process they are only “rubber stamp” courts. Who are known never to decline any requests put to them. Not to mention the NSA only deals with secret courts in secret, FISA courts or similar. The “judges” in these “courts” don’t have to bother themselves with hearing many arguments though. There are no objections, no witnesses, no lawyers for the defense, nothing that would make a court a court. You seem to be a great supporter of the NSA and… Read more »
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