Mysterious trips of Viktor Orbán and János Lázár to Switzerland

Today I will have to pull up my socks if I want to give even a semi-coherent summary of the growing scandal surrounding a company called MET Holding A.G. with headquarters in Switzerland. The holding company, established only a couple of years ago, is partially owned by MOL (40%) and partially by Hungarian individuals–people formerly employed by MOL and businessmen with close ties to Viktor Orbán.

First of all, it’s hard to decipher the company’s structure which is, as is often the case with enterprises like MET Holding, extremely complicated. Second, since it is likely that MET Holding, in addition to its regular activities, also serves as a money laundering operation for Fidesz as well as Viktor Orbán and his friends, those involved do everything in their power to conceal the company’s business activities, ownership, financials, and so on.

I should go back a few years to February 2010, only a month before the national election and the birth of the two-thirds majority, when the U.S. Embassy in Budapest compiled a report entitled “Allegations of political corruption surround unbundling law.” From the lengthy report we learn that “it is an open secret in Hungary that MVM and MOL provide significant funding to the two main political parties, with MVM rumored to favor the Socialists and MOL favoring Fidesz.”

MET Group predated this U.S. report. According to its promotional material, it began operating in 2007 “in the natural gas retail and wholesale sector benefiting from the market liberalization starting in 2004.” Currently it is active in wholesale gas trading in the European market as well as in the retail sale of natural gas to industrial customers in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Croatia. Five years later, in 2012 MET Holding was established with the objective of being “a central holding organization to manage and support all the subsidiaries of MET Group.” (If you want to know why MET Holding might have been layered on top of MET Group, I suggest you take a look at “How a Holding Company Works.”)

Shortly after the election in 2010 Orbán promised cheaper energy to consumers. In order to lower prices the state-owned MVM (Magyar Villamossági Művek) was allowed to dip into its gas reserves which it could then replenish with cheaper gas from the open market. MVM could have bought the necessary gas directly from Austria, but instead it purchased gas through MET. According to the figures that are available about the transaction, MVM gained little while MET made about 50 billion forints on the deal.

The owners of MET, in addition to MOL, are István Garancsi, a personal friend of Viktor Orbán and owner of Orbán’s favorite football team, Videoton, and György Nagy, one of the founders of Wallis Asset Management Co., a private equity/venture capital firm. Both men have close ties to Zsolt Hernádi, the beleagured CEO of MOL who is accused of bribery in Croatia, and to Sándor Csányi, his deputy and the CEO of OTP, Hungary’s largest bank. Heading MET Holding is Benjamin Lakatos. He expects sales this year to total some 3.8 billion euros.

Most likely nobody would have cared about this Hungarian company with headquarters in Zug, Switzerland, if Hungary’s prime minister hadn’t been so involved in negotiations with Putin as well as with Russian energy companies, in particular Gazprom and Rossatom, the Russian company that specializes in building nuclear power plants. Rossatom was chosen to construct two extra reactors at the Paks power plant. Given the widespread concern over Viktor Orbán’s dealings with the Russian autocrat, Swiss journalists started probing into this mysterious MET. A  well researched article appeared on November 3 in TagesAnzeiger, which was later reprinted in Basler Zeitung. According to the Swiss paper, MET Power, MET Marketing, MET International, and MET Holding all share the same Zug address. Benjamin Lakatos is the CEO of all of them. Zug, by the way, is about 20 km south of Zurich.

I understand that the company’s management is made up of former MOL employees who know the energy business inside out but who found greater opportunities outside of MOL. Lakatos is very proud of his achievement of building MET Holding in two years from practically nothing to a sizable player in the energy business, though one cannot help but be suspicious of a such a sudden rise in fortune. Moreover, given the cozy relationship in the past between MOL and Fidesz, one wonders what role MET may play in the possibly continued reliance of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán on MOL as a source of illicit money. With István Garancsi’s name in the cast of characters, one becomes doubly suspicious since he is often portrayed in the Hungarian press as Orbán’s front man.

Source: www.tagesanzeiger.ch

Source: www.tagesanzeiger.ch

And now let’s move to more recent events that might have something to do with MET Holding. I’m patching the story together from several sources. You may recall that the editor-in-chief of Origo, an online news portal, was dismissed because one of the reporters of the internet site was too curious about a couple of very expensive trips János Lázár, the most important member of the Orbán government after the prime minister, made to Great Britain and Switzerland. Lázár for a long time resisted revealing any details of these trips but eventually after a court order the prime minister’s office released some information. Among the bits and pieces of information that Origo received, there was one item that might be relevant. Origo was informed that János Lázár during his Swiss trip “held conversations with a German citizen about German-Hungarian and Russian-Hungarian relations.”

More than a year later there was another trip to Switzerland. This time it was a private affair. Viktor Orbán and his wife and János Lázár and his wife spent a weekend in Zurich. First they stopped in Germany to visit a “family friend” and then off they went to Zurich, allegedly to attend a concert given by a children’s choir from the Szekler areas of Romania. Quite a lame excuse for traveling to Zurich because earlier this same group gave three concerts in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. There was also a side trip to visit a friend in Germany. Is he perhaps the same man Lázár held talks with in March 2012?

About a week ago Viktor Orbán made another trip to Switzerland. This time the occasion was a family visit (including his wife and their two youngest daughters) with Rachel, who is enrolled in a fancy, expensive hotel management course in Lausanne. Since, again, this was a private visit, the prime minister’s office refused to release any information about the trip. However, thanks to an eagle-eyed person, Orbán was spotted at the  Zurich railroad station having a beer with an unidentified man. Since the Orbáns decided to travel back to Hungary by train, a stopover in Zurich was unavoidable since there is no direct train from Geneva, a forty-minute train ride from Lausanne. But why did he choose to go by train from Lausanne all the way to Budapest, a trip that takes altogether 16 hours and 22 minutes? He said that wanted to spend more time with his children. Well, I could imagine many more pleasant ways of spending time with my family than sitting in a second-class train compartment. Suspicious Hungarians already have their own theory: for one reason or other, Orbán chose to travel by train because there is no inspection of either persons or luggage on trains. I find that difficult to believe. I hope that we are not at a point that the country’s prime minister is carrying millions of euros in his suitcase.

Although one can probably discard such speculation, one should take more seriously the information received by the Demokratikus Koalíció that while in Zurich Orbán met representatives of Credit Suisse and Pictet Bank. Pictet is a private bank which in 2012 was the target of a U.S. probe into the use of foreign banks by wealthy Americans seeking to avoid paying taxes. Pictet specializes in “wealth management.” As for Credit Suisse, which is one of the most powerful banks in the world, it also had its problems with the law. In July 2014 Credit Suisse reported a loss of $779 million because of the settlement of a tax evasion case in the United States. Zsolt Gréczy, the spokesman for DK, emphasized that they are not accusing Orbán of anything; they simply want to know whether he met with representatives of these two banks as the prime minister of Hungary or as a private individual.

All in all, the picture that emerges from the few pieces of information we have is not pretty. Orbán has enough trouble as it is. Tonight another 10,000 people demanded Ildikó Vida’s resignation–and his as well.

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Mrozek
Guest

Excellent research! I think Hungary’s MOL is involved in a semi-legal “oil-smuggling” operation from Kurdistan. I wouldn’t be surprised is the Swiss do the trading and financial part of the business. According to US law the whole thing is illegal, but of course Hernadi’s name already appeared on the Interpol wanted list…. he decided to go all the way with the boys!

http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/301020142

thomas
Guest
“The owners of MET, in addition to MOL, … György Nagy, one of the founders of Wallis Asset Management Co..” WALLIS (!!) Gyorgy Nagy is one of the key people at MET. MET is partially owned by one of the founders of Wallis, Gyorgy Nagy. Wallis people, especially founders are personal friends of Gordon Bajnai, who was the CEO of Wallis for five (5) years. Gyorgy Nagy too, is a personal friend of Gordon Bajnai, they’ve known each other for more than 15 years. Gordon Bajnai was at the Bilderberg meeting in 2014. The Bilderberg meetings take place in complete secrecy with shadowy figures present such as the CIA director, MI6 chief and others. From this we can conclude that MET is secret project of someone from Bilderberg and is controlled by them through Bajnai. Now of course I wrote all that to make a point. It takes a few minutes to write up garbage conspiracy theories. And usually they all have weaknesses. Now the particular conspiracy theory pushed by Ferenc Gyurcsany and his party, his people is not much better than anyone else could write. It has many weaknesses For example they say it is suspicious if a family… Read more »
Julie
Guest

Off-topic, but the government just hired Connie Mack to be their lobbyist in the US: http://www.republicreport.org/2014/anti-semitic-hungarian-gov-hires-former-congressman-connie-mack/.

piri
Guest

What we really should be talking about is the election in Ozd, a large city in Hungary:

The candidate of MSZP and DK (combined candidate of two leftist opposition parties)

received 3.4% of the total votes.

3.4% is a historic defeat that is almost unimaginable. How can we ever get back from this? If the liberalism and leftism can get this hugely rejected in a major Hungarian city, what hope is there to get anywhere in the countryside? Budapest is one thing but at this rate not a single left-wing voter will remain in major places in Hungary.

Just spewing hatred at Fidesz will not help at all in this. At most what can be achieved with the current strategy is the strengthening of Jobbik

PWT
Guest

Piri, no, “at most” paying attention to the corruption and mismanagement of the current government can encourage any honest persons within that government to become active against corruption and mismanagement. Not paying attention to corruption and mismanagement, by whatever individual or party, is simply giving up and declaring Hungary to not be a land of fairness and the rule of law. Not paying attention is to hate Hungary and watch its national wealth — which belongs to all citizens of Hungary — get plundered or wasted away. Do you really hate the Hungarian people so much that you would accept that?

szereda rudi
Guest

piri,

Your argument is to endure the corrupt dictator because it’s still better (one assumes your message is intended for the US and other foreign powers) than what would come after that.

The problem for you is that people are not that logical and rational.

They are absolutely livid if they hear the name Orban and no amount of Kubatov lists and illegal busing of voters could deliver the results in Ozd. This must be frightening, the old tricks don’t work any more so well.

Orban himself said that he will slap on the face of jobbikniks and they will disappear. I have yet to see those slaps.

I don’t even want to imagine what would happen to Orban if he found himself inside of an angry crowd without his bodyguards. He is a hated man like all dictators — sure he has a strong group of backers too, but he is actively hated by most people.

I’m one of those who says he has to go, come what may after him. There are principles too, and he became a power-mad corrupt dictator who’s selling Hungary to Russia.

Ákos
Guest

CS (albeit its London branch I think) also worked for the government when Orban purchased EON’s gas storage business for a fortune.

I can imagine that CS is working in some capacity for Orban in connection with Paks, South Stream or the other energy business on which Orban’s friends are busy. There is no defensible argument to meet with Pictet, which is a pure wealth-manager.

The other reason Orban could have decided to take the train is because he could have met and negotiated with people on the train undetected, given that the tickets are not issued for a specific name. Russians particularly like this method, they probably traveled to Zurich by train in the first place.

There’s no rational reason why Orban had to take this long ride, which is exhausting for anybody let alone a busy prime minister. Orban could have spent quality time with his family at any number of estates he and his wife and their families have all over Hungary.

tappanch
Guest

Documents about MET in 13 parts (the 14th is empty)

http://rezsicsokkentes.wordpress.com/

Summary, including the detailed charge of criminal conduct (money laundering, embezzlement, etc)
http://rezsicsokkentes.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/1_c3b6sszefoglalc3b3.pdf

Timeline through November 2013:
http://rezsicsokkentes.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/5_idc591tc3a1bla.pdf

tappanch
Guest

The 14th part is also there.

tappanch
Guest

Some of the search results about “Benjamin Lakatos” or “MET” have already been removed by Google at the demand of the involved.

tappanch
Guest

Vida’s flighty vacation:

comment image

For English speakers:

“I vacation in the summer, I take flight in the fall.”

[The Hungarian [<Yiddish< Hebrew] slang for fleeing is similar to the Hungarian word for winter.

HiBoM
Guest

This is essentially OT but I have often taken the Munich Budapest train (second class) because it really is extremely pleasant and relaxing. So Orbán may have been up to no good but I can’t fault his choice of train journeys.

tappanch
Guest

The debt/GDP ration will be pushed down on December 31 again.
The observed value of the planned phony accounting is 1% = 1 billion euros = 308 billion forints.

http://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/furcsa_szamok_a_kormanytol_vajon_mire_keszul.1.206200.html

Istvan
Guest
Julie Connie Mack’s work for the Government of Hungary isn’t news it is part of the contract with the lobbying firm Liberty Partners. It’s a waste of money. While a good lobbying firm especially one with former Republican congressmen carrying the water can do wonders on obscure issues and regulatory issues, it can’t do much about Hungary’s increasing pro-Russian orientation. I would suspect Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees have their ears burning with reports about Russian operations in Hungary and links to Jobbik and Fidesz political operatives. The House Intelligence Committee is headed by Mike Rogers and he has been a strong advocate for an increased US military presence in Central Europe to confront Russia. But more importantly Rogers was a FBI Special Agent investigating public corruption here in Chicago as a member of the Chicago Bureau’s organized crime unit (1988-94). The political corruption here in Chicago is legendary and so many politicians have gone to jail there are now actually lawyers specializing in working out deals with the Feds for sentence reductions. Rogers totally understands the type of corruption that exists within Fidesz and how that corruption can interface with Russian influence. I don’t think Connie… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Banks in Eastern Europe:

comment image

tappanch
Guest

“Hungary’s eroding competitiveness has been
reflected in its declining share in world exports
and the widening gap in EU export market
share between Hungary and its peers. Price
indicators do not point to competitiveness
issues, suggesting that non-price factors may explain such trends, including

deterioration in the business climate,
high regulatory burden, and
weaknesses in the institutional framework,
(e.g., frequent and unpredictable changes in the policy framework and the tax system).

Indeed,
Hungary’s ranking in the global competitiveness index has fallen since 2010–11, with the weak
institutional framework being a drag on overall competitiveness”

IMF report, June 2014,
p.5.
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2014/cr14156.pdf

Member

Sensible sounding economists interviewed by Olga Kalman keep giving credible evidence that despite cosmetic short-term bumps, Hungary’s economy keeps worsening. So it’s perplexing that Moody’s seems to have upped Hungary’s rating to stable: http://hungarytoday.hu/cikk/moody-s-hungary-outlook-stable-37956

Guest

@Stevan:

Moody’s is still sceptical – I couldn’t find the original source (probably behind a paywall …) but here is what BBJ writes:

“Moody’s analysts said they expect the country’s real GDP growth to be around 3% in 2014 before slowing down to 2.4% in 2015. For the following years, the agency expects growth to be fixed around 2.2%, which is still low as compared to the peers in the region.”
http://www.bbj.hu/economy/moodys-upgrades-hungarys-rating-to-stable_87836

Ba1 is not really a “good” rating:
http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/ba1-bb.asp
DEFINITION of ‘Ba1/BB+’
This is generally one of the lowest investment grade ratings that a ratings agency assigns to a security or insurance carrier. This rating signifies a low to moderate level of risk for investors or policyholders. Entities that are assigned this rating generally possess adequate reserves and are reasonably stable but not as solid as higher-rated securities or carriers.

tappanch
Guest
sztív
Guest

I agree this is a poor conspiracy theory but actually it’s quite a lot more expensive to travel by train rather than plane these days,

Umberto
Guest

Let this be clear:

Fidesz’ message to America is “Ózd”, as GFG, the crazily Orban loyal pundit said today.

Interpretation:

If the US hurts (actually fails to actively help) Fidesz, then the result – as was the case in Ózd – will be Jobbik, which is an organization on par with ISIS and Al-Qeda according to many US intelligence people.

So the US has no choice but to keep Orban and its thoroughly corrupt government in place, lest Hungary be a new Egypt.

The US was BFF with Mr. Mubarak for decades and if that was OK, then why does the US dislikes Mr. Orban so much?

sztív
Guest

but in any case Switzerland is where you leave the cash!

sztív
Guest

Viki doesn’t share a border with Israel.

Reality Check
Guest

@Umberto

“The US was BFF with Mr. Mubarak for decades and if that was OK, then why does the US dislikes Mr. Orban so much?”

It has to do with the context of the relationship – Hungary is a NATO and EU member.

One example of how this context influences the relationship – As part of NATO the US is bond by a Mutual Defense Treaty to defend Hungary if it is attacked. This creates certain expectations among these two members of the alliance. The US is, and was, in no such relationship with Egypt.

Other relationships (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) create expectations regarding issues related to democratic norms, security, and bilateral business relationships.

When the US perceives that a country in such relationships is courting a NATO adversary, flaunting democratic norms, and is involved in extortion of US firms, you can expect that that the US will “dislike” their leader.

ambator
Guest

I have the pleasure to report that at 5 o’clock today Klubradio hourly news quoted verbatim this article at length, with attribution to Eva, but without the mention of the Hungarian Spectrum.

Istvan
Guest
Umberto I would like to see a reference indicating that any United States intelligence official or even former official who would equate the Jobbik Party to the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. In fact currently US intelligence analysts do not even equate Russian aggression to what the Islamic State is doing in Iraq and Syria. While Putin is in my opinion a dangerous man, he it totally different than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the now critically wounded leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As for Hungary becoming the new Egypt, there are some no doubt in the United States intelligence realm many that supported the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Ahmed Maher from the April 6 Youth Movement that advocated freedom and democracy in Egypt and an end to the regime of Hosni Mubarak wrote from prison in Egypt an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post last February indicating what he believed was the United States support for the military coup. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-us-is-supporting-oppression-in-egypt/2014/02/07/10a4c8fc-8f66-11e3-b227-12a45d109e03_story.html The United States ties to the Egyptian military are very deep, so Maher’s position may be correct. Trying to make any analogy between Hungary and the middle… Read more »
buddy
Guest

@Ákos
“CS (albeit its London branch I think) also worked for the government when Orban purchased EON’s gas storage business for a fortune.”

Do you happen to know what they specifically did for the government then?

Minusio
Guest

(1) In Switzerland, the Canton of Zug has the very lowest taxes on holding companies.
(2) The place to research is the Swiss official Commercial Gazette (German abbreviation SHAB). But it is easier to navigate on the site of moneyhouse.
(3) Why Orbán would go by train remains a mystery to me. He could go by car and wouldn’t be checked. Because of diplomatic immunity he could also go by plane and wouldn’t be checked. But perhaps some of the other speculations are true.

Nothing has happened yet really, but some of you may remember that not so late in 2010, I wrote that as Orbán can no longer be unseated by democratic procedures he will one day be ousted from where he took his politics in opposition: by the people in the street! 🙂

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