No end to the saga of the Hungarian corruption scandal

The reverberations from the news that six Hungarian citizens are not welcome in the United States don’t seem to subside. The perpetuation of the verbal battle is fueled mostly by the Hungarian side. Some of the attacks come straight from politicians, others from the accused and from so-called “civil groups” that are strong supporters of the Orbán government and operate most likely with generous financial assistance from the public purse.

These latter two sources cannot be taken terribly seriously, and in fact as time goes by their originally very loud voices have quieted down somewhat. The most spectacular retreat came from Ildikó Vida, the president of NAV, the Hungarian tax authority, and her lawyer, Barnabás Futó. As one blogger noted, when Barnabás Futó stands next to someone close to Fidesz, that person is in trouble. Futó seems to be rather good at pettifoggery at home, but he is at sea when it comes to international law. Initially he had ambitious plans for getting satisfaction for his client. Since Vida was told by M. André Goodfriend that she can ask for a visa and, if her request is rejected, she might be able to get information about the nature of the charges against her, Futó decided to do just that. Moreover, while he was at it, he contemplated suing the American chargé. Soon enough someone must have told him that members of the diplomatic corps have immunity and that his dreams of his client having her day in court were illusory. He gave up on his plan to sue. And, upon reflection, Vida decided that, after all, she did not want to know any of the details of her alleged wrongdoing and that therefore she will not apply for an American visa.

The other thread in the continuing saga is the Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), an unofficial arm of the government that has helped bolster the popularity of the government. They were the ones who organized the first Békement (Peace March), which was supposed to defend the beleaguered Viktor Orbán against a dark international conspiracy that wanted to remove him from his post during the winter of 2011-12. Ever since the American revelations, the leaders of CÖF, people belonging to the extreme right wing of Fidesz, have been itching to march out again, this time against the United States. However, their beloved leader, to their great regret, held them back.

CÖF’s spokesman, Zoltán Lomnici, Jr, son of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court and a lawyer himself, shows such ignorance of the law that it is simply staggering. He and “Futó Barnabás,” to whom I gave the nickname “futóbolond” (lunatic at large), bring shame to the Hungarian legal profession. Here is Lomnici’s argument: the American chargé is a foreign national who, as can be attested by pictures and videos taken of him, left the embassy of the United States and therefore stepped on Hungarian soil. According to Hungarian law, if he knew of corruption he was supposed to press charges and provide proof of corruption. Since he neglected to do so, he could be sentenced to three years in jail. Obviously our star lawyer hasn’t heard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). I suggest that Futó and Lomnici study the document, which clearly states that “Diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution.” Let’s hope that the text is available in Hungarian because Futó at least does not know any English. Today the organizers of the Peace Marches officially announced that for the time being they will not gather the troops.

Politicians have not shown the same restraint. A few days ago Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, called Goodfriend a liar and announced that Hungary is a country of law, unlike the United States. “We all must declare that Hungary is not Guantánamo, here nobody can be accused without proof.” Rogán’s attack on the United States is most likely part of the game plan dictated from above because not long before Róbert Répássy, undersecretary of the ministry of justice, said exactly the same thing.

Calling everybody a liar who criticizes the Hungarian government is a Fidesz specialty. Diplomats, on the whole, at least in civilized countries, don’t call their foreign colleagues liars. But Hungary’s new foreign minister has no such compunctions. In an interview with Magyar Nemzet he said that “to accuse us of not conforming to the European legal system is a gross lie (orbitális hazugság).” In response to Szijjártó’s charge, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest released a statement today that included the following sentences: “As Charge d’affaires Goodfriend has said, the United States has consistently conveyed our concerns to the Hungarian government about developments that harm the health of democratic institutions, civil society, and media freedom in Hungary – including concerns about corruption,” and “the Embassy remains in close contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We will continue to conduct a constructive, diplomatic dialogue with Hungary on all issues across the broad spectrum of U.S.-Hungarian engagement.” In brief, the United States will not stop its current policy of defending civil society, media freedom, and civil liberties. It will also pursue its fight against corruption.

In addition, today new information reached the public concerning the background of the American ban. The Demokratikus Koalíció, the party that seems to have good connections with the Hungarian foreign ministry where there are many disgruntled employees, learned that a week ago the American embassy did give some information to the Hungarians. Today Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, a DK politician, made that information public at a press conference. At this point the foreign ministry decided to fess up: yes, they received something, but it was only a “scrap of paper” (fecni) that cannot be taken seriously. However, a few hours later the ministry made the document public.

Undersecretary Levente Magyar waving "the scrap of paper" from the U.S. Embassy

Undersecretary Levente Magyar waving “the scrap of paper” from the U.S. Embassy

The two-page note describes the history of the numerous encounters between the embassy and the government of Hungary since February 2012. From October 2013 on, the American complaints multiplied. They had meetings with the “criminal directorate of the tax and customs office (NAV) on specific concerns about agricultural VAT fraud and tobacco nationalization.” A few months later the Americans were back at the “criminal directorate” but noticed “no evidence of action” on the part of NAV. In January 2014 the Americans had a meeting with the ministry of justice and public administration and they raised issues of VAT fraud, “institutionalized corruption, whistleblower protections, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).” The whole list of complaints can be found on the foreign ministry’s website as well as in an article published on the subject by Index.

In brief, there were numerous complaints, and the Hungarian authorities refused to investigate. It is also clear from the document that the American authorities were fully aware that corruption is “institutionalized” in Hungary, yet the last word from NAV was that there were “no auditing complaints” and therefore the “Criminal Directorate … was unable to act.” Goodfriend  noted that “NAV’s specialized auditing unit created expressly to investigate trans-border VAT fraud … was systematically undermined and then disbanded.”

It looks to me, and obviously it was evident to the head of the American mission, that not only was no effort made to investigate but that the top leaders at NAV were doing everything in their power to make sure that corrupt activities could be continued undetected.

According to Levente Magyar, undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, this “scrap of paper” cannot be taken seriously. Why not? Because there is no date, no authentication, and above all, no seal. “Missing formal requirement” is a favorite excuse of Hungarian authorities.

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Julie
Guest

Oh dear, the seal. I’ve often been amused by the obsession with the official “stempel” in Poland. Looks like it’s not just a Polish thing.

Minusio
Guest
No, no. “Because there is no date, no authentication, and above all, no seal. “Missing formal requirement” is a favorite excuse of Hungarian authorities.” To give the Hungarian government such an excuse is not extremely clever given the way they handled EU complaints. Don’t get me wrong, I just watched Kim Jane Scheppele’s interview, and I totally agree with her very knowledgeable statements. But wasn’t there some mention of Guantanamo in Hungary recently, too? The fact that the U.S. doesn’t get its act together in foreign affairs or domestically doesn’t make it less powerful, but it does undermine its moral credibility. That’s a shame, too. Fortunately, they have a shrewd man in Budapest, Mr Goodfriend, who knows how to handle all of this. My girlfriend just told me of how Vida went to the American embassy without an appointment, met Goodfriend who was just leaving the house, complained that there was no interpreter because Goodfriend spoke in English and she didn’t understand a word, and that they finally had a one and a half hour discussion inside. According to my girlfriend, Vida’s lack of English (although apparently everybody employed by the tax office needs some language qualification) made the rounds… Read more »
Member

This proves that the government officials have been lying for weeks regarding knowledge of corruption allegations. Not to mention they also lied about knowing whether Vida was one of the banned persons. As far as the bullshit about the “scrap paper” and it wasn’t good enough because of a lack of a seal, that shows that the government will turn a blind eye when it comes to graft, so simply they cannot be trusted. @Minusio……didn’t you know that the most corrupt officials in Hungary do speak a second language…….its Russian.

Minusio
Guest

I’m not even sure of that…

Member

So the Hungarian government lied the whole time by saying that they have no idea… They had the idea, what they did not have was a seal.

Istvan
Guest
To put it simply the continual references by Fidesz officials to supposed American transgressions in Iraq in relation to our war on terror is beginning to upset me in the extreme. Let’s look at Antal Rogán reference to our imprisonment of believed terrorists captured by US forces on fields of battle and In some case in covert abductions by US intelligence services at the US Marine base at Guantánamo. There are many Americans who have reservations about some of these imprisonments including former military officers because of the confusion between prisoners of war and suspected criminal prisoners. But our court system reviewed some of these cases, for example in Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008) holding that the prisoners had a right to the habeas corpus under the United States Constitution and that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was an unconstitutional suspension of that right. I do not want to get into complex legal arguments over laws of war and terrorism, but I would say that our system at least provided these detained terrorists the right of legal review through a review of the law that authorized their indefinite detention. As Kim Scheppele pointed out in her interview… Read more »
Steven Colman
Guest

If visiting Hungary, do not go onto the street without a rubber stamp or seal as you may see a murder and when you report it without the use of a stamp, it will not be investigated by the police If visiting Hungary, do not go onto the street without a rubber stamp as you may see a murder and when you report it without the use of a seal it will not be investigated by the police authorities.

Nagy Pista
Guest

Well, beside the seal I’m surprised they did not ask for a 1000HUF documentary stamp (okmánybélyeg) to be able to file (beiktatni). Even the bureaucracy is not as anal as they used to be in he good old “átkosban”.

And this is a so called European country in the twenty-first century – how sad

sebt
Guest
This is turning into a farce… I love your word “futóbolond”. More donations to my vocabulary gratefully received… “We all must declare that Hungary is not Guantánamo, here nobody can be accused without proof.” Rogán’s attack on the United States is most likely part of the game plan dictated from above because not long before Róbert Répássy, undersecretary of the ministry of justice, said exactly the same thing. I wouldn’t be so sure that use of the same phrase is evidence of careful co-ordination. I vividly remember the state of Internet discussions shortly after the Kiev Maidan. An army of pro-Russian commenters swarmed onto all the boards; and though their arguments were mostly incoherent rubbish, they managed to “plant” key (obscuring, soundbitey) phrases into the minds of readers. You’d then see these same phrases popping up in comments by “normal” commenters. That’s the great “virtue” of soundbites – that they can be picked up with no thought required and used again and again. In this case perhaps the evidence points more towards a lack of thinking? After all, you’ve uncovered plenty of other evidence of that …! Why not? Because there is no date, no authentication, and above all, no… Read more »
Guest

OT:

Since yesterday evening I cannot reach caboodle.hu, politics.hu etc – from Germany

Anyone have an idea what’s going on?

TamasL
Guest

The older Lomnici was the head of the Supreme Court (currently named Kúria) which is different from the Constitutional Court.

In Hungary – unlike in the US – the Supreme Court/Kúria does not not have judicial review powers, ie power to review laws as to their compatibility with the constitution (this would done by the Constitutional Court, which is by now fully packed with fidesznik hardliners).

Lomnici sr. is still a judge at the Kúria adjudicating administrative law cases.

tappanch
Guest

Orban’s Friday morning radio talk shows continued arrogance:

The American summary is just a scrap of paper (“fecni”), it is not serious without a stamp, and it just reiterates the charges of the opposition.

“We discussed these issues to death in the past, but the people again voted for Fidesz.”

He does not think he would accept Vida’s resignation, because this would interfere with the sovereignty of Hungary.

“I have to stabilize the Hungarian IRS with its current leadership.”

“We have to close down the store on Sundays, because they are closed in Austria too.:

It is not true that the stores would fire 12,000 people because of the Sunday closure.

http://www.hvg.hu/itthon/20141114_Orban_Viktor

lomm
Guest

Nagy Pista: first one must érkeztetni (to register it as received) the file, then one must issue an iktatószám (filing number) then iktatni (file it) then the stamp duty must be paid in at a special counter of which a receipt must be issued and so on. It’s very important to keep the order.

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
Guest

“It is getting very difficult to take America seriously”

tappanch
Guest

“Every minute we spend on this issue is wasted time.”

I think Orban sent Vida to the US embassy the other day.

“I expect Ms Vida to sue everyone, so we will have trials.”

“I will defend the Hungary’s sovereignty.” [like the great & late Ceausescu]

“It would be a very serious charge against the US, if they accused us because of our Russian policy”

Smaug's cousin
Guest
@tappanch The strategy seems to be: Enter and escalate any and all conflicts which have no real relevance for voters who – in Orban’s view and according to past experience – care only about the size of their pensions and utility prices. Many just don’t hear about these conflicts or understand them anyway. Meanwhile castrate the education and healthcare, push through restrictions, budget cuts and tax increases, nationalizations about which nobody will hear and care. But most importantly push through Paks 2 and South Stream which are being prepared and executed as we speak and as the US government is sending its ever so subtle nudges, and which are the very top priorities of Fidesz. These aren’t just normal construction projects, mind you, but the actual raison d’etre for the government, to nurture them, to realize them by any means, to create a situation in which nobody after them (assuming a very unlikely scenario) could undo these projects. This isn’t exaggeration, just a reminder. One can only wonder why this is so. People will be preoccupied with a meta clashes between the government and “foreign powers” “liberals” “multinational corporations”‘ etc. and will not care about the budget or the real… Read more »
Guest

Just read what the US authorities had to say on the ongoing corruption in Hungary:

http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/us_embassy_reveals_background_of_travel_ban_on_hungarian_govt_officials.28689.html

Very strong words – also on the scandal of the new tobacco shops and the licences going to Fidesz mafiosi (well they don’t use that word, but it’s clear what they mean …).

D7 Democrat
Guest

“Today the organizers of the Peace Marches officially announced that for the time being they will not gather the troops.”

Interesting.

Considering the cave-dwellers have been called out previously on the merest of pretexts, I think that is interesting. Alright to have the neo-nazis abusing and burning the EU flag but there appears to be some sort of recognition of the danger of doing that to the stars and stripes.

Guest

What kind of lawyers ignore what diplomatic immunity is??? Obviously the Fidesz type but seriously

@ Wolfi about Politics.hu, same thing for me from Belgium. I checked the code of the start-up page, the page does exist but there is no content.

D7 Democrat
Guest

Politics.hu and portfolio.hu (English version) are not working for me also.
The regime has moved against Erik D’Amato?! Well, he is American;)

D7 Democrat
Guest

The whistle/blowing site Atlatszo.hu is also “down”. Hmmm….

tappanch
Guest

@D7

atlatszo.hu is up at this moment

tappanch
Guest

NAV head Vida sold her house to Simicska’s Kozgep two weeks after her appointment in 2010.

http://atlatszo.hu/2014/11/14/kinyomoztuk-kinek-adta-el-budai-hazat-vida-ildiko-nem-fogod-elhinni/

(the link is indeed down now, but the website is up)

NewIdea
Guest

The Hungarian people must understand that the Orban era is over.

It will end now,

Just watch out that this “garnitura” this time, can not preserve its leadership in the next republic.

Let us not repeat the same mistakes.

Guest

Re Pol.hu etc:

Maybe it is only a server problem – had something similar on a German language US-travel site yesterday – but who knows …
It’s a field day for “constipation theories” (my joke on conspiracy, in German Konspiration …)

Even more OT – or not?

My German home town has a partnership with Petrosawodsk in Karelia – 25 years ago friends of mine took the first truck full of clothes and other stuff there to help the people – after they later saw how customs people and police etc took possession of all those nice things they stopped that in frustration.

The local newspaper today contains an article by a Karelian historian on how false the mass media in the West report on Russia – they don’t tell the truth, unlike the Russian media which are totally free …

I was thinking of writing a letter complimenting the paper on that beautiful piece of satire!

HiBoM
Guest

My feeling is you are shooting fish in a barrel when you imagine that the lawyers and judges are being serious. They aren’t: of course they understand diplomatic immunity. This is just a rhetorical gesture for domestic consumption.

Having said that, I am amazed by the tone of Orbán’s interview today. I think he is seriously miscalculating its impact and it is crazy to rattle the American’s cage in this way.

On a serious note, I am very nervous for András Horváth, the NAV whistle blower who I fear is going to be presented to Hungarian public opinion as being personally involved with the US Embassy. And there is really no one to protect him

zuglo
Guest

The Budapest Beacon is down as well.

zuglo
Guest

The Budapest Beacon is back up. That was weird.

Steven Colman
Guest

What are theviews of the p[[psition? Is there an opposition?

Guest

Politics.hu is still down!

The latest tweet was 19 hours ago …
https://twitter.com/politicshu

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