Corruption in Roma organizations: The case of Flórián Farkas

If you were to ask László Bogdán, the maverick, controversial Roma mayor of Cserdi in Baranya County, he would tell you that the Roma organizations that allegedly represent Hungary’s Roma minority should all be abolished. In his opinion, these people are the worst enemies of the Hungarian Roma because they are politically and fiscally corrupt. A large chunk of the billions the European Union and the Hungarian government spent in the last twenty-five years on convergence programs for the Gypsy minority ended up in their pockets.

It’s all too easy to agree with Bogdán. There are just too many stories about local Gypsy leaders pressuring their fellow Roma to cast votes for the mayor they support or to vote for the party that bought their allegiance.

The current scandal is about the disappearance of well over a billion forints from EU funds for a program called “Bridge to Employment.” Implicated in the alleged corruption case is Flórián Farkas, who has been a faithful ally of Viktor Orbán ever since 1998.

It was Ákos Hadházy, the veterinarian from Szekszárd who uncovered the illegal grants of tobacco concessions by local Fidesz officials to friends and Fidesz supporters, who once again unearthed possible fraud. Hadházy nowadays is a member of LMP and spends his spare time digging into possible corruption cases in connection with EU subsidies. He found that the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-Government), instead of creating jobs through the “Bridge to Employment” program, spent 31 million forints for office furniture, 26 million for improvements of its headquarters, 28 million to lease ten cars for six months, 19 million for a study about what kind of software the organization should buy, 21 million for seven computers, 31 million for another study on recruitment to the program, and nothing on job creation. The top members of ORÖ are outraged at Farkas’s alleged spending spree.

Farkas’s position in ORÖ is murky. Officially, he is no longer the president of the organization because, according to the new parliamentary rules, a member of parliament cannot have any other job. In December 2014, however, Viktor Orbán named Farkas government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and in that capacity he appointed himself head of the “Bridge to Employment” program. Moreover, he seems to have a stranglehold on ORÖ. His successor, István Hegedűs, indicated that he is in his position as long as Farkas wants him there.

As for those indignant ORÖ leaders who accuse Farkas of depriving the Hungarian Roma of millions if not billions of forints, they might be upset for their own selfish reasons. Hadházy discovered that one of the organizers of the project, Tamás Monostori, told the Roma leaders at a meeting last summer that “nobody has to be afraid of being left out. It’s no secret that there is an enormous amount of money that we haven’t been able to use.” Index found even more direct evidence that Farkas promised part of the money to the members of ORÖ. In 2013, at a general meeting of the organization, he told the members who were present that “we will try to secure this money or a little more for you.” A substantial portion of the EU subsidies would be used to give full-time jobs to the elected Roma politicians of ORÖ.

As time went by, it was discovered that the transactions Hadházy unearthed in early January represented only a fraction of the money spent by Farkas and his friends. They also purchased a building (initially, the purchase price was unknown) in the elegant Gellérthegy section of Buda, on which they spent an additional 21 million. Later Farkas and Co. unintentionally revealed in an answer to Hadházy’s letter that they paid around 300 million forints for the building itself. The anti-Farkas forces insisted on calling a meeting of the representatives of ORÖ. But apparently Farkas made sure that his friends boycotted the gathering, leaving the rebels without a quorum.

At this point the government and the prosecutors decided that perhaps they ought to move. What will follow remains unclear. János Lázár, who is responsible for the disbursement of EU subsidies, announced that he would launch an inquiry only when the whole project was completed. For me this means: let’s investigate only when all the money is stolen.

Hadházy pressed charges against the leadership of the “Bridge to Employment,” but the prosecutor’s office refused to follow up. The office might, however, investigate the charge of “budgetary fraud.”  NAV, the national tax and custom’s office, is also interested in the case. And Zoltán Balog called for an internal investigation. So, we will see what happens.

It was in 2011 that Flórián Farkas took over the chairmanship ORÖ, which previously was called Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ/National Gypsy Self-Government). His predecessor was Orbán Kolompár, who had several encounters with the law and is now serving a sentence for embezzlement.

Flórián Farkas was born in 1957 and, unlike Kolompár, finished high school. For a while he worked in the building industry. Between 1975 and 1982 he ran into trouble with the law on three occasions and spent time in jail. He has been involved with Roma affairs since 1987 and in 1991 became secretary general of Lungo Drom (Long Road in the Romani language). In 2003 he was named president of OCÖ.

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

His fourth encounter with the law was in 1996 when the prosecutor’s office investigated him in connection with the foundations around Lungo Drom. As a result of this investigation, he was charged in 1998 with breach of fiduciary responsibilities. The Hungarian public never found out, however, whether Farkas was guilty of the charge or not. President Árpád Göncz gave him “procedural clemency,” and the documents pertaining to the case were sealed for thirty years. Apparently the reason for the clemency was the close relationship that existed between OCÖ and the socialist-liberal government of Gyula Horn.

In 1998, when Fidesz won the election, Farkas moved over to Viktor Orbán’s camp. Just before the 2002 elections the Farkas-led Lungo Drom signed an “electoral alliance” with Fidesz. Obviously, Farkas, like everybody else, was certain of a Fidesz victory. The Roma leader was given a high enough position on the Fidesz list that he became a member of parliament. He then had eight rather lean years in opposition until, in 2010, the billions from the EU fell into his lap.

We’ll see whether he has a fifth encounter with the law. And whether he will be protected once again.

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February 28, 2015 9:38 pm

Clearly off topic but weighing on people’s minds worldwide. Link to article on the reaction of the Hungarian opposition parties to the murder of Boris Nemtsov

February 28, 2015 11:59 pm

What would it take for the EU to stop feeding the insatiable corruption machine of the Hungarian Mafia state?

They are blithely throwing tens of billions upon tens of billions of euros at a thoroughly rotten place like Hungary, whilst in Southern Europe there is 50% unemployment among young people and the Greeks are literally drowning in debt and economic depression.

Are they blind, deaf and dumb in Brussels, or are they merely immoral, unethical and completely crazy to boot?

March 1, 2015 3:17 am

The most disconcerting part of this story is not the theft of the EU funds, but the apparent fact that the EU provides large sums of money and doesn’t demand any sort of accountability for it. I guess they don’t care what happens to the money once its given out.

March 1, 2015 4:55 am

buddy and mike you r correct, nobody understands brussel is not controling the spending

March 1, 2015 7:42 am
Looks like the Brussels bureaucrats have a childishly irresponsible concept of money: it somehow materializes out of thin air or maybe it grows on trees. Anyway, after all it is not their own money that they are cheerfully wasting seemingly without a care in the world, so why the hell should they care? What I can’t understand is how and why the traditionally thrifty Germans or Dutch actually put up with this monumental improvidence, not to mention unbelievable effrontery. After all, it is their money that the Brussels bureaucracy is blithely flushing down the toilet with such gay abandon. Don’t they care? Because they do seem to care very much indeed about collecting the debt from the wretched Greeks, a backward, typically Levantine people that the Germans and Dutch should never have allowed into the Eurozone in the first place. So the Germans and Dutch insist on collecting the debts owing from the miserable Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards and Southern Italians to the last cent, only to then have the bureaucracy in Brussels merrily lavish the proceeds of financial contributions by EU member countries on despicable Mafia families like the Fidesz leadership in Hungary? Ah yes, it is a genuinely Marxist… Read more »
March 1, 2015 7:49 am

Sorry, a last minute edit did not get through. This is how the sentence should have read:

Ah yes, this seems to be a genuinely Marxist deal, “taking from everyone according to their abilities and giving to everyone according to their needs.”

March 1, 2015 8:00 am

Another small error (last sentence above):

Maybe the Hungarian opposition should start putting one heck of a pressure on Brussels by raising hell in the …..

March 1, 2015 9:02 am

“Pasha V.V. [that’s what they call Putin in Russia] won’t cross a certain line. He won’t target me physically. They have a rule to not touch former members of the government.”

So said Boris Nemtsov two years ago.

I was always surprised when friends of mine told me oh, no, don’t worry, Orban won’t do that, he will do a lot of things, but he won’t cross that line (ie. Orban will not try to entrench himself with the 2/3s majority in the Parliament or whatever controversial issue it was at the moment).

The above lines by Nemtsov are a reminder that tyrants (strongmen, sultans, dictators, authoritarian leaders of “managed democracies” etc.) will use any and all means necessary to stay in power and Orban is no different.

I hope this is absolutely clear by now.

March 1, 2015 9:10 am
I think that Germany and Holland should insist that the management, including micro-management of all EU funded projects and the disbursement of all EU funds in Hungary should be placed in the hands of a tough and reputable firm of international auditors and accountants, so not even a brass razoo of EU money could end up in the pockets of the Orbán Mafia. The tight-fisted first response of the auditors to all requests for disbursements should be a flat out rejection: “Nincs pénz rá!” (“There are no funds for that!”); the second a demand for transparently trackable and auditable documentation on exactly what the last cent requested is going to be spent on and why. Then there would be thorough follow-through to the end, until the last cent spent was fully and transparently accounted for. There is no magic here: this is standard practice in the civilized world. Thus finita la commedia, and with that there would be an absolute denial of access to the EU cookie jar for Orbán & Co. Instead, let the Orbán Mafia continue to enrich themselves by stealing even more, and ever more, directly from the Hungarian taxpayer. Until at last the Hungarian taxpayer will… Read more »
March 1, 2015 9:19 am

And the cost of the auditors would of course be funded and deducted from the EU moneys allocated to Hungary.

March 1, 2015 9:30 am

The auditors would be particularly accountable to the German and Dutch finance ministers for the transparency and management control of all Hungarian tendering processes for EU funded projects.

Why the German and Dutch finance ministers? Because they seem to be the only adults in the room.

March 1, 2015 9:25 am
Nothing new, only the names have changed. The EU willingly feeding the machine and the pockets of Orban and his friends. Although many well known and well reported factual cases of misspending, mishandling of funds, potential frauds have been circulating around for years , and even the EU started a few investigations, the flow of money only stopped just to restart with small delays. As long as the German, French, Italian, and the UK taxpayers do not mind that their money likely finances some crime cartels, and do not demand their own leaders to stop funnelling their money into the pockets to a madman and his supporters, it is not to much the EU will be doing. So at this point I think the foreign press should be awakened. Until the Guardian, the Spiegel and such does not to put their own investigative journalism at work (or simply translate some of the well documented cases from Atlatszo for example) things will stay stays quo as the EU just not willing to rock the boat and for quite the contrary, it looks to me that they are in fact feeding this machine. Small note: In fact per capita Denmark, Finland, Germany,… Read more »
March 1, 2015 12:23 pm

Roma successes…

I was just saying to my wife that in Orban’s five years in power, the Roma have been awfully quiet–no demands; no complaints–just silence. (And that ain’t just a reference to all the missing dogs…).

How well they’re behaving under Orban’s hands!

March 1, 2015 12:47 pm

exactly. This etno-business (as its called in Hungarian) lead by Florian Farkas who was selected for his “roma leadership” position way prior to 1990 works just fine. Why would Orban want to change that?

The poor roma vote for Fidesz via the public works system (there was an article at about that) and the roma elite is currupted via this roma “self-governance”. Perfect.