The Quaestor story is becoming less transparent despite the release of documents

It was four days ago that I wrote an article titled “A Crime in Search of a More Coherent Cover-up.” Well, the Orbán government is still searching and the story, instead of becoming more coherent, is getting more confusing. It’s hard to know whether the government is intentionally obfuscating the issue or whether it simply can’t concoct a halfway believable plot in which nobody in the government is at fault. The prime minister, we have been told, misremembered. It seems that the buck didn’t stop with him after all. But at the same time he doesn’t want to implicate any of his colleagues. That wouldn’t be good for business.

Meanwhile the police twiddled their thumbs, presumably waiting for instructions from above. Although Quaestor collapsed on March 9 and rumor had it that Csaba Tarsoly, its CEO, was a flight risk, they did nothing until March 26. Finally, two days ago, they arrested Tarsoly.

The chief prosecutor of Budapest, Tibor Ibolya, tried to explain away the delay by saying that “he did not want to prejudice the case” by acting hastily. In order to bolster this claim he had the temerity to quote the guidelines of the European Court of Justice. It is hard to tell whether Ibolya is just incompetent or, more likely, an eager accomplice of the Orbán government like his boss, Péter Polt. To get a sense of the man, I recommend Olga Kálmán’s interview with him on Egyenes beszéd (Straight talk).

QuaestorAlthough we heard earlier that Csaba Tarsoly, CEO of Quaestor, had officially announced the firm’s bankruptcy, the revised account is that no such notification to the authorities ever took place. Tarsoly simply told the National Bank that the company had collapsed; he didn’t file any bankruptcy papers. As a result, Tarsoly and his associates had plenty of time to get rid of evidence, hide assets, and do all sorts of things that would obscure their allegedly illegal activities.

It is possible that a great deal more public money landed in the coffers of Quaestor than the 3.5 billion returned in the form of cash to the Magyar Nemzeti Kereskedőház (Hungarian National Trading House), which is under the jurisdiction of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade. Népszabadság received information that the ministry of agriculture lost millions, but the paper’s Fidesz sources said that its money was not at Quaestor. I, however, wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ministry also had money with Quaestor because of Tarsoly’s close business connections with Szilárd Kiss, the man accused not only of embezzlement but also of possible connections to the Russian Federal Security Service. Kiss was a special favorite of the minister of agriculture, Sándor Fazekas.

The Hungarian public was promised information about the extent of the loss of public funds by tomorrow. This will be a tricky document to put together.

By now the government seems to have realized that it has lost public confidence. Therefore in the last few days it released a number of documents to build a more believable story.

Among the documents the government released is the March 9th letter of Csaba Tarsoly to Viktor Orbán in which the Quaestor CEO asks for government help in saving his firm. He requested a 300 billion forint loan to protect 50,000 small investors, resulting in greater public trust in the Orbán government. The government even released Viktor Orbán’s answer as transmitted by his private secretary:

We gratefully acknowledge the receipt of your letter. The Prime Minister informed the minister of economics of its content. Mihály Varga will appoint a person to conduct the negotiations you suggest. He will most likely get in touch with you today.

It looks as if Hungary’s prime minister was prepared to make a deal with the man whom now he calls a crook.

One would assume, on the basis of these letters, that the man appointed by Mihály Varga actually had a conversation with Tarsoly on the evening of March 9th, which was unsuccessful. Therefore, Tarsoly had no choice but announce, albeit unofficially, the collapse of Quaestor to György Matolcsy, president of the Hungarian National Bank. Today, however, we learned that this sequence of events, however logical, is wrong.

VS.hu asked for additional information from the ministry of national economy, and it actually got what its reporter asked for. Yes, Mihály Varga did appoint Undersecretary Gábor Orbán (no relation to the prime minister), who met Tarsoly not on 9th but on the following day, March 10th. Apparently he didn’t like Tarsoly’s proposal. Undersecretary Orbán “found the plan unrealistic and unacceptable because it would have put the whole financial burden of restitution on the Hungarian government.” Another inexplicable twist in an already badly twisted story. What was the point of negotiation between Csaba Tarsoly and the Hungarian government a day after the unofficial announcement of Quaestor’s collapse? Why didn’t Tarsoly wait until he had a chance to talk to Gábor Orbán? Is it possible that Tarsoly was still hoping to make a deal, even after March 10th? That he viewed the collapse of Quaestor as remediable?

In this story of twists and turns, contradictions and memory lapses, Népszava noticed another oddity. While the prime minister office’s short e-mail to Csaba Tarsoly was written on March 9 at 17:24, Tarsoly’s letter to Orbán was logged in only on March 10th. Naturally, the Hungarian media immediately picked up this anomaly. Admittedly, it may be nothing more than the usual sloppiness that reigns in Hungarian government circles. It might happen, though it seems odd, that a letter would be received and answered before it was logged in. The official explanation is that the office of the prime minister receives an inordinate amount of mail and that the log-in process–all done by hand–is slow. Surely, even Viktor Orbán’s “plebeian government” could afford an electronic automatic scanner which would take care of all this in seconds.

What is much more difficult to explain is why the Tarsoly letter to Orbán, which Giró Szász proudly showed to Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, last Sunday, March 29, had no log-in information on it whatsoever. Which letter is authentic? The one the government released, with the log-in date of March 10, or the letter Giró Szász showed on March 29, which had never been logged in? I’m sure the government will say that the letter Giró Szász had was a copy of the letter the prime minister received, a copy made prior to its being logged in. But why, when it is in the throes of a scandal, doesn’t the government keep things tidy? It just raises new questions, arouses new suspicions.

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mk
Guest
Correction of a few mistakes in the text: “Meanwhile the police twiddled their thumbs, presumably waiting for instructions from above. Although Quaestor collapsed on March 9 .. they did nothing until March 26.” Previously such reports were in the press but by now we have learned that these were false. The police conducted several raids, confiscated thousands of pages of documents, and interviewed witnesses. Some of these actions took place on March 10, so the following day. It is simply not true that they did nothing until March 26. Just false. ” rumor had it that Csaba Tarsoly, its CEO, was a flight risk, ” I’m not against listening the rumors, murmurs, and similar, but now we know the truth. He never tried to leave, or flee and was arrested without effort. He was not a flight risk as it turned out. “Finally, two days ago, they arrested Tarsoly.” Between April 1 and March 26 the difference is not two days. You are confusing two things. The police arrest, and a decision by the judge who can order the “előzetes letartóztatás”. The judge himself deliberated for three days himself before deciding to jail Tarsoly. “What was the point of negotiation… Read more »
Member

Aha. The police seemed to be quite efficient when they raided the offices of the Ökotárs foundation, the organization that lent a measly few millions to anti-government and civil rights organizations. By the way they were acquitted of all charges.

The whole thing stinks. There’s gotta be a FIDESZ connection to this.

Guest

Well, Mr. K – here’s a detailed account on what happened (or didn’t) in the Hungarian government in the Quaestor case – it’s a really murky story, getting stranger every minute!
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/five_major_controversies_in_hungarys_brokerage_scandal.29389.html

petofi
Guest

Here’s a version of events:
Questor was going under. Csaba thought that he could twist Orban’s arm for government help by stating that a certain foreign minister had received X-amount of forints for placing department
money with Questor.
Silence, thought Csaba, should be costly…

István
Guest
I have been reading numerous articles and comments on the collapse of Quaestor and repeatedly I have seen references to the idea that the local government funds that could be lost would not have been placed at risk in an advanced western nation like the USA where there is greater oversight. I am sorry to inform people that is not exactly the situation. The case in point is the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Lehman Brothers International held close to 40 billion dollars of clients assets when it filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Some of these assets were public dollars. For example Lehman was a counterparty to mortgage financier Freddie Mac which is a public corporation in unsecured lending transactions that matured on September 15, 2008. Freddie did not received principal payments of $1.2 billion plus accrued interest. This money was lost. The Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation or Farmer Mac said it would have to write off $52.4 million in Lehman debt in the form of senior debt securities it owned as a result of the bankruptcy. That money was also lost. So even here when there is a big collapse public funds can get wiped out. Welcome Hungarians to the… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

@Istvaån. Indeed, Lehman Brothers is a great example of a collapse taking public funds with it. That said it isn’t correct to comprare the the Questor situation with Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers. These institutions played a role in conducting public policy where as I’ve no clue what role Questor played in carrying out public policy here.
Fadesz can concoct any story they like. Everyone knows of the grammar school relationships at work here. No one is being fooled by the duck in sheeps clothing

lon
Guest

Questor is the Madoff story, not the Lehman.

Questor was nothing more than a Ponzi-scheme. Questor had a brokerage license etc., but all those activities amounted to almost nothing compared to the size of the pyramid scheme it also operated.

petofi
Guest

The key culprit here is the oversight role of the government agency that chose not to reveal (and stop) that Questor had falsely put $700 million dollars worth of illegal shares on the market.

petofi
Guest

I didn’t have time to correct the above. Here goes:

The central culprit in the Questor case is the government agency with the oversight role
on new issues…that chose not to protect the unsuspecting public by stopping the sale of $700 million dollars worth of illegal shares.

ki
Guest

bonds, not shares.

petofi
Guest

Bonds–thank you.

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