It was almost three years ago that I wrote about the infamous Hagyó affair. Miklós Hagyó, a wealthy businessman and an MSZP politician, was one of the deputy mayors of the city between 2006 and 2010. Among his duties was the supervision of the business practices of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). The Transit Authority was a badly managed, mammoth organization with enormous losses.
In March 2010 came a bombshell. Zsolt Balogh, one of the many CEOs of BKV, said on HírTV that he, as the newly appointed head of BKV, paid a courtesy visit to Hagyó, who right on the spot instructed him to hand over 40 million forints. Balogh obliged, and the next day he brought the money to the deputy mayor in a box originally designed as packaging for a Nokia telephone. This Nokia box has since become synonymous with the all-pervading corruption that allegedly characterized the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition during the premiership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.
Just for the record, I would like to quote my own words from a September 2012 post titled “A botched-up show trial in Hungary”:
At this point I said to myself: something is wrong here. There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam. During their very first encounter. Hagyó tried to clear his name but couldn’t. In late May, right after Hagyó lost his parliamentary seat due to the change of government, he was arrested. Obviously, the Hungarian prosecutors didn’t share my doubts.
Hagyó spent nine months in jail and several months in a prison hospital. After losing 26 kg, he was sent home to recuperate under house arrest. Two and a half years of investigation revealed very little. Prosecutors, for example, hoped to prove that the millions Hagyó allegedly extorted from Balogh ended up in MSZP’s coffers. But evidence was lacking. They also wanted to build a case of bribery but couldn’t. Eventually they had to settle on the good old charge of breach of fiduciary responsibility for fifteen of the sixteen accused in the wider case. The sole exception was Hagyó, who was charged with extortion.
The Hagyó trial was an important political weapon for Fidesz, and it was the first case that was transferred from Budapest to Kecskemét by Tünde Handó, head of the National Judicial Office. The alleged rationale for the change of venue was to speed up the trial. In truth, Handó, a Fidesz appointee and wife of the important Fidesz politician József Szájer, was looking for an accommodating judge.
Soon after the trial began, in September 2012, Attila Antal, another CEO of BKV who had given evidence against Hagyó, withdrew his original testimony. He told the court that while he was in jail he was ill and the police told him that he would be let go only if “he talks.” His testimony was faxed over to the prosecutor’s office page by page for them to inspect its contents and decide whether his testimony was satisfactory from the prosecution’s point of view. Antal’s revelation of pressure coming from the prosecutors was bad enough, but when Zsolt Balogh, a few days after Antal, told the court that the only reason he gave false testimony was because he was threatened with a jail term unless he came to the rescue of the prosecution, the case started to crumble. Balogh’s testimony was the only “evidence” of Hagyó’s guilt.
That didn’t prevent Fidesz from claiming two years later, in September 2014, just before the municipal election, that voting for István Tarlós’s opponent as mayor of Budapest “would mean the return of the Gyurcsány-era when millions stolen from BKV ended up in Nokia boxes.”
Miklós Hagyó was the victim of politics of the dirtiest kind. Of the Fidesz kind. A good legal study of the Hagyó case appeared in Galamus a year ago. According to the author, “the Hagyó trial will be taught in law schools as a sad example of political influence on the judiciary.” Reading some of the details that came to light during the long trial shows that there was a conspiracy among certain Fidesz politicians and the prosecutors “to create a case.” Those who were ready to cooperate later received well-paid jobs “under the wings of the new municipal administration” of István Tarlós. Policemen active in the “investigation” received better jobs, while the judge who automatically renewed Hagyó’s jail term was appointed a member of the constitutional court. The prosecutor who lent his name to the charges received a high decoration from the president of the country. Viktor Orbán was obviously grateful for the assistance.
The details that emerged are fascinating. For example, the prosecution issued an indictment before they had investigated the origin of the 30 million forints Zsolt Balogh allegedly handed over to Hagyó in 2008 and 2009. According to Balogh’s original and later withdrawn testimony, the money came from Márk Lazarovits, CEO of Synergon Informatikai Kft. in gratitude for a contract with BKV. The prosecution went ahead with the case without ever attempting to check the veracity of Balogh’s claim.
During the trial, after Balogh withdrew his testimony, the judge asked the prosecutors about the state of the investigation of Synergon as the possible source of the bribe. Of course, there was no such investigation either because of the incompetence of the prosecutors or, as I assume, because they suspected that Balogh’s testimony was so far-fetched that it was most likely bogus. At this point the decision was made to open a new investigation, a highly irregular move. Interestingly, even during this renewed attempt to find evidence, the prosecutors didn’t question Lazarovits. I suspect the reason for this “oversight” was that they knew full well that Lazarovits didn’t hand over any money to Balogh. In fact, other witnesses alluded to the fact that the prosecution had tried to pressure Lazarovits earlier to testify against Hagyó. Obviously without success. Since the investigators found no evidence of any money transaction originating from Synergon, finally, on June 23, 2015, the prosecutor’s office announced the close of the investigation. The case had totally collapsed.
Zsuzsa Sándor, a retired judge, came to the conclusion that after these developments the prosecution should ask for the acquittal of Miklós Hagyó–that is, “if it is not a show trial.” And she added: “We will find out in September,” when apparently the case will at long last be decided.