I have written at least two posts on the scandals surrounding the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/Nationwide Roma Self-Government) and its former chairman, Flórián Farkas. I devoted one post to the checkered career of Farkas, which I then followed up with Ákos Hadházy’s investigation of certain Roma programs that were being generously funded by the European Union. It turned out that instead of the money being used for the benefit of the Roma, most of the money ended up in the pockets of corrupt Roma leaders, including Flórián Farkas. However, no amount of investigation and no amount of evidence made the slightest difference. Flórián Farkas seemed untouchable.
The new chairman of ORÖ claimed that “the chief obstacle to Roma integration is Flórián Farkas. If he cares at all about the well-being of Gypsies, he should submit his resignation” as chairman of Lungo Drum, a Roma political organization in whose name Farkas formed an alliance with Fidesz. Farkas, however, has no intention of resigning. In fact, he threatened the new leadership of ORÖ, saying that he would abolish the whole organization with the help of his highly-placed friends. I assume that among them one can find Viktor Orbán himself. Therefore it was naive of István Hegedüs, the new beleaguered chairman of ORÖ, to accept Viktor Orbán’s support in his attempt to oust Farkas.
Flórián Farkas still has his devoted supporters, who claim that it is Hegedüs who has ruined ORÖ, which was a well run organization in fine financial shape under Farkas’s stewardship. In fact, the four deputy chairmen of ORÖ have demanded Hegedüs’s resignation. Meanwhile the National Tax and Customs Office is investigating, and ORÖ is close to bankruptcy.
From what we can learn from documents acquired by RomNet.hu, an internet site serving the Roma community, the mismanagement of the organization can be traced to Flórián Farkas’s tenure as the head of ORÖ. Leaders of the organization were grossly overpaid and received benefits to which they were not entitled. It’s no wonder that Aladár Horváth, one of the few Roma politicians of integrity, suggested abolishing ORÖ since it is not the best vehicle for handling the affairs of the Hungarian Roma. And he was not alone. Péter Niedermüller, DK member of the European Parliament, joined Horváth. He described ORÖ as “an organization which is unfit and unworthy to represent the largest minority in Hungary. Fist fights at meetings of the organization, mutual accusations of corruption, secret meetings with government politicians” undermine any confidence in ORÖ. He argued that the money earmarked for Roma convergence, instead of being used to fund this corrupt group of Roma politicians, should be given to authentic civic organizations involved with the betterment of the Roma’s situation.
A few months ago the ministry of human resources reluctantly began to investigate some of the corruption cases connected to Flórián Farkas’s ORÖ. They found at least 270 million forints that were spent on enriching Roma politicians instead of for the intended purposes. ORÖ coughed up 18 million forints toward the amount the organization must pay back to the ministry.
At that point it looked as if Flórián Farkas, who in the past had already had some close calls, would have to give up his cushy jobs as government commissioner on Roma affairs, Fidesz MP, and adviser to the prime minister. On November 26, in a parliamentary commission meeting open to the public, the ORÖ corruption cases came up. János Lázár severely criticized Flórián Farkas and ORÖ’s handling of the generous financial resources supplied by the European Union. At one point Farkas, who attended the meeting, had to listen to Lázár proclaim that the career of a politician who makes such a “mistake” will come to a screeching halt (megy a lecsóba). Well, everybody thought that this was the end of Flórián Farkas.
They were wrong, although in the following days more outrageous stories continued to surface. For instance, ORÖ received seven or eight valuable pieces of real estate, most of which have been left to deteriorate, although one luxury apartment, which ORÖ got two years ago as “a Christmas present” from the Hungarian government, was occupied by friends of Farkas. The organization received a “castle” from the County of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, where Farkas promised to establish a school for Roma boys interested in sports. The agreement stipulated that if ORÖ was unable to open the school within five years, the property would be taken back by the county. Nothing has come of the project, but millions were spent guarding it. And other valuable pieces of property, for instance one in Balatonboglár, have had the same fate.
Lázár might have talked tough at that parliamentary commission meeting, but today he backpedaled when had to admit that “Viktor Orbán has no reason to take away Farkas’s job as government commissioner and he has no intention of severing relations with ORÖ.” Farkas is a very important man for Viktor Orbán. He is the one who delivers the Roma vote for Fidesz. And that’s the only thing that matters.