This is a translation of an interview with Ákos Hadházy (LMP) that originally appeared in Magyar Narancs (February 4, 2016) under the headline “Who betrays Fidesz helps the country” (Aki a Fideszt elárulja az az országot segíti). The interview was translated by the staff of The Budapest Sentinel.
Hadházy began his political career as a Fidesz representative on the Szekszárd city council, where he soon discovered the large-scale corruption committed by Fidesz politicians. He quit the party and his position on the city council and went public with his revelations. Naturally, there was no follow-up investigation in Szekszárd. Since then, however, Hadházy has made some headway, especially in the scandalous Flórián Farkas embezzlement case. At least in this instance the police are investigating. I’m grateful to be able to make this translation available to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.
♦ ♦ ♦
Anti-corruption crusader, former Fidesz city assemblyman Ákos Hadházy (LMP)
“A well-constructed criminal syndicate is stealing EU funds in Hungary. The rules were systematically changed by the Fidesz government over the past few years. They dismantled the system of checks and balances and created a state system for their corrupt matters. Not for a long time has it been the case that some 2 percent of EU funds end up in “the wrong hands” but a large multiple of that. The Fidesz government knows perfectly well that it can do this boldly, because there is no state apparatus that could control the expenditure of billions. (When the next tranche of EU funds runs out) there will be little point to controlling the government, as there will hardly be anything with which to finance the country. Destroying Hungarian education so that somebody could make a little money on the pointless use of EU funds was an enormous sin on the part of the political elite.”
Magyar Narancs: You launched your action at the end of January. Your plans are to make public matters of corruption every week. At your first press conference you said that criminal organizations were stealing EU money in Hungary, moreover, with the participation of the ministries. These are strong accusations. What is the proof of this?
Ákos Hadházy: Over the past few years LMP has discovered a number of shocking matters indicative of the theft and abuse of EU funds on which the current system is built. It’s enough to think only of the “traffikmutyi” [scandal involving the granting of lucrative tobacco retailing franchises to Fidesz friends and supporters] for which there were no consequences. And then there is the Öveges program in which around 50 schools received grants to produce ceramic goods. Only a fraction of the HUF 14 billion (USD 50 million) budgetary framework was spent on achieving the original goals, while billions wandered off to companies of questionable background. But I might mention the scandals surrounding the National Roma Local Government as well since there, too, EU funds were stolen in a manner that must have been apparent to the relevant ministry. And there is the Elios matter involving the prime minister’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz, and his successful LED lighting business which depends almost entirely on orders from local governments, which we also reported to the authorities. I have examined a number of public procurement procedures over the past few years, on the basis of which it is possible to conclude that a well-constructed criminal syndicate is stealing EU funds in Hungary. The rules were systematically changed by the Fidesz government over the past few years. They dismantled the system of checks and balances and created a state system for their corrupt matters. Not for a long time has it been the case that some 2 percent of EU funds end up in “the wrong hands” but a large multiple of that. The Fidesz government knows perfectly well that it can do this boldly, because there is no state apparatus that could control the expenditure of billions. If, by some miracle, prosecutors were to get all the criminally suspicious cases, they could only investigate a small fraction of them, because they do not have sufficient capacity.
MN: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in the middle of last December that he does not tolerate any kind of corruption. It is as though the head of government does not live in the same Hungary as you do.
ÁH: Or the majority of Hungarians. He doesn’t tolerate corruption? He should talk to his son-in-law! Imre Steindl prevented a mass catastrophe by designing parliament so carefully, because if they made even a small mistake, the roof would certainly collapse on the prime minister after making such statements.
MN: The “Korrupcióinfo” (Corruption information) has begun organizing press conferences on Thursdays. With this are you trying to hack János Lázár’s Thursday government information sessions?
ÁH: That’s a part of it, except they don’t broadcast me live on state televisions. By the way, János Lázár did partly give me the idea because, if I am not mistaken, the subtitle of the press material sent out before each session is “What is the government doing and why?” We could add to this subtitle almost without exaggeration that it is an attempt to provide an alibi for the fact that they are trying to pocket a substantial amount of EU money.
MN: At the first corruption information session you played a sound recording from the time when you worked as a Fidesz city assemblyman.
ÁH: At first this might appear to be a petty matter. A Szekszárd kindergarten was expanded at a cost of HUF 130 million (USD 450,000) which realistically should have only cost HUF 60-70 million (USD 210,000-245,000). This is not going to completely scandalize public opinion. However, the recording features Fidesz city leaders discussing at a fraction meeting how they envision the corrupt division of EU money. The point was that a company shows up and says there is an overpriced project, they will organize everything, it is not even necessary for the local government to invest the 15 percent co-funding requirement, in exchange for which they will be the contractor. If the city leaders don’t like this, they can be assured that they will go one or two counties over, because they have a quota centrally assigned to them that guarantees them the necessary number of projects. Rezső Ács, the current city mayor, said at that time that this is the way the system works in Hungary.
MN: Were you at this meeting?
MN: Did you prepare this recording?
ÁK: Journalists do not reveal their sources, so figure it out. But I will say that a traitor prepared it.
MN: You are a rather large traitor in the eyes of Fidesz.
ÁH: I won’t say that it was me but that it was a traitor, that’s for sure. Here I would just like to note that, in my opinion, whoever belongs to Fidesz today, and sees something of such matters, and is not totally stupid, can do three things. One: be a traitor, but unfortunately there are rather few of these, even though whoever betrays Fidesz helps the country. The next category is the panderer. Quite a few choose this solution: they are the ones who say nothing about the corruption they see. And then there are the co-perpetrators who enjoy the advantages of the corrupt system.
MN: Why didn’t you stand up at the fraction meeting and say that this procedure is not clean, and that they shouldn’t agree to it?
ÁH: That is an important question but I was totally astonished. This incident also contributed to my decision to leave the fraction and the party. Later, I continuously followed the matter. For a long time, nothing happened. The expanded kindergarten was only delivered last year. In the meantime, I also discovered how they managed to turn the HUF 60 million planned budget into nearly double that.
ÁH: Among other things, the technical description given to the local government contained incorrect information with regard to material quantities. It contained far more than was warranted, for example when they calculated the cost of insulation. But it was strange that they planned to excavate the foundation by hand, when that was much more expensive than using a machine. It mentions five-meter scaffolds, when the height of the building was around 3 meters. And in a number of similar matters they pushed the prices higher than was necessary. After the delivery, I filed a formal complaint, but I do not know whether an investigation has been initiated for the time being.
MN: The Office of the Prime Minister also looked into this thoroughly.
ÁH: Yes, János Lázár’s office responded to this in a statement issued on Thursday, in which among other things they wrote that I myself might have committed a crime by not reporting this, and in this way violated my public oath of office. That didn’t work this time. By the way, when they talk about my being an “accessory to a crime” they acknowledge that a crime took place. If Orbán does not tolerate corruption, then the mayor of Szekszárd needs to go.
MN: You have been speaking of systematic corruption since the Szekszárd case and earlier cases. Can you briefly outline this system?
ÁH: Many believe, including local politicians, that the EU gives money for the development of, for example, the Szekszárd kindergarten, when this is not the case. The EU provides a framework amount and defines a general purpose within which each state organ can define the important projects. In this way, the Fidesz government men are the first tentacle in the system. The second tentacle is the body of companies that benefit from the manually controlled, corrupt, procurement mechanism. The third tentacle is the execution: there are a number of Fidesz local governments or state organs receiving EU sources which do not use them well. It is all about stealing a substantial part of the HUF 7 trillion (USD 24 billion) made available through 2015 and the HUF 12 trillion (USD 42 billion) that can be spent through 2020. But if the HUF 12 trillion package comes to an end, then from that time a state of bankruptcy will loom, because the sources have not been used to improve the economy. After that, it can be said almost without exaggeration that there will be little point to controlling the government, as there will hardly be anything with which to finance the country.
MN: András Lánczi, the president of the Fidesz-linked Századvég Foundation, said last December that strengthening domestic companies is important to the Orbán government, and what others call corruption is practically Fidesz’s main policy.
ÁH: That is a lie. When I was a naive little Fidesz member I also succumbed to this. At that time I could imagine that if, for example, a public tender results in two correct proposals, and it is possible to know that one of them is close to government circles, and the two offers are for the most part the same, then the Fidesz one will win. But it didn’t stop there. This has been taken too far today, as there is no control and no checks. I say with all seriousness that in such a world even Simicska should be respected.
MN: Why should he be respected?
ÁK: Because he has solid principles. Do you really believe that Lajos Simicska is so stupid as to allow Fidesz to create new construction giants, for example István Garancsi or Lőrinc Mészáros, without agreeing with them on some form of cooperation? When he joined Fidesz, he also had serious ideas about the direction in which the country should go, and when he saw that the country was again moving in the direction of Russia, and that the Orbán system does not differ that much from the Kádár one, then he upset the table. I believe him.
MN: Despite a series of corruption scandals, and the ever more frequent OLAF investigations or the increasingly depressing results of corruption research, it is as though they do not exceed the tolerance threshold of the majority.
ÁH: Everybody raises and complains about this issue. I even hear it from opposition politicians. We could ponder for hours whether this is actually the case, and if so, why this is the case. If the tolerance threshold is high, then a number of themes need to be included in the public discussion. This is also why we started the weekly corruption information sessions. There is plenty of water in the tap. The question is only how large the glass is, and at what point it overflows. Anger over corruption is slowly accumulating in the citizenry. And it is not only theft that will be the source of trouble and not merely because they are stealing the country before our eyes, but also because in the meantime people are being humiliated. Just look at the public work program, or what is happening in health care, or in education. Of course teachers are getting more money today, but at the same time they humiliated them with a control mechanism which monitors whether they taught the lesson well to the children. And then there is the writing of the portfolios, and the educational overseers, even as they have to teach stupidity to the children. I look at the textbooks of my children and am astonished by how they abound with cretinism. Moreover, the new educational system is full of corrupt abuses.
MN: For example?
ÁH: At this Thursday’s press conference I will present a number of cases illustrating how billions were spent on the scandalous reorganization of certain organizations belonging to the Ministry for Human Resources (EMMI), for example the Education Authority, the Education Research and Development Institution, or the Education Social Service Nonprofit Kft. Destroying education so that somebody could make a little money on the pointless use of EU funds is an enormous sin on the part of the political elite. Incredible amounts went to various programs from which money could be channeled in an uncontrolled manner. The programs included: Comprehensive quality development in public education, on which HUF 3.5 billion (USD 12.3 million) was spent; Teacher Training support on which more than HUF 11 billion (USD 28.5 million) was spent; the so-called XXI. century public education program on which HUF 6.8 billion (USD 24 million) was spent.
When inspecting these programs I found things that would make your hair stand on end. For example, when I saw that the Education Authority had paid a company HUF 564 million (USD 2 million) for so-called expert days, while Merkel Konzulent Zrt. helped the authority for the same amount. The problem is that the company has all of one employee, and it received the HUF 564 million order last September when there was only a few months remaining in which to provide the service, and it is practically impossible to control whether or not the work was actually performed. It is also incomprehensible how one of the ministry’s organizations used a company to prepare the high school leaving exams. But there were also public procurements in which the estimated price agreed with the amount bid by the winning company to perform the task.
I found very strange rental agreements as well: the Education Authority rented offices for 9 months in 2013 and 2014 from a company called Lokalfixer Kft. for HUF 25 million (USD 88,000). According to to the company information system, this company only has its own real estate, and its headquarters can be found just a few meters from the Ministry for Human Resources (EMMI), also in the Akadémia Street. Another rental agreement for HUF 60 million (USD 212,000) was signed with another company, which is strange because the company’s real estate appears to be completely unsuitable for the kind of on-site training provided for by the contract. Furthermore, the company has no other sources of revenue. Having seen these and a number of other similar suspicious contracts, I ask “Is this why it was necessary to destroy public education?” Outrageous!
MN: Do you put these together by sitting in front of the Public Procurement Bulletin and starting to surf contracts? Is there no expert group, investigative journalists, or staff members helping you?
ÁH: I do most of it on my own. I get help primarily when it comes to communications. You won’t believe it, but I started investigating the National Roma Local Government’s scandalous matters by writing “Roma” into the query field of the online bulletin. It did not take me long to see the overpriced car rental contracts, the pointless studies. The consequences of these are taking place before our eyes even to this day.
MN: With only a few exceptions, why aren’t other opposition representatives as active in this field?
ÁH: Because the government holds a number of opposition politicians in the palm of its hand: the parade is such that they jump up and down as much as they have to, and if they don’t exceed a certain limit, they are left in peace. The customary method of the current system is blackmail. I also had a role in it. And when the time comes, I will prove it, too.
MN: How much can the degree of corruption be decreased without the necessary opposition control?
ÁH: It does not primarily depend on that, because laws are needed that restore the checks and balances to their appropriate level. We cannot expect this from Fidesz. But it is also certain that this cannot continue indefinitely. Whether they can postpone their collapse for half a year or five years, I cannot say, but the end will come. No matter what, society will take care of it.
MN: Does Hungarian society want this?
ÁH: Of course. Sooner or later they will get rid of Fidesz. Would you have thought three months ago that the teachers of a Miskolc Academic High School would uncover all the dirt on the scandalous public education system for all to see, and that hundreds of institutions would join them?