However bizarre and unlikely this story, I think I should report on the two men who are currently in preventive custody in Hungary. The charge is espionage for the United States, the IMF, and the Swiss-Hungarian Grant.
The right-wing internet news site Válasz came out with the bombshell: “Exclusive: Was an American spy found in the Orbán government?” According to their information, one of the men, Norbert Maxin, was a business partner of Sándor Demján, one of the richest men in Hungary who has not been on the best terms with the Orbán government of late. Maxin was at one point strategic director of Polygon Informatikai Fejlesztő és Tanácsadó Kft. with headquarters in Szeged. Polygon did a thriving business at one time, but in 2013 it got into financial trouble because two of its major clients–OTP, the largest Hungarian bank, and MOL, the Hungarian oil company–stopped doing business with the firm. Moreover, a criminal investigation was launched against Nobert Maxin, who simply disappeared. The Szeged delmagyar.hu reported at the time that the FBI was investigating the case. Some people thought that Maxin was dead, but it turned out that he was only hiding in an apartment in Budapest, allegedly because he was afraid of being murdered.
We know very little about Norbert Maxin. For example, I was unable even to ascertain whether he is a Hungarian or an American. He uses the Hungarian form of his name, and his surname is occasionally spelled as Makszin.
We know a great deal more about his alleged accomplice, Béla Szabolcs Bukta, who was expansive on LinkedIn. After receiving a diploma in history and geography at the University of Debrecen in 1997, he worked as area development manager in the prime minister’s office during the first Orbán administration. After Orbán lost the election in 2002, Butka moved to the United States where he worked for a couple of firms in Buffalo and attended D’Youville College, receiving an M.S. degree in international business, specializing in trade relations, in 2005. He then relocated to Washington, where he became a project consultant for the World Bank Group-IFC. In 2006 he moved back to Hungary and worked for Arcade Research & Development Ltd. It was during his time at Arcade that he came to know Norbert Maxin, who was by then managing director of the firm. As soon as Viktor Orbán won the election in 2010 Bukta was back in government service. He got a job as deputy head of the IT development department of the National Development Ministry. In 2014 he moved to the National Tradehouse Corporation, which was supposed to develop brisk trade relations with mostly Far and Middle East countries but turned out to be a flop.
Átlátszó, an NGO that specializes in investigative journalism, also covered the story and unearthed more details of this bizarre case. According to the lawyer of Nobert Maxin, Gusztáv Kertész, although the criminal proceedings against the two men were launched last December, the story goes back to 2008 when the alleged crime was committed. Kertész is puzzled by the fact that this “spy” case is being handled by a department of the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (NNI / Office of National Criminal Investigation) that deals with criminal activities connected to art treasures. Although it is true that Norbert Maxin is an art and book collector, the investigation has nothing to do with his hobby.
According to Kertész, one count of the espionage charge is that Maxin, through another person, passed on documents concerning Hungary’s defense plans to a NATO officer in the service of the U.S. Embassy. The lawyer points out that NATO should already have legally been in possession of these documents since Hungary is a member of the organization. Another charge is that Maxin in 2010, in a conversation with a member of the visiting IMF delegation, warned him about structuring the organization’s loan in such a way that no government could appropriate money given to the country as a whole. Another charge is that Maxin established a secret organization called “Birodalom” (Empire) which was to be used in some mysterious way in the spying operation. According to the lawyer, it was just a group of people who liked each other’s company and met often. The charges are allegedly based on witness accounts and evidence seized during a house search, but Kertész couldn’t find anything concrete that would prove his client’s guilt. The court decided on preventive custody because apparently Maxin while handcuffed tried to escape. That was at the beginning of December.
Otherwise, from what I could learn about Maxin, I got the distinct impression that he was on good terms with Fidesz politicians for many years. In 2005 he turned to Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt for an investigation into the privatization of Budapest Airport Rt. We can’t go into the complicated details of the case here, but at that time the government handed over the running of the Ferihegy Airport to a private company. Viktor Orbán, who at that point was pretty certain that he would win the election in 2006, delivered a speech in which he announced that “we must buy back what [the present government] illegally privatized.” And if the privatization turned out to be legal, then his government would simply “ask the owners: be kind enough to give it back.” I suspect that Maxin’s curiosity about the exact status of Budapest Airport Rt. was connected to Orbán’s preoccupation with the ownership of the company.
In addition to this early link with Fidesz, Átlátszó has documents in its possession that prove a connection between Maxin and several important leaders of Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth organization, through a foundation called “Fiatalok a Demokráciáért” (Youth for Democracy). Among the members of the foundation were Bence Rétvári, today undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, and the young Péter Szijjártó, today foreign minister.
444.hu turned to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, wanting to know more about the case. The answer came in the form of a short note signed by Elizabeth Webster, spokeswoman of the embassy: “As is known the US government doesn’t comment on cases still under legal scrutiny. We don’t comment on conjectures concerning intelligence work.” I wonder what Viktor Orbán has in mind because surely the NNI, the police, and the prosecutors couldn’t possibly start criminal proceedings against two individuals, charging them with espionage for the United States, without the approval of Viktor Orbán himself.
If Maxin’s lawyer is correct and the alleged crime was committed in 2008, why did the Orbán government wait until December 2015 to begin criminal proceedings against these two men? If they knew that Butka, Maxin’s alleged accomplice, was involved in espionage work, why did he occupy a high-level position in the prime minister’s office? These are just a few of the many questions that nobody can answer at the moment, but I suspect that this case is in some way payback for the United States’ annoying habit of inquiring about corruption cases that the Hungarian government either ignores or whitewashes.