OLIGARCHS COME, OLIGARCHS GO

EU money is not the only thing that comes and goes in Hungary. Oligarchs come and go as well.

A few years ago Zoltán Spéder, a banker who is among the thirty richest men in Hungary, was given the red carpet treatment. Even laws were changed to make his business activities easier. Today a full-scale character assassination is underway against him, and the police have already searched his bank and his media company that is behind the successful, informative online news site Index.

Spéder seems to be the kind of fellow who tries to get along with people in power without paying much attention to ideology. For example, as head of FHB Mortgage Bank he maintained good relations with András Simor, chairman of the Hungarian National Bank at the time, and worked together with Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai. Nonetheless, he is considered to be close to Fidesz, whose leadership he got to know well in the early 1990s when Spéder was still part of the upper management of OTP, Hungary’s largest bank. After 2010 the successful banker, by this time heading FHB Mortgage Bank, was chosen by Viktor Orbán to head a bank in which the state had a majority stake that was intended to compete with OTP. The vehicle for this scheme was the forcible integration of a number of independent credit unions headed by Spéder. The story of “the rape of Takarékbank” can be read in English in Budapest Beacon.

So, a couple of years ago Zoltán Spéder was the darling of the government, the key man in a new state-owned bank that was meant to have a much larger share of the market than any privately-owned commercial bank in the country. Well, this plan has been abandoned, and I wouldn’t be at all be surprised if Spéder were soon in custody.

The business partners

The business partners

First, the new government-financed tabloids, 888 and Ripost, followed by Andy Vajna’s TV2 in the service of the government, began a witch hunt against the man. The second move was a change in the law, taking away Spéder’s special status. Third, NAV, the Hungarian tax office, is investigating Spéder. And finally, yesterday police arrived at the offices of Spéder’s bank and media company and took away computers and other evidence.

The pro-government media’s attacks on individuals and institutions are obviously ordered from above because they move more or less in unison. For example, the very first issue of Árpád Habony’s new free paper Lokál had an article: “Who is this Zoltán Spéder and what does he want with our money?” Ripost published pictures of Spéder in baggy shorts talking with an unidentified man and a well-known businesswoman on a city street, arriving at the absurdly primitive conclusion that Spéder is down and out, a man who has to conduct his business on the street. TV2 did a number on him in the series introduced a week ago “Billionaires in Hiding.” If you recall, George Soros was the first victim. Spéder has the distinction of being number two on the hit list. The “revelations” were mundane: he has a swimming pool, a tennis court, and expensive cars. The program mentioned his “political connections” but wisely remained silent about who the politicians are with whom Spéder is so friendly. “He robs you if he likes you, he robs you if he doesn’t like you because he must always win,” the anchor of the program said.

Character assassination is a specialty of Viktor Orbán. 444 calls it a vendetta. And naturally FHB’s shares plummeted. On Monday it opened at 702 forints. Thursday’s closing print was 540 forints. Since the Hungarian state owns 4.8 million shares in Spéder’s bank, Hungarian taxpayers lost 783 million forints in the last few days thanks to Viktor Orbán’s action against Spéder.

Commentators are trying to find the real reason for the massive, concerted attack on Spéder. There are different hypotheses. (1) Spéder and/or Index offended Viktor Orbán, György Matolcsy, or both. (2) Orbán as early as January was angered by Spéder’s capital raise for FHB via a private placement, which reduced the state’s share in the bank to 40%. The prime minister in one of his radio interviews called it “an unfriendly, not to say, hostile move” that Spéder must rectify. And there are some other theories that are too bizarre for serious consideration.

Until now, commentators have spent little time assessing the role the journalistic activities of Index might have played in Viktor Orbán’s ire against Spéder. On April 28 Index reported that, according to the paper’s sources, TEK, Viktor Orbán’s anti-terrorist force, was sent to Uganda to bring Orbán’s son home “when it turned out that he had joined a Christian group doing charity work in Africa.” A few hours later Index had to retract the story after it turned out that it was not true. Since then the investigative journalist who was responsible for the article left Index and is now employed by Népszabadság. Of course, this wasn’t the only story that appeared in Index that annoyed Orbán and the people around him. The publication in general is sharply critical of the Orbán government’s less than sterling performance and its incredible corruptness.

According to W. Árpád Tóta, my favorite commentator who worked for Index a few years ago, before 2010, that is before Fidesz won the election, Spéder had never interfered with the content of articles that appeared in Index. Sometime after 2010, however, he approached Tóta and tried to convince him to tone down his criticism of Orbán and Co. Tóta immediately left for HVG. But it looks as if Spéder wasn’t aggressive enough in changing the tenor of the paper. In any case, Tóta warns Spéder in an opinion piece titled “Let’s not be friends” that “to have a friendly relation” with the government is totally useless. To be on friendly terms with the government in Hungary means to be friendly with Orbán, but friendship involves a give-and-take relationship. And Orbán is incapable of any relationship that is not based on total subordination. It is worthless, Tóta argues, to court the man in hope of his goodwill. The policy of appeasement doesn’t work with Viktor Orbán, there is no friendship with a tyrannosaurus.

Finally, Tóta gives some advice to the oligarchs who made the mistake of trying to have a friendly pact with Viktor Orbán. “You can find many good places for the money that you have snatched over the years in no small measure thanks to this false friendship.” In brief, hide your money abroad somewhere and keep thinking of how to get rid of Viktor Orbán. I’m afraid in Spéder’s case this option is no longer available.

June 10, 2016
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Guest

London Calling!

There’s no honour among thieves.

webber
Guest

“Since then the investigative journalist who was responsible for the” (false) “article” (about Orban’s son has) “left Index and is now employed by Népszabadság.”

Nepszabadsag, which is now owned by Fidesz….
Connect the dots.

Gabor Toka
Guest

Can you say more about this? A year before gecigate a former MSZP press officer told me that Nepszava can only pay salaries when Simicska chips in, so I can believe anything, but I must have missed some news about Nepszabadsag so far. Though I found rather curious how quiet nol.hu has been about the Speder story – until yesterday they only had a short MTI wire about FHB, and today they posted just a nothing-to-talk-about-here item that is based exclusively on unnamed sources “close to Orban”.

Gabor Toka
Guest

Can you say more about this, Webber? It should be considerable public interest. A year before gecigate a former MSZP press officer told me that Nepszava can only pay salaries when Simicska chips in, so I can believe anything, but I must have missed some news about Nepszabadsag so far. Though I found rather curious how quiet nol.hu has been about the Speder story – until yesterday they only had a short MTI wire about FHB, and today they posted just a nothing-to-talk-about-here story that is based exclusively on unnamed sources “close to Orban”.

webber
Guest

Gábor – Fidesz got into Népszabadság in 2014. On that, read up: http://vs.hu/gazdasag/osszes/oriasi-mediauzlet-magyarorszagon-fideszes-szalak-a-hatterben-0123#!s0

Then follow the story elsewhere, if that’s not enough.

Odd that you didn’t notice earlier. The edge was taken out of stories critical of government in Népszabadság some time ago. They’re clever enough not to make it appear pro-Fidesz – they’d lose all readers if they did – they’re influencing opinion more subtly there.

Népszava is, compared with Népszabadság these days, highly critical of Fidesz. Népszava seems to have weathered its financial problems with an injection of capital from a certain source (also easy to find online if you look), but it could still go under of course.

To make it perfectly clear, what I am suggesting above is that the journalist who planted the false story about Orban’s son did it to smear Index, and got the job at Népszabadság as a reward (and why else would Népszabadság employ a journalist who has published falsehoods about the PM’s son?)

webber
Guest
bidniszz
Guest

I just mention that the 10k teacher demonstration was not on the top page of index.hu. As if it never happened. Even origo.hu wrote about it at a relatively well positioned article.

Joe Simon
Guest

The US has now a presidential candidate, a true Oligarch, a super Jobbik, an XL Jobbik.
The US is an oligarchy according to a recent university study. So an Oligarch for an oligarchy.
It is rather amusing that HS would have a post like this. It is distinctly Eva.
The depth and extent of discussion of public issues in Hungary, for example, is simply unknown in the US. PBS comes a distant second. As long as this is the case, I donot worry about Hungary being an oligarchy, which it is not.

Observer
Guest

What the f…. do we care who else in the world is being also robbed and raped!

Guest

The depth and extent of discussion of public issues in Hungary, for example, is simply unknown in the US.
This really made me laugh – Joe obviously knows nothing about democracies.
Fidesz is robbing Hungary blind – but Joe says “What me worry …”

webber
Guest

Pappp again? Is Joe Simon the new moniker?

Guest

No! Not Papp crap.

Joe has been on here years (at least six!) And predates Papp crap considerably – if it’s him!

Istvan
Guest
Using the term Oligarch to describe Mr. Trump represents a complete lack of understanding of US anti-trust laws. The main statutes are the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. These Acts, first, restrict the formation of cartels and prohibit other collusive practices regarded as being in restraint of trade. Second, they restrict the mergers and acquisitions of organizations that could substantially lessen competition. Third, they prohibit the creation of a monopoly and the abuse of monopoly power. Mr. Trump is very wealthy, but his hotel chain is a relatively moderate sized player in that very competitive industry, even within the luxury end of that industry. Mr Trump also over estimates his own wealth for PR purposes, see http://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2015/06/16/trump-exaggerating-his-net-worth-by-100-in-presidential-bid/#1e411a451a24 Oligarchs as they exist in Russia or Hungary who are granted effective monopoly rights by ruling governments just don’t exist in the USA. We do have extremely rich and powerful people that have enormous political power, but even Trump believes in a competitive capitalist system and is opposed to Central European oligarchs because of their negative impact on competition and innovation within market economies. One of the great appeals of Mr. Trump is that… Read more »
Guest
I’d think Mr. Trump’s attitude towards capitalism could be found in this famous quip which discussed football and attributed to Bill Shankly of Liverpool fame. Shankly was a tremendous ‘competitor’ who would have his teams brook no loss. It showed with his championship victories and quest for great preparation and execution on the playing field. ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that’. He wants to allegedly make ‘America great again’ and it follows that capitalism will be the horse he will ride. As to possible oligarchy the question is how will handle his ‘subordinates’ as POTUS? He is known as a delegator when it comes to his businesses. Can he operate the same way in the execution of government with its internecine politics and incessant lobbying and showering of favors as with his businesses? Mr. Trump is not coming from a background as ‘politician’ as we know it. He is re-writing the rules as he basks in popularity. What can the electorate expect? It may be suggested by a comment made by his son , Donald Trump Jr. Asked if… Read more »
Guest

There is a biography of “The Donald”, its translation into German just appeared and Der SPIEGEL has some excerpts, also the story of how the biographer Michael D’Antonio fell into disgrace with Trump:
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/donald-trump-wie-ein-beleidigter-teenager-a-1096779.html

Depending on how you look at Trump it reads really strange – or totally logical …

Guest

Re: Mr. Trump… strange or logical….

Perhaps a mystery in what we’ll get? After reading a psychological profile’ of the candidate I would agree with the assessment made by the psychologist. We think we know how he will ‘behave’ but as we cannot read the future we just cannot know what’s completely in store.

And just wondering how some in the Magyar electorate feel about that one after perusing events in the last few years. If ‘Fidesz’ say was a shiny karacsony package perhaps some wished in after-thought that they should have re-gifted it.

Observer
Guest

Here we are: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Orbanistan, all post Communist Mafia states (just there’s no oil and gas in Hungary).

NWO
Guest

Habony led full scale assault on media types underway as FIDESZ popularity drops due in part to constant stream of corruption that is leaking out. Not just Speder and Index, see on 888.hu the recent libelous attack on Varga Zoltan, owner of Sonoma media properties including 24.hu and nok lapja. Varga also more associated with Bajnai/Simor types but not crazily political. The goal seems to be a total shutdown of anything even remotely independent.

Guest

Sorry I can’t help it but Viktor is a intelligent and enterprising student of the Putin Iskola of Tycoonry. Probably in answer to the question of why Speder was apparently raking in more than Viktor (and paraphrasing a baseball story from its early days) it didnt’ help that he said he ‘had a better year’ than the PM and by dint should get more. With that every ‘oli’ has seen his day…;-)…Viszontlatas Zoli koszonom szepen!

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