Yesterday 168 Óra unveiled a spectacular corruption case that most likely involves a Fidesz member of parliament, Roland Mengyi. The case is connected to the so-called Social Renewal Operational Program of Hungary (SROP or TÁMOP in Hungarian), which promises “a better future for everyone.” According to EU sources, “it is a great project of the New Hungary Development Plan. … The overall objective is to create social, economic and regional cohesion and promote permanent growth, increasing labour market participation.” Programs like SROP/TÁMOP are the breeding grounds for corruption. Billions of forints are stolen from these funds, which are earmarked to help the poorest strata of Hungarian society, including the Roma minority.
Attila Rajnai, who is considered to be the most competent investigative journalist in Hungary, got hold of transcripts of telephone conversations recorded by the National Tax and Customs Administration (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal/NAV) among five individuals, two of whom are already in custody.
The story began in early 2015 when a couple of men, Zsolt E. and Tibor B. of Tiszaújváros, wondered whether it would be possible to receive some money for the development of a network of “social cooperatives,” which are designed to offer work opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and to improve their social status. Earlier they tried to get money for their project, to no avail. This time they turned to a certain Péter K., who was a good friend of Roland Mengyi, the district’s Fidesz member of parliament. A meeting with Mengyi in Budapest was subsequently arranged. Mengyi, who arrived at the meeting with another person, told the two fellows from Tiszaújváros that there is still a lot of EU money available, and if it is not spent it has to be sent back to Brussels. So, the time is opportune for their project. During the meeting Mengyi and his companion kept talking about the necessity of “discussing the matter with L,” who might have been János Lázár. They agreed that Péter K. will be the liaison between Mengyi and the applicants.
This first meeting was followed by another where Mengyi arrived with Szilvia B., a professional writer of tender applications from Public Sector Consulting Kft. During this second meeting Mengyi told them that he had “talked to the big man.” The deal would be that the recipients would have to give back 50% of the money awarded. The applicants received this news with some dismay. Yet they decided to proceed and work on their tender application to meet the December 31, 2015 deadline. To make a long story short, by the end the project was whittled down from 200 cooperatives to 20, and instead of 50% of the total they would have to give back 90%.
But that was not all. Sometime in July 2015 Roland Mengyi demanded 5 million forints in cash even before the tender application was completed. The Fidesz MP called this bribe “constitutional expenses.” The two applicants had to borrow the five million. They were then confronted by another demand by Mengyi for an additional 5 million once the money is received. All of these matters were discussed in person between the Fidesz MP and the applicants.
Before any grant could be approved NAV’s investigators, who by then were hard at work on the case, informed Zoltán Balog, whose ministry was in charge of the TÁMOP grants, about the results of their investigation. The ministry at this point changed the terms of the tender, thereby disqualifying the men’s application.
At the end of 2015 five individuals were arrested: Zsolt E., Tibor B., Péter K., Szilvia B., and Márta F., the accountant who was in charge of putting together the details on the cooperatives of the future. Only Szilvia B. and Péter K. are in custody. The others were allowed to remain free while awaiting trial. The person who, it seems, hasn’t been charged is Roland Mengyi. He is not even a suspect. I should add that among the telephone conversations there are several in which János Lázár, Nándor Csepreghy, his deputy, and András Tállai, head of NAV, are mentioned as people who can have some influence on the fate of the application in question.
Roland Mengyi’s glaring absence from the list of the accused has naturally raised suspicions that, just as in so many other cases, the real culprit will get off scot free. On the other hand, Mengyi hired Barnabás Futó as his attorney. Futó usually shows up when Fidesz thinks the case is a difficult one, with possibly very serious consequences. And Futó usually delivers.
Mengyi denies any wrong doing and casts himself as the victim of criminals who want to blacken his name. But I don’t know how he will be able to deny several personal meetings with at least four of the individuals involved, two of whom are already in custody. Fidesz stands by Mengyi, but interestingly when Index approached the prime minister’s office for comments they received an odd statement on the case: “We have learned from the mistakes of the former system: we can’t allow it to happen that certain funds don’t reach those in need, or that certain interest groups profiteer from the system, or that certain con men ‘sell’ their nonexistent influence without any consequences.”
As for Roland Mengyi, whom our men from Tiszaújváros kept calling Lord Voldemort, we will return to him and his political career later.