In the last few days the Hungarian media has again been full of stories about perhaps the largest financial scandal in recent Hungarian history. It was a year and a half ago, on March 9, 2015, that Quaestor, a brokerage firm with close connections to the Orbán government, collapsed, leaving about 30,000 customers high and dry.
I wrote about the Quaestor scandal several times, but as background to today’s post I recommend one article in particular, “A crime in search of a more coherent cover-up.” In this post I described Viktor Orbán’s desperate attempts to explain how certain government offices managed to withdraw billions of forints a day before the collapse of Quaestor. His efforts were less than successful. László Kéri, a political science professor who has known Viktor Orbán and his friends ever since college days, expressed his total disgust that “in three weeks [Viktor Orbán] could only come up with such an infantile, obvious, and slapdash story.” A month later, at the end of April 2015, I wrote another post about Fidesz’s waning popularity and the long shadow of the Quaestor scandal it was unable to escape.
Of course, interest in the Quaestor case eventually died down, especially since Csaba Tarsoly, the CEO of the firm, disappeared from sight, spending an obviously miserable year and a half in a Hungarian jail. He is a former shadow of himself, which speaks mountains about the deplorable conditions in Hungarian jails. Meanwhile some of the 30,000 small investors have been fighting for compensation. Not all of the cases have been settled. And people who had investments of more than 6 million forints ($21,500) are especially unhappy because their compensation will be capped at that figure.
No left-of-center opposition party bothered to keep the issue of possible insider trading alive. Only Jobbik issued a demand, addressed to the government party at the end of September 2015, to provide a list of Fidesz politicians and government officials who may have withdrawn their money from Quaestor in the last few days before the brokerage house’s collapse. Their demand, of course, was not met.
Now that the prosecutor’s office has finished its investigation and the case against Tarsoly and ten others is underway, interest in Quaestor has been reignited. Jobbik’s search for possible Fidesz accomplices inspired N1TV, an internet television station with close connections to Jobbik, to investigate. On October 14 the television hit pay dirt, receiving a list of 333 Quaestor customers who withdrew money on the very day of the firm’s demise. The TV station focused only on individual withdrawals of more than 10 million forints. Names of investors with relatively small withdrawals were withheld; the names of those with withdrawals of greater than 10 million forints were posted online.
György Szilágyi, a Jobbik member of parliament and party spokesman, held an “extraordinary” press conference, during which he said he found one name to be of special interest. On the list a certain Gábor Richárd Bolya, who according to N1TV used to work as a chauffeur in the prosecutor’s office, withdrew 200 million forints from Quaestor on the crucial day, March 9, 2015. As it turned out, Gábor Richárd Bolya left his job at the prosecutor’s office sometime in 2011, but, as Jobbik pointed out, in 2009 when the account was opened, he was still an employee of the prosecutor’s office. Such substantial savings by someone who made his living as a chauffeur is suspicious, especially since not long ago the chauffeur of a Fidesz MP acquired 136 hectares of agricultural lands at a state auction, which naturally ended up in the hands of his boss.
Another questionable item is a 15 million forint withdrawal by Csaba Mátéfalvy, a former water polo champion, whose wife, Gyöngyi Bende, was at one point the communication director of Quaestor. Bende was quite ready to talk to the journalists of N1TV, even offering her opinion on the number of high officials at Quaestor who most likely had knowledge of the company’s impending doom.
N1TV also interviewed the owner of a Kecskemét company that produces roller bearings. She seemed decidedly uncomfortable and annoyed with the questions about her withdrawal.
Today HVG published an article about another person with possible ties to Fidesz–Gergely Béla Telegdy, a young judge in Szeged whose specialty is administrative and labor law. He withdrew a relatively small amount of money, just a little over 3 million forints, but his mother, Irma Haszon, withdrew 33 million. According to Haszon, she and her son announced their intention to withdraw this large amount of money two weeks earlier because of an impending real estate purchase; it took that long to clear the bureaucratic hurdles. This might be a perfectly legitimate explanation, but suspicion will not die easily. Telegdy is known in Szeged as a darling of the present leadership and a favorite of Tünde Handó, head of the National Judiciary Office. Telegdy, while a student, was a HÖK leader in Szeged. The current HÖK chief, the notorious Márk Török, who simply cannot be removed from office although the university’s administrators would dearly love to see him gone, found a strong supporter in Telegdy. These certainly aren’t sufficient reasons to suspect Telegdy, but distrust of the government and anyone favored by it runs deep.
I’m certain that diligent sleuths will study those 333 withdrawals made public by N1TV and soon enough will find more names with ties to either the government or Quaestor management. György Szilágyi already expressed his hope that all withdrawals in the two weeks before the collapse will be made available to get a fuller picture of possible illegal activities. I assume that if N1TV managed to get the transactions from March 9 it should be able to acquire a list of earlier transactions from the same source. If names of highly placed individuals are on these earlier lists, N1TV’s disclosure will not be good news for the Orbán government, which already has enough trouble with Jobbik’s refusal to support the amendments to the constitution unless the government shuts down its large-scale settlement of foreigners who are ready to buy €300,000 worth of government bonds. But more about that tomorrow.