The perils of being an opposition politician in Hungary

I don’t know whether I will be able to make a coherent story out of the mess the Orbán government most likely has purposefully created regarding the report of the European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) on irregularities—fraud and possible corruption—in connection with the construction of Budapest’s fourth metro line (M4). The report covered the period between 2006 and 2015.

Although the Hungarian government received the OLAF report—or its English-language summary, the Hungarian public heard about it only from the English-language news site Politico. It didn’t take long before the Fidesz government and the Fidesz-led City of Budapest, on the one hand, and the politicians of the socialist-liberal government of the pre-2010 period, on the other, were at each other’s throats. The government claimed that practically all the financial wrongdoings were committed before 2010 while the opposition politicians accused the Orbán government of making political hay out of the case while refusing to make the report public. The administration claimed that it has no authority to release OLAF’s findings.

Most likely because of the holiday season at the end of the year, for about a month not much happened. Then, on January 16, János Lázár officially announced that he will file a complaint against Gábor Demszky (SZDSZ), mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010, Csaba Horváth (MSZP), deputy mayor between 2006 and 2009, and János Atkári, a highly respected economist who for many years served as Gábor Demszky’s financial adviser. That announcement started an avalanche of often conflicting articles in the Hungarian media.

A day after Lázár’s announcement, his deputy Nándor Csepreghy gave a detailed press conference dealing with the Metro4 corruption case. The government found MTI’s report of that press conference so important that it was immediately translated into English. We learned from Csepreghy that the Fidesz government had had its own suspicions of fraud surrounding the project even before. The OLAF report only confirmed these suspicions.

Csepreghy disclosed a few relevant facts that might help our understanding of the case. For example, he revealed that the investigators of OLAF conducted interviews with 50 individuals, “including the competent executives and managers” of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV) and the City of Budapest. In addition, Csepreghy named a few companies that had been involved in the construction of the metro line as possible culprits. He also gave the initials of certain individuals heading large public and private companies. Finally, he said that “there are dozens of actors mentioned in the report who were politicians, were associated with the realm of politics, or operated as semi-public actors.” Finally, he told the press that the “government’s legal advisers are currently looking into the possibility of disclosing the OLAF report to the public in its entirety, to which the Government is fully committed.”

Nándor Csepreghy at the press conference / Photo: Tamás Kovács (MTI)

Although the government filed a complaint against Demszky, Horváth, and Atkári, they weren’t among the individuals Csepreghy referred to by their initials. A Magyar Idők editorial found Demszky’s absence from the list especially regrettable. The former mayor will get off scot-free because “according to rumors, his name doesn’t appear to be in the report.” Only the CEOs of large companies will be prosecuted. But what will happen if they reveal “the name of the chief coordinator”? In brief, the journalist responsible for this editorial accuses Gábor Demszky of being the head of a conspiracy to commit fraud.

Meanwhile Hungarian members of the European Parliament decided to look into the question of whether the Hungarian government told the truth when it claimed that it needed the approval of OLAF to release the report and that it was waiting for OLAF’s response to its request. All three opposition MEPs–Csaba Molnár (DK), Benedek Jávor (Párbeszéd), and István Ujhelyi (MSZP)–asked the head of OLAF, Giovanni Kessler, about OLAF’s position. All three claimed that, according to the information they received, it was up to the Hungarian government whether to release the document or not. Since there is a controversy over the meaning of the information received, I will rely on Ujhelyi’s statement, which includes the original English-language letter he received from OLAF. Here is the crucial passage:

In response to your question, since the OLAF final report has now reached its intended recipients, the Office is not in a position to decide on the possible release of the report. Such a decision belongs in the first place to the national authorities to which the report was addressed. It is for these authorities to assess the impact of a possible release of the report and to ensure compliance with the relevant legal obligations on judicial secrecy, data protection and procedural rights, including the right of access to file.

It is hard to fathom why the Orbán government again resorted to lying instead of appealing to the possible legal problems that could stem from the release of the report. Since then, Attila Péterfalvi, president of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, personally asked István Tarlós, who by now has a copy of the document, not to make the OLAF report public. It looks as if Péterfalvi, before making this request, consulted with János Lázár of the Prime Minister’s Office and Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, who are both against the release. Although there might be compelling legal reasons not to allow the publication of the OLAF report, given the reputation of Péter Polt’s prosecutor’s office one cannot help being skeptical about the real reasons for the secrecy.

Over the weekend Gábor Demszky gave an interview to Vasárnapi Hírek in which he detailed his position on the case. Demszky said that, according to the rules of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, OLAF must give anyone mentioned in their investigative reports the opportunity to respond. Since no one contacted Demszky, Horváth or Atkári, it is probably safe to assume that they are not the subjects of the investigation. Even so, the Orbán government filed complaints against them. Demszky also said that because OLAF conducted its investigation between 2012 and 2016, “most of their information came from the offices of the Fidesz government.” OLAF, Demszky added, most likely accepted the information in good faith because its investigators don’t expect these offices to be swayed by political pressure.

I might add that one has to be very careful when assessing the veracity of witness testimony. We know from other politically motivated trials that witnesses often give false testimony. The most infamous was that of Zsolt Balogh, head of BKV. In order to save himself months of pre-trial custody, he invented the story that Miklós Hagyó (MSZP), one of the deputy mayors, demanded 40 million forints, to be delivered in a Nokia box.

The opposition parties are truly worried about the prospect of years of investigation by politically motivated Hungarian prosecutors. Even though in the past most defendants were eventually exonerated, they remained in limbo for years and their careers were ruined. We must also keep in mind that although OLAF has filed scores of such reports on cases involving fraudulent procurement practices, only four guilty verdicts have been handed down in the last almost seven years. Some cases, like that involving Orbán’s son-in-law, were unceremoniously dropped. The prosecutors’ sudden interest in this case indicates to me that they think they can use it to do damage to the opposition, one way or another. Evidence of culpability has never been the litmus test for deciding which cases to pursue.

January 30, 2017
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Guest

The “Orbán versus Demszky et al” circus.

What is being applied here is the old tactic of “When in doubt, attack!”

This is a diversionary tactic that has the immediate advantage of putting the attacked at a serious disadvantage whilst misdirecting the public.

Cool heads, a bunch of very competent lawyers and a goodly hoard of geld are needed to effectively neutralize this tactic.

pappp
Guest

Don’t worry, if MSZP continues to adhere to some of the backroom deals concluded with Fidesz (and remain silent and numb) nothing much will happen to MSZP and its top people.

Well, maybe some old timer MSZPniks will have to be sacrificed, you see, but given the size of the corruption that is to be expected. The people demand that and that demand must satisfied such is the nature of politics. After all Fidesz cannot be expected to take down one of its own, and since MSZP is the loser party it will have to endure that process. But by and large MSZP will keep going on like a good zombie party it is. If however MSZP chooses to become more perky, well, MSZPniks will know what to expect, don’t they.

Obviously Jobbik will greatly benefit since it wasn’t party of these deals. It’s all over the media, it’s getting much more media space than it used to get from which voters will duly conclude that it’s an important party. 2018 is Jobbik’s to lose I am afraid.

Guest

Pappp, your getting on my nerves – and probably many other readers’ too with your constant hints “MSZP is also involved”!
As if this would somehow excuse Fidesz’s lies – whatever is happening right now is totally Fidesz responsibility!

Seems to me you’re still trying to detract …
Why, in god’s name? (that was a try at sarcasm)

pappp
Guest

The expectation from any opposition force is at minimum to be a real opposition. That is to fight, oppose the government, especially a most corrupt and incompetent one like the Fidesz government. Cutting deals with Fidesz is fundamentally contrary to MSZP’s purported reason to exist. In short MSZP is not an opposition party, it is part of the system with a role assigned by Orban.

Ferenc
Guest

You always complain about the opposition, but what did/do YOU do in “fight, oppose the government, especially a most corrupt and incompetent one like the Fidesz government”?

pappp
Guest

Ferenc, please rest assured that I am one of the few who is actually, physically doing something. All I can say at this point is that it’s not easy – just to complain a bit as a real Hungarian should. People (and I mean middle/upper class, independent, otherwise Orban-hating people, not state-employed ones) are scared shitless, most often totally irrationally. It’s almost unbelievable how scared people are. Not that I had illusions but it’s still hard to face this.

pappp
Guest

Wolfi, just today Maria Demeter left MSZP’s parliamentary caucus and quit the party as well citing her suspicion that many in MSZP’s leadership aren’t working for a government change and that MSZP gave up on winning in 2018.

Of course this may or may not be her real conviction (we don’t know much about her real thinking) but it’s interesting that she had this to say. She certainly must have believed that this sounds true or at least plausible to many.

Guest

You may be right re MSZP – but that party is irrelevant anyway imho, the other parties like DK are the real opposition. MSZP should just be ignored as much as possible so it dies a quiet death …

bimbi
Guest

It appears that young Nador Csepreghy is the government’s appointed disseminator of mud (sár – or should that be szar?). His “detailed” press conference turned out not to be “detailed” at all, but rich in unsubstantiated accusations – no surprise there. So the government is up to its usual game of spreading “alternative facts” (read “lies”) about this matter – obviously because they have a lot to hide.
And who is at the head of this Charge of the Virtuous? Why, none other than Janos Lazar himself. It couldn’t be, could it, that the M4 project was Janos’ cosy little “ace in the hole”, like Rogan’s residencies or Vajna’s casinos, could it?
There is still and again some/another thing rotten in the state of Hungary.

bimbi
Guest

According to “New Europe” (whatever that is):
https://www.neweurope.eu/article/deeper-look-e300m-missing-budapest-metro/
“The implications and political backlash could be severe, as according to a second New Europe source that has intimate knowledge of the dossier, someone “very close to Orbán ” may allegedly be involved in the wrongdoing. The source also noted that the amount that was misallocated was in excess of €300m.”

bimbi
Guest

We read:
“It is hard to fathom why the Orbán government again resorted to lying…”
But, Prof. Balogh, you forget one of the founding tenets of the Fidesz faith:
Why tell the truth when a perfectly good lie will do?”

Ferenc
Guest

Do OV/Fidesz and their supporters even understand truth and lies?
It seems that their only ‘true way’ is: stay in power by whatever means necessary.

Guest

Nothing new in the state of Orbanistan …

Alternative truths as usual …

Istvan
Guest
Off topic but a major issue in Hungary and the USA. I am assuming Eva is waiting for Russian President Putin to set foot in Hungary before she posts about his visit on Feb 2. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is campaigning for a lifting of all EU sanctions imposed in 2014 after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Szijjarto said Putin’s planed February 2 trip to Budapest is the “perfect” time for him to visit, saying it would be the first time the United States would not be resisting Hungarian moves to improve relations with the Kremlin. As we know Putin and Trump had a one hour phone call on Saturday. Russian and official comments from the White House vary on whether the lifting of sanctions was discussed. Team Trump says said sanctions did not come up in Saturday’s call between Trump and Putin. Contrary to statements from the White House, the Russians said that the two leaders addressed the importance of “restoring mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between business circles of the two countries.” Theresa May The U.K. PM the day prior to the Trump/Putin phone call met in Washington and May stated very clearly, “We believe… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Certainly going to be interesting in how this all plays out. The AHF as ice skaters in all this are now probably feeling a tad off balance. As for Trump easing sanctions, I’d suggest it makes sense in his world of business and previoys occupational history. He has had to understand ‘crookedness’ to the degree of practicalities. To get the ‘deal’ you’ve got to break some eggs and give some things up. At this point Americans can’t be so sure what our POTUS is willing to ease up on. They’re waiting to see how he ‘handles’ the modern Czar. Just hope he doesn’t get to be a chump on the world’s stage with our apparently ‘friendly-enemy’.

Guest

“The lectures even extend to questions that are truly internal matters, such as the debates among Hungarians regarding their history.”

No country owns its history.

Reality Check
Guest

OT. List of European politicians who support Trump’s MuslimBan.
OV and his co-deplorables.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/the-special-relationships?utm_term=.tkjWqmrmz#.gr0nkB6Bd

Guest

A lovely collection of quasi fascists and Neonazis – O must feel at home amongst them!

Guest

Rather OT, but very interesting – and heart warming in a way!

An article on Trump’s first days by Eliot Asher Cohen, a former counselor in the United States Department of State under Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009.

He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/a-clarifying-moment-in-american-history/514868/
His words in God’s ears …

Thanks to the Budapest Business Journal for bringing this up!

Update:

On the other hand a kind of scary comment with a lot of facts about last days’ activities by Trump, Bannon atec – this made me shudder!
Yesterday was the trial balloon for a coup d’état against the United States. It gave them useful information.
https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/trial-balloon-for-a-coup-e024990891d5#.8iwdlgpix

Ferenc
Guest

Corruption-time again: the story of the son-in-law’s LED company continues.
Full story incl.audio recordings (!) (hungarian): http://www.direkt36.hu/hu/2017/01/31/hangfelvetel-bizonyitja-hogy-a-tiborcz-ceg-mar-akkor-targyalt-egy-projektrol-amikor-meg-ki-sem-irtak-ra-a-palyazatot/
Summary in English: http://www.direkt36.hu/en/2017/01/31/hangfelvetel-bizonyitja-hogy-a-tiborcz-ceg-mar-akkor-targyalt-egy-projektrol-amikor-meg-ki-sem-irtak-ra-a-palyazatot/
Interview with the maker of the recording Hadhazy Akos: http://hirtv.hu/ahirtvhirei/hadhazy-sajat-magat-is-leleplezte-az-ugyeszseg-1383807

My summary the fraud:
-LED company prepares tender (2012.autumn)
-municipality issues tender (2013.March)
-LED company wins (it’s own) tender (2013.Apr)
-value of tender is 85% EU money!!!!
My summary of the aftermath by Hungarian authorities:
-Hadhazy hands over proof (audio recording) (2015?)
-OLAF investigates and sends report to HU authorities
-the Hungarian authorities don’t find any wrong doing and close the case (2016/17)

And now Hadhazy reveals the audio recording (through direct36) to the public and proves that:
a.the tender is not acc.EU rules aka.fraude
b.Hungarian authorities incapable and/or unwilling to do their task

Hope this whole thing will go back to OLAF and they freeze actual funds for Hungary untill the Hungarian authorities come up with results and return payments of the fraud by the culprit(s).

Ferenc
Guest

PS: expect tomorrow OV/Fidesz will come with their story about a much “bigger” case (in order to try to ‘overshadow’ this one)

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