On January 12 The Wall Street Journal reported that, after a two-year investigation, the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is recommending legal proceedings over “serious irregularities” found in a company that was co-owned by the son-in-law of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, between 2011 and 2015.
I have been following the rising fortunes of István Tiborcz, the 32-year-old millionaire businessman who married Orbán’s eldest child, Ráhel. A couple of journalists began investigating Tiborcz’s business dealings in the summer of 2014 after Ráhel Orbán boasted on Facebook that she and her husband don’t need her father’s assistance in paying her lofty tuition fees in Switzerland because they “stand on their own two feet” financially. It was this comment that inspired András Becker and Babett Oroszi, two investigative journalists from Átlátszó, to look into Tiborcz’s business affairs. After a few months of hard work they produced a thorough article, published shortly before Christmas 2014. On the same day I wrote a post titled “How do European Union funds end up in the hands of the Orbán family?” The two journalists found that Tiborcz’s firm, Elios Innovatív Zrt., bid and won, more often than not without any competition, 2.9 billion forints worth of government contracts, mostly financed by the European Union. In addition to serious irregularities in the bidding process, OLAF also found “evidence of conflict of interest.” As we have known since 2014, Endre Hamar, a business partner of István Tiborcz, was the owner of a company that “helped municipalities prepare the tender process.”
That article was so hard hitting and so thoroughly researched that in February 2015 Csaba Molnár, DK member of the European Parliament, turned to OLAF in connection with the shady business affairs of István Tiborcz. By March even the Hungarian police had begun investigating Elios’s business transactions. The Orbán family council must have realized that the situation was serious and that the best thing was to get rid of Elios as quickly as possible. By May 2015 Tiborcz “sold” his company to one of his father-in-law’s oligarchs. In July Csaba Molnár announced that OLAF had found the information he provided sufficient grounds for investigation. In fact, as it turned out, the irregularities were so serious that OLAF is suggesting the return of €40 million to the European Union, money that it claims was illegally obtained.
The Wall Street Journal noted that these “allegations could prove embarrassing for Mr. Orbán, an outspoken critic of the EU in recent years.” Indeed, every effort is being made in the pro-government media to minimize the significance of OLAF’s findings regarding the possible misappropriation of funds by Tiborcz’s company. Magyar Idők published an editorial shortly after the appearance of The Wall Street Journal article that tried to give the impression that there is a direct connection between the forthcoming national election and OLAF’s suggestion of an investigation by the appropriate Hungarian authorities into Elios’s business affairs.
The best that Zoltán Kovács, the communication wizard, could come up with was that “it has been possible ever since 2004 to use EU resources for the development of public lighting.” Moreover, he continued, “the objects of the OLAF investigation are tenders that were initiated during the tenure of the Bajnai government.” In brief, it was Viktor Orbán’s predecessor who was responsible for the current prime minister’s son-in-law’s allegedly fraudulent business practices by offering an opportunity to develop public lighting in Hungarian cities. Gordon Bajnai couldn’t resist and wrote the following comment on his Facebook page: “Perhaps we should have been more careful and indicated on the application forms that applicants are obliged to follow the seventh and government spokesmen the eighth of the Ten Commandments. Of course, we thought that it is enough if it is in the Bible.” In case some of you need a refresher course, the seventh commandment says “Thou shalt not steal” and the eighth, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
As for the alleged connection between the forthcoming election and the OLAF investigation, the Hungarian government seems to be exceedingly well-informed about all the alleged recent decisions and moves of OLAF. Magyar Idők claims that in the last few months OLAF rushed to complete the work on this particular case. They were in such a hurry that “they neglected to ask for the comments of the concerned party.” In brief, the announcement was timed to coincide with the start of the election campaign. OLAF is giving the opposition an opportunity to use the case against Fidesz and the Orbán government.
Ottó Gajdics, editor of Magyar Idők and a particularly distasteful character on the far-right Echo TV, took upon himself the task of writing an opinion piece on the OLAF investigation. In his interpretation, the real culprit in this affair is the opposition. “They pounced on the object of their hatred” and “in their usual sly ways, they entrusted their foreign agents” to do the dirty work. But, he continued, one ought not to be terribly worried about this whole affair. It will take months for the prosecutor’s office to investigate the case. It is “in our interest not to allow anyone to take advantage of these investigations in this base political game.” Indeed, I am sure that Mr. Gajdics is right. The prosecutor’s office, a veritable Fidesz bastion led by Péter Polt, will do its utmost to see that nothing comes of the investigation. Viktor Orbán and his son-in-law have nothing to fear.