Tag Archives: Antal Rogán

Gábor Vona and Viktor Orbán: Who will win this political game?

At the end of yesterday’s post I indicated that Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, had just announced his party’s refusal to support the government party’s quest for another round of amendments to the constitution that would introduce a number of changes related to the settlement of foreigners in Hungary. Earlier I wrote an analysis of the notion of constitutional identity, which is the linchpin of the otherwise meaningless constitutional amendments, and published an English translation of the amendments themselves.

The government considers these amendments vital to Viktor Orbán’s impending battle with Brussels over a possibly mandatory distribution of refugees. But changing the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which Fidesz-KDNP currently doesn’t have. The government party had been counting on the support of Jobbik, the only opposition party that was wholeheartedly behind the amendments. In fact, it was Jobbik that, from the beginning, championed for constitutional amendments instead of a referendum. Fidesz, however, rejected the proposal and embarked on an expensive, divisive referendum that in the end turned out to be invalid.

What followed was a typical Viktor Orbán move: regardless of the failure of his referendum he decided to go ahead with the amendments to the constitution. But there was a rub. Jobbik demanded a price for its members’ votes, which Gábor Vona set forth early in the game.

For starters, Vona said that he wanted to meet with the prime minister in private. In the last six years, however, it has never happened that the ruler of Hungary sat down alone with an opposition leader. Granting such a privilege to Vona was too demeaning, so Orbán organized a series of “consultations,” starting with Zsolt Semjén of the Christian Democratic Party and his own deputy, which everybody thought was a joke. Then he sent a message to Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, who foolishly accepted the invitation, which he kept secret from the rest of the leading politicians of his party. Once the meeting became known, Molnár tried to explain himself away by saying that the consultation was not about the amendments but about the summit that is taking place at this very moment in Brussels. Since when does Viktor Orbán have consultations with opposition party chiefs about summits?

The long-awaited meeting between Vona and Orbán took place on October 18. In the days leading up to the meeting, Jobbik spokesmen repeatedly indicated that the party would support Orbán and that the Jobbik delegation would cast its votes with Fidesz-KDNP, guaranteeing an easy passage of the amendments. After all, this is what they wanted all along. Yes, but Jobbik was in a perfect position to demand something in exchange for its support of the government party. Vona’s demand was that the government cease selling residency bonds to wealthy Chinese, Russian, and Arab businessmen.

The residency bond sale, which I described as a “colossal swindle,” is the brainchild of Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán. Habony is safely deposited in London. Rogán, on the other hand, has been under incredible pressure, mostly because of Népszabadság’s revelations about his most likely ill-gotten wealth. The residency bond scheme has been severely criticized not only by the opposition but by some higher-up Fidesz leaders as well. In fact, in the last few weeks there were indications that the scheme would be modified. But I very much doubt that Orbán had the total cessation of the program in mind. And this is what Vona demands. If poor immigrants can’t settle in Hungary, rich ones shouldn’t be able to either.

The outcry against the Jobbik demand was not restricted to the government party. Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, also condemned it in almost identical words. Bence Tuzson, one of the many spokesmen of the prime minister’s office, called it “kufárkodás” (profiteering) while Molnár considered it “seftelés” (conducting business in a dishonorable way). The two words are practically synonymous. For good measure Molnár added that Vona’s behavior is “political prostitution” pure and simple.

I am amazed at these reactions. In the world of politics this kind of give and take is perfectly normal. If Viktor Orbán needs the help of Gábor Vona’s party, it is natural that Jobbik will want something in return. After the meeting, Vona talked to the press and announced that Viktor Orbán had rejected his proposal, but a few minutes later Orbán sent a message via Tuzson saying that “he will consider the request of Vona.”

The Hungarian media started speculating about whether Orbán would meet Vona’s demands. Szabolcs Dull of Index simply could not imagine that it will be Viktor Orbán who has to knuckle under. After all, Orbán has convinced the Hungarian public that he is always the one who comes out on top. He is always the winner. In fact, Dull suggested, Orbán wants to get rid of the troublesome residency bonds anyway, and therefore he will readily concede to Vona’s demands. In fact, “he will kill two birds with one stone: he will be able to restructure the residency bond scheme and will receive Jobbik’s endorsement.”

Dull’s theory collapsed less than ten hours later when the government indicated that it has no intention of scrapping the residency bond program. Yesterday, around noon, Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz caucus, announced that in their opinion the two issues, the bonds and the settlement of foreigners, have nothing to do with one another and suggested that Fidesz isn’t counting on the votes of Jobbik. They hope to get the necessary two votes from the “independent” members of parliament. Who these “independent” members would be is not entirely clear, but some Fidesz politicians indicated that they think a few “patriotic” Jobbik members could be found who would turn against Vona. By this afternoon most Hungarian journalists were convinced that Fidesz will put the amendments to a vote on November 8 even if they are not assured of Jobbik’s support.

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán's briefcase in Maastricht, October 20, 2016

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán’s briefcase in Maastricht today

In trying to win concessions from Orbán, did Vona sow the seeds of his own destruction? Today Magyar Nemzet speculated about why a Fidesz defeat would actually be good for Fidesz and bad for Jobbik. If the amendments are not passed and if Brussels insists on compulsory quotas, Fidesz can blame Jobbik.

Tamás Fábián of Index found this hypothesis compelling, adding that from information he received from people close to Orbán, “Brussels cannot be stopped and within months the compulsory quotas will be forthcoming.” If that is the case, “Jobbik politicians will never be able to get rid of the label of being traitors,” which Lajos Kósa already pinned on them. Fábián is convinced that Vona made a fatal mistake by presenting Orbán with an ultimatum. “He started on a narrow path and will suffer heavy blows along the way.”

Fábián also predicted that the sale of residency bonds will be continued, even if with some adjustments. Although in the last few days Fidesz spokesmen did talk about fundamental changes, two weeks ago Orbán called the program “a successful construction.”

I might add that despite all the dirt that was unearthed about Antal Rogán, he seems to have nothing to fear. Orbán will not let him go. I was astonished to see Rogán in Brussels, walking right behind Orbán. Since when do propaganda ministers go to summits in Brussels? I guess the government is sending a message that he is still under the protection of the prime minister.

October 20, 2016

Viktor Orbán shut down Hungary’s leading opposition paper

By now the whole world knows that Hungary’s leading daily newspaper, Népszabadság, is no more. Although the Budapest correspondents of Reuters and the Associated Press pointed out that the newspaper has lost $18.4 million since 2007, don’t allow yourselves to be fooled. Mediaworks, which owns Népszabadság, makes plenty of money on its other publications, including several profitable regional papers and the popular Nemzeti Sport.

Fidesz may say that it considers “the suspension [of Népszabadság] a rational economic decision,” but ceasing publication altogether is not considered to be an economically sound choice for solving the financial woes of a business venture. Reorganization, restructuring, reducing the size of the workforce–these are some of the most often used instruments to salvage a company. Suspending publication, by contrast, can be a costly affair. There are most likely contracts in force to print the paper for the next few months, and what about the 30,000 some subscribers who will not receive their daily paper on Monday? No, closing the doors of Népszabadság has nothing to do with economics. It is a sordid political maneuver executed by the far-right, dictatorial leader of a country that can no longer be called a democracy.

The hypocritical prime minister wants us believe that “it would be a violation of the freedom of the press if [Fidesz] would intervene in the affairs of the owner of the media,” but it is almost certain that this sudden move was orchestrated by Viktor Orbán himself. Just as we learned only recently that he had been the one who handed down the order to investigate Ökotárs, the civic group responsible for the dispersion of the Norway Funds, two years ago. He lied then as he does now. At the time of the raid on Ökotárs, he was asked whether he played any role in that shameful affair. He denied it, adding that if he had done so, it would have been a crime. Now we have the proof. We know that the prime minister of Hungary, by his own admission, committed a crime in 2014. And I suspect that he did so again while working to eliminate a paper that must have nettled him, especially lately. I wonder what his next step will be in his quest to destroy all independent media outlets. He has been at it for some time, but earlier he didn’t use such heavy-handed and so openly dictatorial methods. By now, it seems, he no longer cares about even the semblance of legality and media freedom.

Darkness, Thomas Toft / flickr

Darkness, Thomas Toft / flickr

In the last few months rumors were flying that the government was trying to buy, through some middleman, Mediaworks, currently owned by Vienna Capital Partners, a private equity firm. In June 2016 Népszava, the oldest Hungarian socialist newspaper, learned that Heinrich Pecina, the majority owner, asked for a meeting with Viktor Orbán. Interestingly, the Hungarian prime minister had no compunctions about negotiating with the owner of Népszabadság concerning the possible sale of the paper. Népszava at that point believed that the “buyer” would be the mysterious “adviser” of Viktor Orbán, Árpád Habony, who is most likely Orbán’s “stróman,” as a front man is called in Hungarian. Others suspected Lőrinc Mészáros, who is usually described as the ultimate “stróman,” the alter ego of the prime minister whose newly acquired fabulous wealth is only partly his. The employees of Népszabadság were living under the constant threat that they would end up in the street and be replaced by a new pro-government owner, just as happened to Magyar Hírlap in 2004 when Ringier, an international media group with headquarters in Switzerland, sold the paper to Gábor Széles, a billionaire with far-right political views.

The journalists working for the paper might have had their forebodings, but I’m sure they never dreamed of such an abrupt and barbarous end to their paper. The question is what made Orbán set aside all niceties and finesse and show his true ruthless self. It seems that the straw that broke the camel’s back was a recent series of investigative articles that appeared in the paper about Hungarian National Bank Chairman György Matolcsy and Antal Rogán, the propaganda minister.

The paper reported that Matolcsy’s lover, while working for the bank, received an inordinately high salary. And once she left the bank, Matolcsy placed her in lucrative positions at some of the bank’s foundations, which serve as conduits to transform the “profits” of Hungary’s central bank from public to private funds.

As it turned out, that was not the end of the Matolcsy story. Since Matolcsy is in the middle of divorcing his wife, he needed an apartment. Soon enough he found just the right one. A lovely, very expensive apartment in the Castle District of Buda. The only problem is that the apartment belongs to the president of the Hungarian branch of Unicredit, Mihály Patai, who is currently the chairman of the Banking Association. Considering that György Matolcsy is heading the very institution that has a supervisory function over the Hungarian banking system, this whole arrangement is highly unethical and suggests a conflict of interest. Népszabadság had begun to investigate possible favors extended by the central bank to Unicredit.

That was bad enough, but then came another story, this time about Antal Rogán, whose extravagant lifestyle and questionable financial dealings have been the talk of the town for a long time. Népszabadság learned that Rogán, his wife, and one of their sons traveled in princely fashion to a wedding. They used a helicopter. Well, I guess nothing is wrong about traveling by helicopter to a wedding if you have enough money, but the story was not so simple. First, Rogán denied the whole thing–until he was confronted with a photo showing him heading toward the helicopter. At this point he switched his story and talked about a kind friend who generously gave him a ride back from the wedding. A day later it turned out that he had used the helicopter both to go to and to return from the wedding. Lies, lies, lies.

Well, these two or three embarrassing stories about people who are perhaps the closest associates of Viktor Orbán were too much for the mafia boss. He gave the order: shut them down! After all, he had no idea what else those two or three journalists who had worked on the stories know. And what paper that wants to live another day will hire them to continue their work? Shutting down Népszabadság doesn’t merely have a chilling effect; it puts Hungarian investigative journalism into a deep freeze.

Viktor Orbán is a vengeful, vindictive, malevolent man who doesn’t forget and who is ready to pursue his victims until they are utterly destroyed. There is no mercy once he decides that somebody is an enemy. At the top of his enemy list are Gábor Iványi, the kind minister of the Hungarian Methodists; Ibolya Dávid, whom he blames for his lost election in 2006; and Ferenc Gyurcsány, who had the temerity to win a television debate against him. And then there are the other lesser-known victims who at one time or the other stood in his way: they often languish in jail for months or years on trumped-up charges. One could go on and on.

Finally, let me quote a bitter Facebook note by Mária Vásárhely, a media expert: “Thank you, European Union. It matters not how painful it is, but it must be said that without you Hungary wouldn’t have ended up where it is now. If you didn’t finance the building and functioning of Orbán’s dictatorship, the whole edifice would have crumbled already. It doesn’t matter how painful it is to point out, but the destruction of Népszabadság, one of the last bastions of press freedom, was purchased with the immense amount of money you have poured into the country and which is now being used by the criminal oligarchs of a criminal state.”

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this bitter note.

October 8, 2016

Back in business: the Orbán government is after its opponents

After the summer doldrums Hungarian politics is back in attack mode. In the last couple of days we witnessed two highly disturbing events. The first was the frisking of Ákos Hadházy, LMP’s new co-chairman and a member of parliament, by watchful policemen in Viktor Orbán’s private domain of Felcsút. The second was the crude, but potentially damaging, attempt by people most likely close to government circles to discredit Péter Juhász, co-chair of Együtt (Together), who is one of the most effective political activists in the anti-Fidesz camp.

Frisking in Felcsút

Felcsút is under the watchful eyes of the Hungarian police day and night. They make sure that no stranger loiters anywhere near Viktor Orbán’s precious football stadium. Especially suspect are people who are critical of the regime. As are camera crews. In the past, the police would retreat if confronted (I assume quite forcefully) with the argument that they have no right to interfere because the area is public property. At least this was the case about a year ago when Ferenc Gyurcsány managed to film a ten-minute video on life in Felcsút.

Ákos Hadházy was not so lucky when he appeared in Felcsút in the company of the TV crew of the German RTL2. They wanted to take some pictures of the stadium and the infamous choo-choo train which keeps going back and forth on its 5 km track, usually totally empty. They were stopped and, most likely illegally, frisked, and their car was also thoroughly searched. Apparently, a “helpful” neighbor of Viktor Orbán, who has a weekend house in Felcsút, called the police on them, claiming that they wanted to enter Orbán’s house, which was obviously a lie.

Hadházy on his Facebook page described what happened. “I was just smiling, but the Germans were downright shocked.” After their thorough search Hadházy was informed that the reason for this highly unusual procedure is that the country is under a state of “increased preparedness” (fokozott készültség). A brief video taken on Hadházy’s phone can be seen on YouTube.

When Index inquired about this claim from ORFK (Országos Rendőrfőkapitányság), they were told that the police chief of the country had ordered “increased control” (fokozott ellenőrzés) for the whole country between July 1 and September 30, 2016, which allows policemen to stop anyone or any vehicle and do a thorough search. The police didn’t explain the reason for introducing such a measure between these particular dates. I suspect that this incident has nothing whatsoever to do with the “increased control” measures but rather is part and parcel of the harassment of anyone who tries to call attention to the corruption of Viktor Orbán and his family, especially in and around Felcsút.

hadhazy

Today Orbán was accosted by journalists on his way to the yearly Fidesz picnic in Kötcse and asked about the incident. Orbán said that the police “must have had their reasons.” There are rules and regulations that everyone must obey. János Halász, the Fidesz spokesman, went further. He doubted Hadházy’s veracity because “in the past he has come up with so much nonsense that we are handling this case cautiously.” The “nonsense” Halász referred to is Hadházy’s heroic effort to uncover corruption cases related to EU subsidies.

Fidesz media comes to the rescue of Antal Rogán

This is not a pretty story either. Tamás Portik, who is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence for murder and other criminal activities, testified against Antal Rogán in the case Rogán bought against Péter Juhász, co-chair of Együtt. Juhász called him a criminal  and said that, as mayor, he had embezzled a great deal of money through his sales of property in the ritzy District V of downtown Pest. Portik claimed that at one point he was asked to deliver 10 million forints worth of euros from one of Rogán’s “customers” to the mayor. I covered the story in great detail back in June. Since then the Hungarian prosecutor’s office has declined to investigate the authenticity of Portik’s testimony. But, for one reason or another, Rogán and the people around him still don’t feel safe and so decided to go after Juhász.

On September 7 Pesti Srácok, a far-right Fidesz and government supported internet site, came out with a story that Portik’s girlfriend, Erika A. E., “handles his money” in Hungary, some of which is used to support an unnamed but well-known opposition politician. The claim is that some of Portik’s money, about €22-23 million of which is in Switzerland, is managed by his 20-year-old son. It is used to finance opposition parties.

According to Pesti Srácok, Portik’s money is funneled through a “foundation,” which recently received 80 million forints for the support of the politician. The person Pesti Srácok was obviously referring to, even if not by name, is Péter Juhász, who a few months ago asked the public for financial help because on his meager salary as district council member he cannot provide for his family of four.

Once the Pesti Srácok story was out, revelation followed revelation in the right-wing media. Válasz, another Fidesz mouthpiece, revealed that Juhász was the politician in question. A few hours later Attila Menyhárt, a former cellmate of Portik, showed up at Andy Vajna’s by now notorious TV2 studio. He recalled that Portik had proudly told him that he is able to influence politics even from inside his cell. He said that Péter Juhász was “Portik’s man, and that means a lot. He is the one who tells Juhász what to say, what to do, and what kinds of statements to make in public. Portik considers Juhász his puppet.” Portik would like to see the current government overthrown, which he believes will result in his freedom.

Naturally, Fidesz decided to pursue this juicy story. Moreover, as if the story weren’t damning enough on its face, it kept getting embellished. By the time it got to István Hollik, a member of the KDNP parliamentary delegation who was assigned to the case, the claim was that Juhász had admitted that he had accepted money from Portik.

How did this story gain traction? According to Juhász, Erika A. E., whom he didn’t know at that point, phoned him and offered him a picture on which Portik and Rogán can be seen together at some kind of gala gathering. The picture was evidence that the two men knew each other, or at least had met. When Erika delivered the photo, she asked whether Juhász would be good enough to collect some articles about the Rogán-Juhász trial for her from the internet because she is not too familiar with the ins and outs of the internet. She would like to give them to Portik, whom she visits frequently. Juhász obliged, collected the material, and was seen giving an envelope to Erika.

Juhász’s friendly gesture was a potentially costly mistake. We can expect a lengthy, ugly case that will track down the financial sources of the “foundation” and try to uncover the contents of the envelope. Rogán and his friends might have gotten hold of a story, however flimsy, that will ruin Juhász’s reputation.

September 10, 2016

The Orbán government’s colossal swindle: the residency bonds

It’s time to return to one of the largest scams the Orbán government has come up with to date: the sale of “residency bonds.” The project was launched in 2013. It allowed a citizen of a non-European Union country to “buy” a resident permit for a duration of five years by purchasing €250,000 worth of Hungarian government bonds. In 2015 that amount was raised to €300,000.

Many countries, including the United States, offer residency permits to foreigners willing to invest substantial amounts of money. Such an arrangement might be justified on such economic grounds as job creation and an incentive for the influx of foreign capital.

The Hungarian scheme bears no resemblance to the practices of other countries. The sale of residency bonds creates “instant cash” that is spent as soon as it is received and that will have to be paid back, together with the accrued interest, in five years. The sale of 3,874 residency bonds over the last two and a half years has brought at best a minimal benefit to the national economy, at worst a loss. That Hungary has sold so many residency bonds is understandable because this is about the cheapest way for a person to become a lawful resident of one of the member states of the European Union, and hence to be able to conduct business anywhere in the EU.

Hungarian residency bond purchases have another unusual feature. The prospective buyers of the bonds do not manage the transaction directly by dealing with the Hungarian administration. Their only contact is an agent designated by the government. And on paper at least these agents seem to be the only real financial beneficiaries of the sale of the bonds. For every bond package they sell they receive between €45,000 and €60,000 as a processing fee, charged to the purchaser. The other peculiarity of this transaction is that agents don’t pass on the full €300,000 to the Államadósság Kezelő Központ (Center for the Management of Government Debt) because they receive the bonds from the government at a discount of no less than 2%. So between the processing fee they charge and the discount they receive, agents get between €74,000 and €80,000 per bond package. As Népszabadság rightly pointed out, after five years the purchaser of the bonds will gain about as much on the deal as the agent does within a few weeks.

The whole scheme smacks of corruption. Most likely the people who were chosen to be agents were ready to share these incredible sums of money with members of the Hungarian government or Fidesz party leaders. Currently there are four such agents, of whom only one is registered in Budapest. The others operate out of Malta, Cyprus, and Singapore.

Source: Index

Source: Index

Also on the receiving end is a Budapest law firm which, according to Tamás Wiedemann of Magyar Nemzet, must have made almost five billion forints in the last three years. Heading the firm is Kristóf Kosik, who is a close acquaintance of Antal Rogán, who as the chairman of the parliamentary committee on the economy is the mastermind behind the whole scheme. Kosik’s law firm is the only one that can represent the foreign applicants at the Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal (Office of Immigration and Citizenship). The Kosik Ügyvédi Iroda receives €5,000 per application. Since 3,784 applications have been approved since 2013, Kosik’s law firm must have earned €18,920,000 in three years from this little business.

Népszabadság also calculated the amount of money the Hungarian government is losing on these residency bonds. The economists who looked at the numbers came up with the figure of €17.4 million to date. The reason for the loss is that in 2013 the government fixed the interest rate they would pay on the bonds at 2.46%. In the beginning the Hungarian government did okay because the interest rate in the open market was almost 5%. So they were getting cheap instant cash. But by June 2014 the interest rate on euro bonds had dropped to under 2.4%, which was lower than the guaranteed rate on the residency bonds. By now the interest rate in the open market is around 0.5%, while the Hungarian government is still paying the rate fixed in 2013.

While the Hungarian government just declared a “total mobilization” in preparation for a referendum against the refugees and has been carrying out a massive campaign against outsiders, it has quietly allowed 3,784 individuals and their families to settle in Hungary. That may mean close to 16,000 individuals, who come mostly from China, Russia, and the rich Middle Eastern countries. Vetting these individuals is extremely superficial. An applicant makes an appearance before one of the agents and gives details about himself and his past activities. On the basis of this information the Hungarian authorities have 30 days to conduct an investigation. Once that is done, the happy new resident and family can settle in Hungary and travel and conduct business throughout the European Union.

As the result, it is likely that some unsavory characters have managed to settle in the European Union through the Hungarian residency program. The same Tamás Wiedemann who found out about the monopoly Kristóf Kosik’s law firm has on handling applications at the Office of Immigration also learned of at least one Russian, who had been convicted of tax fraud and was most likely a fugitive from justice, who easily managed to get permission to settle in Hungary. It was done in the following manner. Each applicant must produce an “erkölcsi bizonyítvány” (certificate of good conduct). But the Office of Immigration accepts the certificate of good conduct even if it comes from a third country. Thus the Russian fugitive from justice first went to Saint Kitts and Nevis, where he obtained the necessary document attesting to his good conduct and stating that he had had no run-in with the law.

Naturally, the government’s reaction was denial. Csaba Dömötör, undersecretary in Antal Rogán’s Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister or, as people on the street call it, the propaganda ministry, announced that the article “is based on frivolous suppositions and calumnies.” He added that it is difficult to take the story seriously because Wiedemann didn’t give the name of the individual. Magyar Nemzet’s journalist pointed out in an interview on ATV yesterday that he is forbidden by law to reveal the name of the individual, and he would also have transgressed the law on securities if he had given details.

Rogán’s propaganda ministry might be cocky but Mihály Varga, minister of the national economy, was much more cautious and told ATV that perhaps the law governing the rules of residency requirements can be changed “if necessary.”

September 7, 2016

 

Another Fidesz scandal: Hunguard and Antal Rogán, the inventor

Scandal after scandal in Fidesz circles. Following on the heels of the revelations about the alleged bribery case involving Roland Mengyi, here is a new one. This time a much more important person is being implicated: the #3 man in the Fidesz hierarchy, Antal Rogán. The propaganda minister’s “financial affairs” are far too numerous and, although he is currently being shielded by his benefactor and boss, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt, I wonder how long he can remain in his post without inflicting serious political damage on the Orbán government.

I have often complained about the incomprehensibility of Hungarian investigative journalism when the case under scrutiny has something to do with business. This latest scandal, Antal Rogán’s involvement with Hunguard, is a case in point. Admittedly, the corporate structures some Hungarian entrepreneurs come up with are byzantine by design.

Hunguard Kft., an information technology company, is not new. It was established in 1990 by four mathematicians. It was in the news a lot during the summer of 2014 in connection with the infamous utility rate reduction program. In conjunction with this program, the invoices of every utility company had to be audited by a professional auditor to ascertain that the bills the customers received were calculated accurately. That requirement was suspect from the first, but further amendments raised the suspicion that certain people in the government wanted to guarantee that only Hunguard Kft. could have the job. For some bizarre reason the company entrusted with this task had to have national security clearance. Behold, among the three or four companies that could have been in contention for the contract only Hunguard had the requisite clearance.

A year later Népszabadság reported that Hunguard most likely did exceedingly well with its auditing of 67 different utility companies with an estimated combined earnings of one billion forints. Interestingly enough, all the utility companies passed with flying colors, which only strengthened the suspicion that the audit was superfluous in the first place. It was also more than suspicious that while in the original bill auditors had to rotate yearly, Szilárd Németh, the politician in charge of the propaganda campaign, took this provision out of the final version of the bill.

So, from the very beginning it was clear that Hunguard’s fortunes were closely tied to certain leading members of Fidesz. They even included János Lázár, who when one of Hunguard’s competitors managed to get national security clearance eliminated that particular requirement and introduced something called “telephely-biztonsági engedély,” which I believe is a permit the company gives to those who can safely enter its premises. This was a simple solution to keep Hunguard as the only auditor of state utility companies. They would give permission to Hunguard, not to its competitors. Easy.

This was all we knew about Hunguard Kft. until yesterday when Népszabadság, after doing some further research, returned to the topic. Their research led them to Cyprus where, after paying a fee, they received details about the business activities of Hunguard. And here things become complicated, but I will cut to the chase. The owners of Hunguard Kft. wanted to be certain that their ownership was well hidden, so they engaged the services of the Kinanis Fiduciaries Ltd. in Malta, described by a Hungarian lawyer specializing in international business activities as a well-known “bizalmi vagyonkezelő” or a kind of trustee who for a certain fee becomes the owner of the company on paper. Behind the deal is a secret legal agreement which allows only the true owners to make business decisions. The graph below shows the more complicated structure of the arrangement.

Hunguard

Népszabadság notes that only the bank handling the two owners’ finances and the lawyer who represents them vis-à-vis the “trustee” in Malta know the identity of the real owners. And here is the clue. The lawyer in this case is Katalin Karafiát’s law firm, which has for years been in a close business relation with Antal Rogán. Népszabadság was told by people familiar with the business activities of Hunguard that the man behind the whole complicated business structure “is none other than the Fidesz leader who has been much attacked lately for shady business activities.” He is described by the paper as “a master at operating such company networks.” Well, I guess it is not terribly difficult to figure out whom the paper’s informers have in mind.

At this point a commenter to Népszabadság’s August 9th article came to the paper’s help with another clue. The commenter, who wittily called himself “nokiás kamion” (Nokia truck), called attention to something he found on the internet: a patent was registered for “the method of digitally signing an electronic file, and authenticating method.” The inventors were listed as “Balázs Csík, Csaba Lengyel, and Antal Rogán.”

There are several oddities regarding this patent. The original, which was registered at the World Intellectual Property Organization with headquarters in Geneva, listed the three men as the inventors. But when it came to the registration in the Hungarian patent office (Szellemi Tulajdon Nemzeti Hivatala) the trio didn’t want to be called “inventors” (feltalálók) but only “jogosultak,” i.e. someone who holds the rights. Népszabadság correctly points out that inventors are normally proud of their invention and rarely hide their role in creating a new product. Perhaps Rogán’s presence among the inventors had something to do with their modesty.

In February the three owners of the patent sold their rights to MobilSign Kft., which now markets the product “MobilSign” as “a system capable of recording the dynamics of a handwritten signature, it produces the advanced electronic signature and assigns it to PDF documents.” Until December MobilSign Kft. was owned by Balázs Csík and Csaba Lengyel. Now the owner is someone called Petra Pozsgai.

Once discovered, Rogán with a straight face claimed that he had an active role in the invention of this electronic signature which, let’s face it, is most unlikely. Rogán has a degree in economics and has no information technology experience. Moreover, he is one of the busiest Fidesz politicians around. He couldn’t possibly have spent three years developing a software program, as he claims, even if he knew something about programming.

The most plausible conclusion one can draw is that Csík and Lengyel paid off Rogán for his good offices over the years by forking over a third of the profits from their invention.

August 10, 2016

Fidesz and the criminal underworld

Yesterday we learned from Medián’s fascinating poll on corruption that a fair number of Hungarians think of their government as a criminal organization and the country they live in as a mafia state. They are not imagining things. Not only is the Orbán government corrupt. We also have convincing evidence that certain members of Fidesz and the government had dealings with figures in the criminal underworld.

Earlier I wrote about Antal Rogán, who during his tenure as mayor of District V of Budapest may have engaged in an illegal transaction with Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer. Rogán’s name also cropped up in connection with the investigation of László Vizoviczki, another shady character who might be responsible for several deaths from drug overdoses at his nightclubs.

That Rogán had dealings with Vizoviczki is not surprising. After all, Vizoviczki owned or rented several nightclubs in District V. Rogán most likely also knew Portik since Portik’s wife/girlfriend had financial dealings with the District through the purchase of a piece of real estate.

But evidence has surfaced indicating that Antal Rogán was not the only Fidesz politician with ties to the Budapest underworld. In a letter written to the prosecutor’s office in April of 2013, in which he outlined a possible plea agreement, Vizoviczki indicated that he had extensive dealings with other important Fidesz politicians.

Vizoviczki’s implicit threat–make a deal or I’ll spill the beans–was not idle. Jobbik’s N1TV, a well-informed internet site which earlier discovered Vizoviczki’s letter to the prosecutors, yesterday made another discovery. According to the story, on February 12, 2013, the police searched Vizoviczki’s four-story mansion in Buda. Among the items found was a 10-page letter addressed to “Gábor.” Gábor turned out to be Gábor Kubatov, currently one of the three deputy chairmen of Fidesz. In it, Vizoviczki asked Kubatov to use his good offices with the prosecutors and the police to get him released from jail and placed under house arrest for the duration of his trial. As Vizoviczki reminded Kubatov, he deserves assistance in exchange “for his support in the campaign (Reform Plan).” The content of this letter is known only from the very short description written by the policeman who took an inventory of the confiscated items because the prosecutors found the letter so insignificant that they didn’t include it in the material that was sent over to the court. On May 30, 2013, Vizoviczki was released from jail.

On the basis of this very brief summary of the letter I think it’s fair to assume that Vizoviczki was a generous supporter of the Fidesz campaign in 2010, which may be one reason that his case, which is still dragging on, hasn’t been vigorously investigated. Neither the police nor the prosecution seems to be eager to go after Vizoviczki. The police are most likely trying to bury the case because high-ranking police officers were allegedly in his pay. And, as we now suspect on the basis of Vizoviczki’s letter to Kubatov, Fidesz is probably also beholden to him.

The emergence of this short summary of the letter must have come as a shock to Kubatov because in the last 24 hours he hasn’t been able to come up with a coherent story about the background of the letter. His answer at a press conference yesterday about his acquaintance with Vizoviczki was fairly light-hearted. “Of course, I know him. I’m a politician and it is my business to meet people,” he answered to a question from Index’s journalist. A few hours later he realized that his flippant answer might not have been appropriate. In the second iteration, he tried to minimize his contacts with Vizoviczki. Kubatov claimed to the pro-government Magyar Idők that they had met only twice, once at the 110th anniversary of the kindergarten they both attended and once when Vizoviczki approached him about his plans to invest in sports, specifically in Fradi, Kubatov’s football club. Kubatov was not interested. Otherwise, according to Kubatov, on that occasion they talked about the terrible tragedy at the West-Balkan disco where several people died because of overcrowding and the subsequent stampede. Kubatov and Vizoviczki discussed safety measures that should be introduced in discos to prevent such tragedies in the future.

How well did these two men know each other? I suspect much better than Kubatov now lets on. On the photograph taken at the anniversary celebration of their kindergarten in April 2012 the two men are sitting next to one another. Admittedly, this doesn’t prove anything since the crowd seems to have divided itself largely along gender lines and more women than men attended the gathering. So even if they were perfect strangers they may well have ended up sitting beside one another. But my hunch is that they were no strangers.

kubatov-Viz

The whole story is suspicious, starting with the fact that the prosecutors didn’t include Vizoviczki’s letter to Kubatov in the material they passed on to the court. This cannot be a coincidence, especially in view of the close relationship between the prosecutor’s office and Fidesz. The prosecutors, realizing the damaging material in that letter, hoped that the document would never surface, as indeed it still hasn’t.

In any case, I’m not the only person who finds the prosecutors’ handling of this important letter more than strange. Today MSZP called on Péter Polt to explain why the prosecutor’s office ignored the letter written by Vizoviczki to Kubatov. It’s easy to predict what the answer will be. The same as when the prosecutors were supposed to investigate Tamás Portik’s testimony about the bribe he allegedly handed to Antal Rogán. The prosecutors announced a couple of days ago that they see no reason to investigate Portik’s allegation. Charges were dropped.

July 29, 2016

Hungary’s sudden interest in the eurozone

Mihály Varga, minister of economics, just dropped a surprise package. In a lengthy interview, he talked about Hungary’s plans to join the Eurozone by the end of the decade.

It’s difficult to reconcile the government’s conflicting messages. Earlier, János Lázár, the #2 man in the Orbán government, said that he would vote against membership in the European Union if the decision had to be made today. A week later he drew a parallel between the Soviet Union and the European Union, stressing Hungary’s fervent desire to remain independent. Moreover, the Hungarian government has just begun a venomous campaign against the European Union’s refugee policies ahead of a referendum which, according to the democratic opposition parties, is the first step in realizing the Orbán government’s resolve to leave the EU. Tamás Bauer, a keen observer of Hungarian politics, goes even further. “Orbán wants more than Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage did. He doesn’t want to take his country out of the Union. He wants to destroy the Union itself.” And now comes this interview with Varga, who talked in specific terms about the Hungarian government’s intent to join the Eurozone in the near future.

The media hailed this interview as indicative of a complete turnabout in the Orbán government’s policies toward the European Union. Actually, a year and a half ago there was a similarly unexpected announcement by Antal Rogán, who proclaimed that sometime between 2018 and 2020 Hungary will be in a position to introduce the euro as the country’s currency. His statement contradicted Viktor Orbán’s position, who in prior years had said that he was in no hurry to join the Eurozone because being “outside of it means great independence” which is, as we know, a primary consideration for the prime minister.

The last time Orbán talked about his government’s position on joining the Eurozone was in February of this year, in a speech delivered to Hungarian ambassadors. He refrained from committing himself one way or the other. At this junction, he said, he believed that more and more member states are interested in creating “a core Europe” which, he quickly added, is not the same thing as a “two-tiered Europe.” The members of the Eurozone will constitute the core. Once a country decides on a currency union, it has to give up a great deal of its national sovereignty. In the next few years Hungarians will have to have think very hard whether “we want to belong to a group of countries with a European entity or we will follow an independent national and economic policy.” There are people who support the creation of a United States of Europe, while others think that “one should not make snap decisions.” In any case, “we have to think hard about the question.” This certainly didn’t sound like an endorsement of Eurozone membership, but Orbán left the question open. It could be debated later, in case there is a change in the political constellation on the Continent.

At this point at least, Orbán believed that Hungary would get along just fine economically and wouldn’t suffer any negative consequences from being outside of the “core.” But then came today’s interview with Mihály Varga, who said that he is “very much hoping that we will have the euro, and happily it is up to us when that will be.” He predicted that by the end of the decade the Hungarian currency will be the euro. He explained that Hungary has fulfilled all the requirements for membership with one exception: it is not a member of ERM-II. For Eurozone membership a country must belong to the Exchange Rate Mechanism to ensure that exchange rate fluctuations between the euro and other EU currencies do not disrupt economic stability within the single market. ERM-II allows a ±15% fluctuation band, which is achieved by interventions coordinated by the European Central Bank and the central bank of the non-euro member state. As Varga pointed out, Hungary is in good shape in this respect. In the last two years the forint has remained well inside the band. The maximum fluctuations in the exchange rate between the euro and the forint have been +2.6% and -5.8%. According to Varga, Hungary didn’t join ERM-II because with such a move the country would have lost its competitive advantage.

eurozone

Hungary is not rushing to join ERM-II. Varga indicated that the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary constantly coordinate their moves and will decide when such a step is advantageous to them. It all depends on how stable the euro is in the next few months or year and how competitive the Hungarian economy is.

The two largest democratic opposition parties, MSZP and DK, reacted skeptically to the Varga interview. MSZP called it “a cheap performance” while DK somewhat sarcastically remarked that Varga “must have suddenly seen the light.” DK’s spokesman added that if Orbán shares Varga’s views, he should immediately call off the hate campaign against the European Union and the referendum on quotas, which would initiate Hungary’s exit from the Union.

I don’t think Varga’s statement means that the Orbán government has made a serious commitment to work toward joining the Eurozone. We have heard such pronouncements before from other members of the current government. But Péter Szijjártó’s offer today to take over the presidency of the European Union from the United Kingdom in the second half of 2017 indicates to me a more conciliatory attitude toward Brussels. In case Great Britain is unable to fulfill its obligation, the Hungarian foreign minister said, Hungary would be happy to assume its duties. He added that Hungary’s presidency between January 31 and July 30, 2011 was by all accounts considered to be a success. Hungarian diplomats proved themselves up to the task. Of course, Szijjártó didn’t add that those diplomats no longer work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He and Tibor Navrancsics purged them.

These friendly overtures by two ministers of the Orbán government cannot be a coincidence. Something must have happened in the last few weeks or even days that prompted Viktor Orbán to try to curry favor with Brussels. But I agree with the spokesman of DK that it is impossible to make overtures to the European Union and at the same time conduct a vicious anti-EU campaign. I really wonder what is in Viktor Orbán’s mind. Perhaps the whole thing is nothing more than the usual “peacock dance” to which we have become accustomed by now. But the question still remains: why, and why now?

July 19, 2016