Tag Archives: Joav Blum

“An important accomplishment”: Two most likely innocent men were convicted in the Sukoró case

Over the years I have written many posts on the infamous Sukoró case. In 2008, during the second Gyurcsány government, a group of American, Israeli, German, and Hungarian businessmen were hoping to build a tourist center, including hotels, restaurants, a water entertainment center, a golf course, and a casino, on a 70-hectare spot at Lake Velence, which was the property of the state at the time. Joav Blum, one of the investors, made a proposition to the Hungarian government. He would exchange his 183-hectare orchard in the county of Pest for this barren land. The government welcomed the project because the investors figured that about 3,500 employees would be needed to run the complex. Ferenc Gyurcsány called upon the office that handled state properties (Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő/MNV). If all was in order, the swap could take place. After getting several appraisals, the office found the land swap fair.

From the start Fidesz organized a campaign against the project. Initially, it seemed that Viktor Orbán was simply planning to put the Sukoró project on hold for a while and, once Fidesz wins the election in 2010, his government could then boast about an investment project larger than the Kecskemét Mercedes factory. But, as time went by, Orbán realized that Sukoró might be the perfect case to send his arch-rival Ferenc Gyurcsány to jail. By late 2010, plans were underway to begin the witch hunt. The two top officials of MNV, Miklós Tátrai and Zsolt Császy, were arrested.

As early as April 2011 I wrote a post which bore the title “Show trials under way?” At that time Tátrai and Császy had just been released from jail. Császy gave an interview to Népszabadság and had a talk with Olga Kálmán on ATV. He said that the prosecutors’ primary aim was to break them so they would render false testimony against Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Prosecutors follow a simple formula in cases involving the sale of state or municipal properties. MNV or a local government hires several assessors, who come up with a reasonable price. Then years later the prosecutor’s office asks its own assessor, who offers a grossly inflated figure. The case is closed as far as the prosecutor’s office is concerned. This is exactly what happened in the case of Sukoró.

The infamous trial began in Szolnok in January 2013. The two men were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. According to Császy, the prosecutor’s office picked the Szolnok Court because they were pretty certain that they could win their case there. They were right. In fact, Császy claims that the judge either denied defense motions or rejected them without reason. The court didn’t allow the testimony of the judicial expert the defense asked to testify. The judge took into account the testimony of witnesses who could be questioned only by the prosecution, not the defense. The court falsified testimony. The judge questioned witnesses without the accused or their lawyers being present. Even with all of this, the case was not strong enough to convict Tátrai and Császy so, Császy claims, the judge invented stories and made his decision based on these falsehoods.

The appellate court rendered its decision in Szeged in October 2016. It gave a long, detailed critique of the Szolnok judge’s shoddy work. The judge declared that not only were Tátrai and Császy not guilty but that no crime had been committed. Of course, the prosecutors appealed to the Kúria, which today reversed the appellate court’s decision.

The scene of the final verdict

Of course, Fidesz is delighted. The party published a statement in which they “welcomed the decision of the Kúria in the case of the Sukoró land swap” because “the proper place for criminals is in prison.” According to the statement, “the government of Gyurcsány and the socialists was the most corrupt” in modern Hungarian history. János Lázár, during his “government info,” also praised the Kúria’s decision. He described the verdict as “an important accomplishment” and continued: “For the time being only two people have been convicted, but in my opinion Ferenc Gyurcsány is responsible legally. After all, he conducted the negotiations. It is clear from this verdict how the socialists handle public money.” To talk about the incredible corruption of the socialist-liberal government takes gall from people who run a “mafia state” known for its corruption throughout the world.

Perhaps the most stomach-turning announcement came from LMP’s co-chair Ákos Hadházy, who announced that “Ferenc Gyurcsány must bear the political consequences of this verdict.” Where was he in the past seven years when most people realized that this “conceptual trial,” as Hungarians call show trials, was a charade all along? LMP’s political moves never cease to amaze me.

László Varju, deputy-chairman of DK, announced at a press conference that once DK is in a government position, it would like to see the prosecutors who created the show trial and Tünde Handó, head of the National Judicial Office (Országos Bírósági Hivatal), in jail. Handó was the one who assigned the case to Mrs. Sólyomvári née Mária Csendes in Szolnok. Varju charged that “Fidesz created the Sukoró case in order to incarcerate Ferenc Gyurcsány, and the only sin of Miklós Tátrai and Zsolt Császy was that they refused to commit perjury.”

Gyurcsány himself wrote the following on Facebook: “They are innocent. I know because I’m familiar with the case and the procedure. The investigative prosecutors and the judges who convicted them are the guilty ones. But one day a new era will come. There will be a new government. Then we will free them, and they will be granted full financial and moral reparations. We will take action with all legitimate means against those who participated in this nefarious process. Those who have served Orbán’s regime should not count on our understanding. They ruined people, families, lives because they were cowards, opportunists, or just plain corrupt. There will be no revenge. Only at last there will be a fair judiciary. You locked up my honorable colleagues because you couldn’t find a way to imprison me. I will never forget it. Never.”

June 8, 2017

The Orbán family’s enrichment with a little government help

Today I read an editorial in Magyar Nemzet on the fate of Silvio Berlusconi.  It seems that Anna Szabó, the author, who is a great admirer of Viktor Orbán, forgot that the Hungarian prime minister is a friend of Berlusconi. Because she found Berlusconi’s sentence far too lenient and expressed her utter astonishment that the Italians, although they have long known about Berlusconi’s “dirty affairs,” only now were ready to punish him for his sins.

In the final paragraph of the editorial Szabó bemoans the fact that in Hungary many corruption cases have gone unpunished, pointing the finger at Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai. She lists among their sins the fate of the Posta Bank, MSZMP’s former retreat in Balatonőszöd, the Budapest Airport, and “stealing parts of Lake Velence’s shores.” In case you draw a blank, it was at Lake Velence that the Israeli businessman Joav Blum and his American partners who included  Ronald S. Lauder hoped to build a luxury hotel and a casino.

If I were Anna Szabó I wouldn’t mention these cases right now because practically all the accusations she hurls at the former prime ministers are without foundation. On the other hand, in recent days Hungarian newspapers have been full of descriptions of certain business activities of members of the Orbán family that are suspect.

I am not an overly suspicious person. In fact, I can even be called naive when it comes to questionable business deals. On the one hand, I’m inept in business matters and, on the other, since I’m not in the habit of cheating or stealing from others I find it very difficult to imagine people whose daily activities include such shady activities.

I have encountered people over the last twenty years who have floated fanciful stories about Fidesz and the “boys.” I know a woman who to this day is convinced that a group of MSZMP leaders allowed the formation of Bibó College, the dormitory where Fidesz was born, in order to develop “trustworthy cadres” who would eventually be entrusted with salvaging the Kádár regime’s essential features. Well, I think this is madness.

On the other hand, I take much more seriously the persistent allegations that seem to be well founded about the money Fidesz got from the sale of the building the party received from the Hungarian state in 1992. Here only one thing is not entirely clear. How much of the 750,000 million (in 1992!!!) remained in the party coffers and how much disappeared into private pockets. We know only that László Kövér didn’t allow top party officials to take notes while Viktor Orbán tried to explain the distribution of the money among various Fidesz companies. But Klára Ungár, who was by that time highly suspicious of the activities of Lajos Simicska, László Kövér, and Viktor Orbán, tried to keep the figures in her head. She found that at least 170 million was missing from the total. We also don’t know what happened to the rest of the money that was invested in several companies that were eventually liquidated under very suspicious circumstances.

It is also another fairly well established fact that some of the money went to help Viktor Orbán’s father, Győző, purchase the state quarry he ran before the change of regime. It was this quarry in the village of Gánt that established the Orbán family’s fortune. Since then Győző Orbán has been able to add various enterprises to his original business and has become very rich indeed. According to Krisztina Ferenczi’s calculation, two of the businesses in which the older Orbán has a majority share (the quarry in Gánt and a company that produces peat) netted 2,192 billion forints last year. In addition to these two companies, there is another one that is owned exclusively by Viktor Orbán’s father and his two young brothers. That company was also profitable, bringing in an additional 400 million.

The Orbán Quarry in Gánt

The Orbán Quarry in Gánt

Győző Orbán also owns land in Felcsút adjacent to a parcel of land owned by Viktor Orbán. The VIP parking area of the Aranycsapat Stadium will be located on this piece of land. (Aranycsapat means Golden Team, the nickname of the Hungarian team that became world famous in the mid-1950s and on which Ferenc Puskás played before he left Hungary after the 1956 Hungarian revolution.)

The prime minister’s father also purchased part of the former estate of Archduke József of Habsburg. The summer palace of the Hungarian Habsburg family was destroyed during the war and the 7,000 acres that went with it was distributed among the local landless peasants. Only the manor house and 13 hectares were retained by the Hungarian state. Perhaps we shouldn’t be terribly surprised that both the manor house and the 13 acres ended up in Győző Orbán’s hands. As far as I know, the manor house is under renovation. Rumor has it that it is being converted into a luxury hotel.

And then there is the Orbán family’s controversial peat business. The first mention I found of the marshlands that are necessary for peat production was in the March 5 issue of HVG. Bernadette Szél (LMP) discovered that Fidesz was preparing a bill that would lift the protection of marshlands and allow the mining of peat.  By July it became public knowledge that the prime minister’s father and two brothers already owned about 200 acres of marshland in the County of Zala. Győző Orbán purchased the land in 1999 during the premiership of his son. The head of the Mining Authority was for a while a silent partner in this peat business. They and others purchased the land for practically nothing. In 2003 the area was declared to be protected, destined to be converted into a national park. All of the landowners were forced to sell their land to the state, with the exception of the Orbáns.

Bernadette Szél went to look at this land, which consists of several thousands of contiguous hectares of marshland. The Orbáns’ 200 acres that presumably were so different from all the others lie in the middle of this large area. It seems that the Orbán company will have a peat mining monopoly in these parts. At the moment the company, in addition to mining, is building a helicopter pad. Business is good. In 2012 there was half a billion forint profit.

And, as people say, “if we just knew the whole truth.” I think we would be astonished at the depth of corruption of the man who is currently the prime minister of Hungary.