Tag Archives: László Varju

“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

Highway robbery made lawful

A few hours ago Nyugati Fény (Western light), a relative newcomer on the Hungarian blog scene, published an outraged post about a well-hidden change of wording in a bill that allows close relatives of members of the government, the president of the Kúria, the president of the Hungarian State Audit Office, the chief prosecutor, the chairman of the National Bank, and several other dignitaries to participate in bidding for state tenders as long as they live apart from the officeholder. The author of the post predicted that this “brazen robbery” will one day seal the fate of “this gang of college buddies.”

The ruse was discovered by another blogger, who called the new law Lex Tiborcz after Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz. I devoted several posts to the highly suspicious business activities of this young man, who recently married Orbán’s eldest daughter Ráhel. Tiborcz’s company won a suspiciously high number of tenders offered by municipalities that had received EU money to modernize their city lighting. Often his company was the only bidder, or the city councils simply favored the son-in-law of the prime minister. Tiborcz’s company, as it turned out, also grossly overcharged the municipalities, or more accurately the European Union, for his services. Currently, the company is under investigation by the European Commission Anti-Fraud Office. Once Viktor Orbán got wind of the investigation, he suggested that his son-in-law sell his share in the company.

The changes in the law that was adopted today are minor on the surface. Just a couple of words: in three places “close relatives” was changed to “relatives living in the same household.” But if before these changes no close relative of a government official could participate in government procurement, how could István Tiborcz win all those tenders that made him a rich man in less than two years? The answer is simple. Since 2011 this is the third set of changes to the law on public procurement. The first one stated that only those who “issued the invitation to tender” and their close relatives were barred from bidding for a public project. Since it was not Viktor Orbán in person who issued the tender, his son-in-law could legally bid for government work.

At the beginning of last month, however, the government decided to tighten the rules governing conflicts of interest. Perhaps an overzealous public servant made the rules far too tight for the taste of this government, which by now many Hungarians consider to be a gang of thieves. The new law excluded all close relatives of the prime minister, members of the government, the president of the parliament, etc. That would have barred István Tiborcz from ever getting another job through public procurement. But someone noticed this egregious error and changed the wording of the law in such a way that relatives–including wives, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, parents, in-laws–as long as they don’t live under the same roof as a member of the government or any of the high dignitaries listed in the law can take part in the public procurement process. So, for Tiborcz and others in his position, the doors are again open to acquire lucrative government business, 90% of which is funded by the European Union.

conflict of interest

At first glance this new legislative package looked as if it dealt only with the reorganization of the National Tax and Customs Office. But, in fact, about 100 articles out of 30 different laws deal with public procurement and other matters. Members of parliament had one day to read the 58-page document, which was only one of several pieces of legislation adopted that day. I’m almost certain that no Fidesz MP bothers to read any of the legislative proposals because, almost without exception, the Fidesz caucus votes unanimously for government or individual Fidesz member proposals. As far as opposition MPs were concerned, they didn’t have to think hard about voting against a law that placed the National Tax and Customs Office under strict political control when András Tállai, a Fidesz MP, undersecretary, and deputy minister of the ministry of national economy, was appointed to be its head. And indeed, MSZP, Jobbik, and LMP MPs voted against the bill. But to everybody’s surprise Gábor Fodor, the sole member of the Liberális Párt, and the four members of Demokratikus Koalíció, apparently by mistake, voted for it.

How could that happen? As I said, several–perhaps as many as twenty–laws were adopted on that day, which were listed as they came up for a vote. László Varju, who was in charge of ensuring that the DK members voted in accordance with an earlier party decision, skipped a page and thought they were voting for an innocuous bill that had something to do with Kazakhstan. Gábor Fodor claims that he just pressed the wrong button. Such a mistake is embarrassing even if Ferenc Gyurcsány pointed out that a simple majority was enough to pass “this disgraceful bill.” In fact, 117 MPs, including the full Fidesz and KDNP caucuses, voted for the bill, which was more than enough to pass it.

The truly peculiar and suspicious aspect of this bill is that it will not become effective as of January 1, 2016 but retroactively from November 1, 2015. The suspicion lingers that there is some “good reason” for that unusual backdating. More than likely some business venture of a relative of somebody important in the government is already underway. Perhaps one day we will find out who the lucky fellow is.

One final comment. Although Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, insisted that this law conforms to EU legal norms, I don’t know how this new piece of Hungarian legislation will appease the European Union’s OLAF, which is currently investigating István Tiborcz’s business ventures. Or what OLAF will think when one well-placed relative after the other gets a lucrative job, mostly financed by the European Union. Somehow I don’t think that Brussels will be impressed and applaud the mental acuity of the Orbán government. I can’t believe that it will close its eyes to the incredible corruption of Viktor Orbán and his friends.

The troubled tobacco shop concessions

We haven’t talked about the tobacconist shops lately, although there is quite a bit to be said about them. First and foremost, that as the result of the newly restricted availability and the price hikes black market sales of cigarettes have soared in the last couple of months. Fewer and fewer people are buying cigarettes at the designated stores. The fallout? The loss of 23 billion forints in excise taxes for the treasury. Also, the new owners of these shops, although they turn a 10 percent profit on every pack of cigarettes, are not doing well. One needs to sell an awful lot of cigarettes to make a really good living.  And “only an idiot would buy cigarettes in the tobacconist shop,” reads a headline in today’s Origo

The troubles started early, with a spate of tobacconist shop robberies. Petty criminals all over the country, hearing about the fabulous profits that could be made by the owners of these shops, found them irresistible. And since the store fronts must be darkened and the doors kept closed at all times, the robbers could be assured of an easy target.

After a few weeks the black marketeers were in full swing, divvying up territories among themselves. They sell inexpensive cigarettes from Ukraine and Serbia for 500 forints a pack, as opposed to 900 forints in the stores, as well as western brands such as Kent, Marlboro, and Lucky Strike. The supply is plentiful. And it’s a terrific deal for both seller and buyer. The Ukrainian seller turns a 100% profit on each pack of cigarettes and the Hungarian buyer gets the pack for almost half the official price.

A man on Kálmán Széll tér (formerly Moszkva tér) explained how the distribution system works. A “very reliable man” brings him the merchandise from Ukraine. This reliable guy has his “reliable customers,” among them the fellow the Origo reporter talked with. The man admitted that what he does is illegal but, as he said, “the laws are wrong.” The black marketeers divide up the square among themselves, and they “defend their turf as jealously as the prostitutes.” Tobacconist shops nearby are hard hit. There are days when for hours they don’t have a single customer. A fair number of shops have already closed.

Making tobacco a state monopoly was most likely the brainchild of the Hungarian-owned Continental Tobacco Company. The owner of the company is a good friend of János Lázár, who was heavily involved in drafting the law. The Continental Tobacco Company also made sure that its employees and board members received a fair number of concessions through front men (Strohmann/stróman). Of the 4,300 tobacconist shops they got about 500 concessions.

One of the main beneficiaries was András Kulcsár, a top manager at Continental. He got 84 concessions. Now, after a few months, he has already had to close 25. The reason? Most likely a lack of business expertise, bad location, and low sales. The law, by the way, states that stores that close must be reopened within 60 days.

The cronies have all the dough / Photo Index

The cronies have all the dough / Photo Index

Today we learned that one of the tobacconist shops that belonged to Tomi Palcsó, a singer discovered on “Megasztár,” has been closed for days. The singer, who is a Fidesz favorite and who often performs at Fidesz events, received five concessions, officially the maximum number. It looks as if business in Csepel didn’t exactly thrive. Mind you, DK demonstrations in front of the Csepel stores over the last couple of weeks probably didn’t help. (László Varju, one of the top DK leaders, has been called into the police station for organizing demonstrations.) Although Palcsó’s store was already defunct, about a dozen DK activists protested in front of it today with signs like “The cronies have all the dough.”

Meanwhile, on popular initiative the National Election Committee gave its blessing to holding a referendum on two questions concerning the tobacconist shops, and the Kúria (formerly the Supreme Court) approved it. If the activists manage to get 200,000 signatures within 45 days the referendum can be held. There will be two questions on the ballot: Do you agree that instead of a 10 percent guaranteed profit, it should be rolled back to the original profit margin of 3.33%? And do you agree that only tobacco products should be sold in the tobacconist shops?

Apparently the Fidesz leadership is furious. As one Fidesz politician told the reporter for Index“that will not happen again.” At this moment it is not clear whether the government/Fidesz (it really no longer matters what we call it) intends to block such a referendum altogether or whether they only want to prevent its being held before the elections. In either case, I wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of one of the members of the Committee who in the last minute changed his mind on the question of the profit margin and thus made passage of the motion possible.

Együtt 2014-PM’s puzzling message

Opposition politicians are busy rallying the troops. Gordon Bajnai and Tímea Szabó (PM) paid a visit to Óbuda to campaign. Yes, to campaign because, although the campaign will start officially sometime in January, unofficially it has already begun in earnest. Yesterday MSZP held a large gathering in Miskolc where Attila Mesterházy addressed an enthusiastic crowd. And this afternoon several thousand DK supporters gathered on the Freedom Bridge in Budapest where Ferenc Gyurcsány, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju gave speeches.

Neither the MSZP nor the DK rally was especially newsworthy. Mesterházy made a slew of campaign promises and Gyurcsány repeated his pledge never to make compromises with Viktor Orbán. But Gordon Bajnai made news with his speech in Óbuda. He talked mostly about the mistaken economic policies of the Orbán government and the damage they inflicted on the country. Naturally, he promised a reversal of the Matolcsy-Varga line and a return to economic orthodoxy. However, he said something that puzzles practically everybody. Talking about constitutional issues, he said that “if there is not a two-thirds majority … then we will put to the new opposition a proposal that they will be unable to refuse.” He added that at the moment he doesn’t want to reveal more of his plans.

This mysterious offer conjured up nefarious thoughts in my mind, and it seems that I was not alone because someone from the audience inquired whether this offer will resemble similar offers in The Godfather. A day later the question came up again on Egyenes beszéd during a conversation with Viktor Szigetvári, the co-chair of Együtt 2014, who tried to minimize the significance of this sentence. But, if at all possible, he only further confused the issue. In fact, Szigetvári got himself into a jam by at one point advocating negotiations with Fidesz and a few minutes later saying that “with this Fidesz he certainly wouldn’t be willing to negotiate after a lost election.” But then what?

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Like everyone else, Olga Kálmán wanted to find out more about Bajnai’s offer that couldn’t be refused by Viktor Orbán and his party. A fairly long-winded explanation followed. If there is no two-thirds majority then the new government must sit down and negotiate with Fidesz and convince Viktor Orbán to lend his support to “constitutional corrections.” When he was further pressed by the reporter, Szigetvári came up with another idea: holding a new election.  With good governance this second early election could achieve an overwhelming two-thirds majority. Thus the government would have a free hand to “make adjustments” in the constitution and in some of the cardinal laws that need a two-thirds majority to change. But in any case, even with a two-thirds majority “consensus” must be achieved, although he did admit that “with this Fidesz” such consensus is unlikely. He added, in my opinion naively, that if Fidesz refuses to come to an understanding, then it must bear “the historical responsibility” for a failure to set the country on the right track. As if Viktor Orbán cared a hoot about their opinion of the “right track.” He thinks that he is the one who will lead the country to Paradise.

Olga Kálmán was skeptical about “Fidesz suddenly being ready to dismantle the edifice that it built in the last four years.” Szigetvári immediately assured his audience that “not everything has to be undone,” but one must make an attempt at an understanding. If that doesn’t work, then comes the next step: early elections in the hope of the two-thirds majority. But what if the new government parties not only fail to get a two-thirds majority but actually lose the early election? It seemed that such an idea hadn’t occurred to him. He was confident that Együtt 2014-MSZP would win a second election in 2014 or 2015. But after further questions on a possible Fidesz victory at the early election, he no longer insisted and said that “this is only one possibility.” He didn’t elaborate on what the others are.

While Bajnai was in Óbuda, Szigetvári gave a speech at a conference organized by the Republikon Institute headed by former SZDSZ politician Gábor Horn. Here he concentrated on the Együtt 2014-MSZP agreement, praising MSZP and claiming that for the breakdown of negotiations between MSZP and DK Ferenc Gyurcsány was solely responsible. Magyar Nemzet naturally was delighted and joyfully announced that “Gyurcsány is at fault,” the phrase the Fidesz propaganda machine invokes anytime the Orbán government faces an economic difficulty. In fact, Szigetvári went so far as to accuse his former boss of betraying his own party and putting his personal interest above the good of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Magyar Nemzet concluded that there seems to be confusion within the leadership of Együtt 2014 because in Óbuda Bajnai talked about the importance of DK and expressed his hope that it will join the coalition of the two democratic parties while Szigetvári fiercely attacked the former prime minister.

The Együtt 2014-PM-MSZP duo needs to start sending a clear, unified message. Voters are not decoders.

Water and politics: The case of the Roma in Ózd

There are times, though not too often, when Fidesz and the Orbán government retreat and give up positions earlier thought to be sacrosanct. This usually happens when there is a big stink. Not just nationally but internationally. This is what happened with the public faucets in Ózd.

Ózd, a town with a population of 34,000, fell on hard economic times when the heavy metallurgical industry collapsed in the 1990s. Ózdi Kohászatai Üzemek had employed more than 10,000 workers. In 1975 67.3% of the men between the ages of 18 and 65 were gainfully employed. Now the unemployment in Ózd is extremely high. Ózd also has a large Roma population. Officially only 7% of the population declared themselves to be of Roma ethnicity, but according to some estimates one-third of Ózd’s population might be of Gypsy origin.

The Gypsies live in several ghetto-like sections of the town. Most of their houses don’t have running water, so these people must carry  water in buckets from public faucets. Apparently there are 123 faucets that serve about 8,000 people. Some of these people live in areas where city water was never hooked up; others don’t have service because they couldn’t pay their water bill. A family of four or five needs at least 100 liters of water a day and, especially in the areas where a lot of people live without city water, there might be as many as 100 people who use one faucet.

Since the city must provide water to the inhabitants, these people receive their water free of charge. The Fidesz-led town hall found the 13 million forints the city had to pay for the water used on roadsides too high. They claimed that the families living in those parts waste water. They use it for washing cars, watering their gardens, and for the children to splash around in. The city fathers, including the sole MSZP member, voted to restrict access to water at public faucets. They completely closed 28 of the 123 faucets and set the water pressure in another 61 very low to discourage the use of too much water.

There are conflicting claims about how slow these faucets became after the town hired a company to lower the pressure from 100% to 60%. The mayor and other Fidesz officials in town claim that lowering the pressure made little difference. (Then why do it?) One of the city fathers declared that the difference between full pressure and reduced pressure is negligible, but others figured that it now takes at least ten minutes to fill a ten-liter bucket with water. A family of five that needs 100 liters of water a day would have to stand for an hour and a half to fill the requisite number of buckets. The men are not around at this time of the year because they managed to get some seasonal work in agriculture, so it’s mostly women and children who carry these buckets. Ten liters of water is terribly heavy, especially for a skinny eight-year-old whom I saw on one of the photos. And he must make at least ten trips. Sometimes quite far. There are cases where they have to walk at least half a kilometer each way.

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság Photo by István Konyhás

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság photo by István Konyhás

It’s easy to blame everything on the Gypsies, but one of the city fathers admitted that it’s not the inhabitants of the “segregatums,” as one journalist called these Gypsy ghettos, who steal the city’s water but owners of weekend places outside of Ózd. They come by car and take away 200-300 liters of water. In fact, 444.hu received an e-mail from someone who called attention to a 2011 Google Earth video of a hose that led from a city faucet to a well appointed house in one of the wealthiest sections in town. You can see it on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1msthmIB3o

It was inevitable that the decision of the Ózd City Council would become a national issue. Although the city fathers never mentioned the word “Roma” or “Gypsy,” it became a Roma issue. It couldn’t have been otherwise when it is the Roma population’s neighborhood that is without running water and when it is mostly the dirt poor Roma who can’t pay their water bills.

Opposition politicians were on hand, led by István Nyakó (MSZP) who is from these parts. László Varju (DK) arrived as did Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist. There were all sorts of useless negotiations between Nyakó and Pál Fürjes, the Fidesz mayor of Ózd. I don’t know in what language they tried to converse, but the two gave entirely different reports of their conversation. Nyakó understood that Fürjes promised to restore the standard pressure in the faucets while Fürjes claimed that there was no such agreement. Moreover, he made it crystal clear that the city will not move an inch. It is not fair that the majority of the city’s population has to pay for water while others don’t. As he put it, “perhaps the majority of people feel good when they steal, but someone has to pay for the water.” He neglected to mention that these people have no choice because they have no water hook-up.

Fürjes’s claim is especially distasteful in light of the fact that Ózd received 1.75 billion forints from the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program for the express purpose of providing running water to the Roma ghettos. Opposition politician Péter Juhász of Milla and Együtt 2014-PM demanded to know the fate of this money. According to the website of the town of Ózd, work on the modernization of the whole system will be done between 2013 and 2017. Well, more than half of 2013 is gone and there is no sign of any work on the pipes. Fürjes immediately rebuked Juhász, saying that the Ózd Fidesz government is not like the Gyurcsány-Bajnai government which stole the country blind and was corrupt to the core. The money is there and work will begin in November. I must say November’s not the best time of the year to start such a project.

Negotiations between Nyakó and Fürjes led nowhere;  the city was ready to open only one faucet. Nyakó then said that he was going to call on Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to force the town of Ózd to restore all the faucets that had served the town’s Roma population.

I must say that yesterday I wasn’t very optimistic that Pintér would intervene, especially after the  Fidesz spokesman Róbert Zsigó threw the party’s weight behind Pál Fürjes. Since yesterday, however, a few things happened that changed the situation.  Zoltán Balog, whose ministry is responsible for Roma integration, announced that he considered limiting water to the Roma ghettos inhumane. Then came the bad publicity from BBC, Deutsche Welle, Der Spiegel, and a very long and detailed article in the Swiss Tages Anzeiger. After all, a lot of Swiss money was given to Ózd specifically for the purpose of making running water available in the Roma ghettos and now the mayor of the town limits water for them even at the roadside faucets!

In any case, Pintér gave a friendly or perhaps not so friendly telephone call to Pál Fürjes, who suddenly saw the light. In order to save face he repeated that the town’s action was entirely legal. But the extended heat wave that hit Hungary after the town council made its decision led him to revoke it. Tages Anzeiger immediately reported the good news. It would be interesting to know whether the Swiss, directly or indirectly, put pressure on the Hungarian government to change its mind on the issue of water supply in Ózd.