Tag Archives: Magyar Villamos Művek

One of the favorite businessmen of the Orbán government: András Lénárd of Real Csíki Beer

Last March I entertained the readers of Hungarian Spectrum with a bizarre story about a court case involving the Romanian subsidiary of Heineken and a mini-brewery owned by András Lénárd, a Romanian-Hungarian businessman, and Lixid Holding BV, a Dutch company. Among the products sold by the Romanian Heineken was one the company called Miercurea Ciuc–Ciuc Premium, which the local Hungarians just called Csíki Sör. Lénárd’s company decided to name their product “Igazi Csíki Sör,” or “Real Csíki Beer.” Heineken sued for trademark infringement and won.

What followed was unreal. Shortly after the verdict was handed down in the spring of 2017, the Hungarian government devised a strategy to make Heineken’s life in Hungary miserable. János Lázár and Zsolt Semjén suggested a modification of the law on the use of totalitarian symbols for commercial purposes and, as we all know, Heineken proudly displays a red star on its bottles. Soon enough, the government’s antagonism to Heineken was extended to all foreign-owned breweries. People were urged to boycott Heineken products, and for a while people were ready to pay twice as much for “Igazi Csíki Sör” as for other beer. That didn’t last long, and by August I reported that supermarkets had stopped stocking it. The company even tried offering it at half price for home delivery, but that strategy also proved futile. Two days ago Lénárd’s Székely Bolt (Szekler Store) in Budapest was shuttered.

On the very same day Magyar Nemzet came out with a story about Lénárd, for whom the Hungarian government was ready to wage a huge fight with a world-famous multi-national company. The story isn’t pretty.

According to documents that reached the paper, Lénárd, as an eighteen-year-old, visited the United States on a tourist visa in 1995, but his true intention was to stay permanently. He worked as an illegal for a small company, got married to an American woman 17 years his senior, and bought a house in Plymouth, Connecticut. Everything went smoothly until he got involved in smuggling people into the United States from Canada. There is good reason to believe that his smuggling activity was quite extensive and that his girlfriend/wife was also involved in the “business.” There is documentation of several run-ins that she had with the law for the illegal transportation of aliens within the United States. In any case, on January 21, 2001, he and three Hungarian women were arrested two miles from the U.S.-Canadian border, close to Champlain, New York. As investigative journalists discovered, the three women were planning to work in a striptease joint in the United States.

He was charged with “bringing in and harboring aliens,” which is considered a felony. He was freed on $50,000 bail, which was paid by his girlfriend/wife. But in June of the same year his lawyer from Albany reported to the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York that his client was currently in Canada and “he doesn’t wish to appear before the judge either now or in the future.” The judge immediately issued an arrest warrant, which is most likely still in effect.

But the story doesn’t end here. Once the couple arrived in Romania, Lénárd used money from the pension plan of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Transylvania to start a business, building a series of mini-hydroelectric power plants, which didn’t turn out to be a financial success. In 2015, however, he convinced the state-owned Magyar Villamos Művek (MVM) to buy his mini-power plants for 30 million euros. Lénárd must have had extremely close relations with the Orbán government to pull off this deal. According to available business information, MVM is doing poorly in Romania. Lénárd’s business ventures usually end badly, it seems.

Naturally, Lénárd is trying to explain away his serious problems with the law in the United States. He produced a video that he made public on YouTube. During this ten-minute so-called interview he wants us to believe that he was not arrested for a crime because the charge was not a felony but only a misdemeanor on account of his illegal overstay in the United States, which is a minor offense. At the same time, he accuses Magyar Nemzet of being in the pay of his multinational competitors who want to ruin his business.

Lénárd already has another business in mind. He and some of his friends will be introducing a crypto-currency called “korona” (crown), which they hope will be the bitcoin of East-Central Europe. As Lénárd explained, their crypto-korona will follow the concept of DigiCash Inc., an electronic money corporation found in 1989. But I would be careful if I were Lénárd because, after all, DigiCash went bankrupt nine years later. Lénárd claims that DigiCash’s problem was that its technology was too advanced for the time. In any case, the korona’s ICO (initial coin offering) will take place in Switzerland on February 26.

Lénárd proudly announced that “an expert from NASA” and “a member of the staff responsible for the development of Apollo-11” is heading the “korona” project. His name is Attila Bustya, and he is also a Csíkszereda native. He is the “co-founder and CEO of Spider Drone Security,” which upon closer observation turns out to be one of András Lénárd’s companies. Bustya is also involved with a firm called Swiss Message Bank, a rather bizarre internet application that can store voice messages for 100 years. What for? One can record “messages from the elderly and ill to loved ones and friends”  and share them years later, after the people are no more. Or, one can store and later reveal secrets. I made a valiant effort to find Attila Bustya’s connection to NASA but failed.

The pro-government media is rather quiet. Only Mandiner published an interview with Lénárd today, but the conversation took place at the end of December, before the news broke about his smuggling of striptease dancers to the United States. Origo meekly commented on Lénárd’s video message in which the conclusion was that “he was not a smuggler, only a rascal” (csibész, de nem csempész). I have the feeling that just as the Orbán government has conveniently forgotten about modifying the law on totalitarian symbols, it will similarly omit any mention of its favorite brewer’s unfortunate American escapade. I also suspect that his beer will soon disappear, especially since just before Christmas Romania’s State Office for Inventions and Trademarks (OSIM) refused to register “Igazi Csíki Sör.” Lénárd decided not to appeal.

January 5, 2018

Fidesz’s very own “NGOs” stuffed with public money

In case you haven’t heard of GONGOs, here is the definition of the term: “Government-organized non-governmental organizations which are set up or sponsored by a government in order to further its political interests and mimic the civic groups and civil society at home, or promote its international or geopolitical interests abroad.” According to Moises Naim, former editor of Foreign Policy, although quite a few GONGOs are established abroad, “the more dangerous GONGOs grow at home. They have become the tool of choice for undemocratic governments to manage their domestic politics while looking democratic.”

The term GONGO is not yet widely known in Hungary, but I’m sure that soon enough it will be because Hungary’s undemocratic government has its own GONGOs, the largest being CÖF or Civil Összefogás Fórum (Forum of Civic Alliance). People had suspected ever since its founding in 2009 that CÖF was a GONGO, but finally there is evidence that the government has generously endowed CÖF through Magyar Villamos Művek (MVM), a state-owned utility company. In addition to the MVM grant, CÖF admits to having received two donations from Szövetség a Polgári Magyarországért Alapítvány, a Fidesz foundation. The grants were allegedly small–in 2012 40 million and in 2013 20 million forints. So, contrary to the Hungarian Wikipedia entry, which claims that CÖF is a bona fide NGO supported by civic groups, its main source of funding is the Hungarian government and Fidesz.

CÖF’s main activity used to be the organization of the so-called peace marches, six in all between January 2012 and March 2014, to bolster Viktor Orbán’s hold on power.  We also know that CÖF plastered the country with thousands of billboards, campaigning months before the official start of the election campaign for the 2014 election. The cost of that ad campaign must have been enormous.

CÖF’s finances have been fishy for a long time, but László Csizmadia, a lawyer who is the president of the organization, consistently refused to answers questions about its sources of funding. Then he changed his mind. A year ago Csizmadia released a long list of supporters, claiming that between 2013 and 2015 CÖF had received almost 620 million forints in the form of gifts from organizations and individuals. When Népszabadság investigated the alleged gifts, however, it found that most of them were bogus.

Given the Orbán government’s recently intensified attack on NGOs that receive grants from abroad, the independent media decided to return to the finances of CÖF. At the end of April HVG published an article about CÖF, which unfortunately is still not available online. Information reached HVG that CÖF’s large budget is funded by the government via MVM. The cover of that issue tells it all. A dog dish filled with money with the caption: “Domesticated civilians—the bought and the attacked.”

The front page of HVG: Little Cöfi’s dish

CÖF’s leadership, which consists of four individuals, was outraged and released a statement which I’m sure they found ever so clever. They explained that there are different types of dogs: watch dogs, hunting dogs, and rabid dogs. CÖF is a watch dog which defends the homeland. Therefore HVG, which for years has been attacking them, must be satisfied with criticizing one of the other two categories.

But a few days later MVM fessed up: they admitted that in 2016 alone they gave 508 million forints to CÖF. Obviously, Csizmadia and his friends couldn’t admit that this money will be spent on the next Fidesz campaign. They had to come up with a couple of innocent-sounding projects. But their creative juices didn’t seem to be flowing. Their first brilliant idea was to establish an entirely new branch of the social sciences, which they decided to call “civilitika/civilitica.” Wow, that’s ambitious! The other undertaking will be the creation of “complete meals based on biological-dietetic principles,” which would then be served in school cafeterias. The chef who has been working on the project explained the meaning of a “complete meal.” It would be a meatloaf-like mixture that would also include the necessary vegetables. Why meatloaf? Because, according to the chef, children like it while they may not like eating vegetables on the side. I wonder how long these children would be satisfied with meatloaf every day, with or without vegetables. As for civilitica, I wouldn’t presume to guess what that could possibly be.

MVM’s grant of 508 million Hungarian forints is approximately $1.8 million. This may not sound like an extraordinary amount of money, but we have to keep in mind that in Hungary every party over a certain size, including Fidesz of course, receives a certain sum of money from the central budget. The money MVM gave to CÖF in 2016 is more than any of the opposition parties received. Jobbik got 476 million forints; MSZP, 427 million; LMP, 174 million; Együtt, 134 million; DK, 132 million; Párbeszéd, 107 million; and MLP, 71 million.

I should add that CÖF isn’t the only GONGO in Hungary. Szövetség a Nemzetért Alapítvány (SZNA), the organization behind the civic groups Viktor Orbán came up in 2002 after his failure to win the election, received 340 million forints last year from the state-owned HungaroControl, a company that offers air navigation services. Thus, says András Stumpf of the conservative Válasz, between these two GONGOs 848 million forints, approximately 3 million dollars, has already been stashed away, “and we are still at the very beginning of the campaign.”

Naturally, the opposition parties are up in arms, as they should be. However, both MVM and Fidesz insist that the contributions are legal because money received from state-owned companies is not considered to be public money. MVM, after releasing the information, explained to Átlátszó that “MVM in the last twenty years has spent several billion forints for projects important for society. This money all came from MVM’s own resources.” They also wanted to make sure that Átlátszó­ understands that in 2016 the MVM Group paid 130 billion forints in taxes.” Balázs Hidvéghi, the latest Fidesz spokesman, sees nothing wrong with CÖF campaigning for the government from “state money.” He also supports CÖF’s latest appearance in Brussels, where a group of about 20 people demonstrated against the bureaucrats of Brussels who had a few questions for Viktor Orbán about his undemocratic ways. The trip to Brussels “served a public function,” claims Hidvéghi.

MSZP is filing charges against MVM for engaging in forbidden party financing and misappropriation. DK is convinced that this is just the tip of the iceberg and wouldn’t be at all surprised if “the pseudo civic activists” receive more money than all the opposition parties put together. Jobbik remarked that “CÖF is less independent from Fidesz than Hazafias Népfront (Patriotic People’s Front) was from MSZMP” in the Kádár regime. I heard more than one person agree with this claim.

May 13, 2017