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.