Tag Archives: Miklós Hagyó

One of many of Fidesz-inspired show trials: The Hagyó case

It was almost three years ago that I wrote about the infamous Hagyó affair. Miklós Hagyó, a wealthy businessman and an MSZP politician, was  one of the deputy mayors of the city between 2006 and 2010. Among his duties was the supervision of the business practices of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). The Transit Authority was a badly managed, mammoth organization with enormous losses.

In March 2010 came a bombshell. Zsolt Balogh, one of the many CEOs of BKV, said on HírTV that he, as the newly appointed head of BKV, paid a courtesy visit to Hagyó, who right on the spot instructed him to hand over 40 million forints. Balogh obliged, and the next day he brought the money to the deputy mayor in a box originally designed as packaging for a Nokia telephone. This Nokia box has since become synonymous with the all-pervading corruption that allegedly characterized the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition during the premiership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Just for the record, I would like to quote my own words from a September 2012 post titled “A botched-up show trial in Hungary”:

At this point I said to myself: something is wrong here. There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam. During their very first encounter. Hagyó tried to clear his name but couldn’t. In late May, right after Hagyó lost his parliamentary seat due to the change of government, he was arrested. Obviously, the Hungarian prosecutors didn’t share my doubts.

Hagyó spent nine months in jail and several months in a prison hospital. After losing 26 kg, he was sent home to recuperate under house arrest. Two and a half years of investigation revealed very little. Prosecutors, for example, hoped to prove that the millions Hagyó allegedly extorted from Balogh ended up in MSZP’s coffers. But evidence was lacking. They also wanted to build a case of bribery but couldn’t. Eventually they had to settle on the good old charge of breach of fiduciary responsibility for fifteen of the sixteen accused in the wider case. The sole exception was Hagyó, who was charged with extortion.

The Hagyó trial was an important political weapon for Fidesz, and it was the first case that was transferred from Budapest to Kecskemét by Tünde Handó, head of the National Judicial Office. The alleged rationale for the change of venue was to speed up the trial. In truth, Handó, a Fidesz appointee and wife of the important Fidesz politician József Szájer, was looking for an accommodating judge.

Soon after the trial began, in September 2012, Attila Antal, another CEO of BKV who had given evidence against Hagyó, withdrew his original testimony. He told the court that while he was in jail he was ill and the police told him that he would be let go only if “he talks.” His testimony was faxed over to the prosecutor’s office page by page for them to inspect its contents and decide whether his testimony was satisfactory from the prosecution’s point of view. Antal’s revelation of pressure coming from the prosecutors was bad enough, but when Zsolt Balogh, a few days after Antal, told the court that the only reason he gave false testimony was because he was threatened with a jail term unless he came to the rescue of the prosecution, the case started to crumble. Balogh’s testimony was the only “evidence” of Hagyó’s guilt.

That didn’t prevent Fidesz from claiming two years later, in September 2014, just before the municipal election, that voting for István Tarlós’s opponent as mayor of Budapest “would mean the return of the Gyurcsány-era when millions stolen from BKV ended up in Nokia boxes.”

Civil Összefogás Fórum's billboard picturing Hagyó with Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai The caption reads: They don't deserve any more opportunity

Mklós Hagyó with Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai pictured as criminals in 2014. The caption reads: They don’t deserve any more opportunity

Miklós Hagyó was the victim of politics of the dirtiest kind. Of the Fidesz kind. A good legal study of the Hagyó case appeared in Galamus a year ago. According to the author, “the Hagyó trial will be taught in law schools as a sad example of political influence on the judiciary.” Reading some of the details that came to light during the long trial shows that there was a conspiracy among certain Fidesz politicians and the prosecutors “to create a case.” Those who were ready to cooperate later received well-paid jobs “under the wings of the new municipal administration” of István Tarlós. Policemen active in the “investigation” received better jobs, while the judge who automatically renewed Hagyó’s jail term was appointed a member of the constitutional court. The prosecutor who lent his name to the charges received a high decoration from the president of the country. Viktor Orbán was obviously grateful for the assistance.

The details that emerged are fascinating. For example, the prosecution issued an indictment before they had investigated the origin of the 30 million forints Zsolt Balogh allegedly handed over to Hagyó in 2008 and 2009. According to Balogh’s original and later withdrawn testimony, the money came from Márk Lazarovits, CEO of Synergon Informatikai Kft. in gratitude for a contract with BKV. The prosecution went ahead with the case without ever attempting to check the veracity of Balogh’s claim.

During the trial, after Balogh withdrew his testimony, the judge asked the prosecutors about the state of the investigation of Synergon as the possible source of the bribe. Of course, there was no such investigation either because of the incompetence of the prosecutors or, as I assume, because they suspected that Balogh’s testimony was so far-fetched that it was most likely bogus. At this point the decision was made to open a new investigation, a highly irregular move. Interestingly, even during this renewed attempt to find evidence, the prosecutors didn’t question Lazarovits. I suspect the reason for this “oversight” was that they knew full well that Lazarovits didn’t hand over any money to Balogh. In fact, other witnesses alluded to the fact that the prosecution had tried to pressure Lazarovits earlier to testify against Hagyó. Obviously without success. Since the investigators found no evidence of any money transaction originating from Synergon, finally, on June 23, 2015, the prosecutor’s office announced the close of the investigation. The case had totally collapsed.

Zsuzsa Sándor, a retired judge, came to the conclusion that after these developments the prosecution should ask for the acquittal of Miklós Hagyó–that is, “if it is not a show trial.” And she added: “We will find out in September,” when apparently the case will at long last be decided.

The European Anti-Fraud Office is a bit slow: The case of the Heart of Budapest project

Well, we are back in Budapest’s District V, which is known by many names: Lipótváros (Leopoldstadt), Belváros (Downtown), or lately for a little political propaganda “The Heart of Budapest.” At least this was the name of the mega-project undertaken within the boundaries of the district that made the historic district mostly traffic-free and repaved the streets between Kálvin tér and Szabadság tér, stretching 1.7 km, with fancy cobble stones. Like everything else, the project was largely financed by the European Union.

It was Antal Rogán, the newly elected mayor of the district, who came up with the idea of revamping downtown Pest shortly after the municipal election of 2006. He convinced the City Council of Greater Budapest to apply to Brussels for a grant, and it seemed that at least on the surface the SZDSZ-MSZP city and the Fidesz district were of one mind. We mustn’t forget that at this time Antal Rogán was considered to be a moderate and reasonable man. Later the Fidesz media praised him as a truly remarkable Fidesz mayor who managed, despite the fact that the city of Budapest and the government were in SZDSZ-MSZP hands, to receive a huge sum of money for the development of his district. Well, the Heart of Budapest project really was impressive. A good portion of District V became something of a showcase.

The renovated Károly körút - Photo András Földes

The renovated Károly körút – Photo András Földes

As we know, Antal Rogán has had his share of his political trouble ever since Péter Juhász, who was Együtt’s candidate for mayor last October, decided to investigate shady real estate deals during Rogán’s tenure. I wrote about corruption in the district in December and again in January. Juhász, unlike most Hungarian politicians, doesn’t give up. Whether he will succeed in putting Rogán in jail remains to be seen.

What Rogán did not need was another scandal. But he’s under attack yet again, this time in connection with the Heart of Budapest project. The internet site vs.hu reported yesterday that OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office working under the aegis of the European Commission, found serious irregularities in connection with Rogán’s project. According to vs.hu, OLAF finished its investigation at the end of last year and called upon the Hungarian Chief Prosecutor’s Office to begin an investigation of the case. Naturally, OLAF’s findings were also sent to the European Commission. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office admitted that they received the documentation that supports OLAF’s case but said that “currently work is being done on the translation of the material.” Knowing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, they will work on that translation for months if not years. Moreover, some opposition politicians learned that in the last few years the Chief Prosecutor’s Office received several dozen such complaints, but as far as we know Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt’s crew did nothing about them.

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the project. At the end of 2012 OLAF found that not everything was in order. There was a good possibility that both District V and the city of Budapest would have to pay sizable fines: about 900 million forints each. The charge? The officials of the district and the city who were handling the bidding process demanded such unnecessary qualifications from the applicants that only one combined firm, Reneszánsz Kőfaragó Zrt and Bau Holding 2000, forming the Heart of Budapest Consortium, could possibly undertake the work. The bidding was theoretically open to foreign firms as well, but I doubt that much effort was put into finding non-Hungarian companies for the job.

What kinds of unreasonable demands did the authorities insist on? To qualify, a company had to have references for 1.2 billion forints worth of work on historic buildings even though the new project focused on repaving streets. There was absolutely no restoration of historic buildings. This ploy is commonly used in Hungary to make sure that the “right” company is the successful bidder. In Hungary 40% of all projects end up with a single bidder. Every time such a thing happens we can be pretty sure that corruption is not far away.

In 2012, when this story broke, Rogán and his deputy András Puskás, who has since left the district under the cloud of possible corruption, argued that there was nothing wrong with the project. It was done properly. The problem, they countered, was that the European Commission didn’t like the Orbán government and concocted this case to attack Viktor Orbán and his politics.

Now that OLAF finally got to the point of calling on the Chief Prosecutor, the district is trying to shift the blame to the current opposition. After all, the argument goes, the first phase of the project was finished in 2009 when Gordon Bajnai was prime minister. And Gordon Bajnai was present at the official opening. I guess that, according to the brilliant logic of the editorial offices of Magyar Nemzet, Bajnai had something to do with passing on the job to an earlier designated firm just because he cut the tricolor ribbon at the opening ceremony. For good measure, Magyar Nemzet added that Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair of Együtt and then Bajnai’s chief-of-staff, participated in the negotiations. Szigetvári calls the accusation a lie.

In addition, Magyar Nemzet blames the SZDSZ-MSZP administration of the city of Budapest. “All this happened during the era of Demszky-Hagyó-Steiner.” Pál Steiner was the whip of the MSZP caucus on the city council while Miklós Hagyó was the MSZP deputy mayor. Hagyó was later accused in a vast corruption case, which is still pending. The lurid details of the case tarnished MSZP and helped Fidesz coast to an overwhelming victory, resulting in a two-thirds majority in 2010.

OLAF has been investigating for the last six years. Right now, the Chief Prosecutor’s office is busily, or not so busily, translating. When do you think we will know exactly what happened? If you ask me, never.

 

No conspiracy, no crime, only dereliction of duty: “The Siege of the Television Station”

More than six years after the events of September 18-20, 2006, the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Debrecen came to the conclusion that there was enough evidence to indict a few high-level police officers. They were involved, even if indirectly, in the “Siege of the Television Station” that did  considerable damage to property and endangered the lives of the ill-equipped police officers ordered to defend the building.

The plan to prosecute these police officers was hatched right after the second Orbán government was sworn in. When parliament convened, a sub-committee was created that was charged with investigating all the illegal activities of the socialist-liberal governments between 2002 and 2010. After a less than fair investigation the committee’s Fidesz and Jobbik members, with the active assistance of the same Tímea Szabó who nowadays is the bright star of the Jávor faction of LMP, voted for an official investigation of some  high police officials. Gergely Gulyás (Fidesz), the chairman of the subcommittee, turned to the prosecutors to investigate three specific issues. First was the lack of disciplinary action against the police officers involved although the police chief of the country knew about their shortcomings. Second, the police officers who were on the scene couldn’t be identified by the number that they were supposed to wear. Third, the policemen, after leaving the building, failed to ensure the security of the employees of the TV station.

It was on November 2, 2010 that Gulyás asked the prosecutors to investigate. For two years one heard nothing about the status of the investigation. Finally, on November 12, 2012, Magyar Nemzet learned that the Debrecen regional office of the Central Investigative Prosecutors Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) had finished its investigation and that an indictment could be expected soon. At the same time the media learned that five high-level police officers would most likely be indicted: Péter Gergényi, Budapest police chief; László Bene, police chief of Hungary; József Dobozi, former chief of the Rendészeti Biztonsági Szolgálat that in the past dealt mostly with football hooligans; Zoltán Majoros, who was in charge of the men at the television station; and Gábor Mittó, who commanded the police stationed at Szabadság tér. As I found out, these were the people who actually tried to do something while others who later criticized them either did nothing or completely lost their heads.

The siege of the television stationSeptember 18, 2006

The siege of the television station
September 18, 2006

Three more months of silence transpired. It was only yesterday that we learned that, in addition to the five officers, more policemen will probably face charges. Zoltán Majoros is charged with not taking good care of his men (elöljárói gondoskodás hiánya). According to the prosecutors, Majoros knew that his men were not properly outfitted “yet he did nothing to supply them with the missing items.” I might be a bit dimwitted, but I have to ask how on earth Majoros could have done that when the entire Hungarian police force lacked the necessary equipment for such encounters.

Gábor Mittó is accused of  insubordination. Péter Gergényi is charged with negligence of measures required of a superior (elöljárói intézkedés elmulasztása). If he is found guilty, he might face a five-year prison term. László Bene is charged on two counts: not initiating disciplinary action against some of his subordinates and neglecting to enforce the law on identification numbers. József Dobozi is being indicted for not investigating the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.

In addition, the prosecutors examined 190 alleged cases of police brutality but found only ten policemen whose conduct might warrant indictment.

On the surface  the long awaited indictments seem to indicate that there might be some foundation to the Fidesz-Jobbik charges against these high police officers. And yet the results of the investigation are meager from the point of view of the government. Because we mustn’t forget that, despite their best efforts, the “crimes” that were enumerated by the so-called Balsai Report couldn’t be substantiated by the very biased Hungarian prosecutors. Or at least they didn’t feel confident enough to include these accusations in their indictment. Because what did the Balsai Report allege? The 142-page report was written by István Balsai, who was later rewarded for his efforts with a seat on the Constitutional Court. The document was full of unfounded allegations that were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány gave direct orders to the police to commit crimes. Anyone who’s interested in the details should read my post entitled “The long arms of Viktor Orbán: The Balsai Report.”

The right-wing rhetoric about police criminals who shot out people’s eyes led nowhere. The only accusation they could come up with was dereliction of duty. There is not one word about the “cavalry charge against peaceful demonstrators” or “blinded pedestrians.”  Péter Hack, a professor of criminal law, told Népszava that if the police officers didn’t take proper care of their men they should be punished. But the charges that Balsai leveled turned out, as I always suspected, to be a pack of lies. The picture painted of the events of those days is one of the biggest falsifications in modern Hungarian history. (Another is the Kádár regime’s rewriting of the 1956 revolution to transform it into a Nazi uprising that aimed to restore the Horthy regime.)

And while we are on the subject of collapsed accusations, let me mention another interesting development in the Miklós Hagyó case. Hagyó as deputy mayor of Budapest was alleged to have carried home a 40 million forint bribe in a Nokia box and to have committed all sorts of other crimes that caused huge losses at the Budapest Transit System. I reported that one witness after the other during the trial changed his testimony, claiming intimidation by the investigating prosecutors.

When he feared that he would be arrested and that all his real estate holdings would be seized, Hagyó distributed his properties among family members. Naturally, the right-wing media cried foul. But the Kecskemét Court found that Hagyó’s properties were purchased long before he entered politics and therefore had nothing to do with the case. So yet another accusation collapsed. This is not the first and presumably not the last. Perhaps one day we will be able to get rid of all these lies.