Tag Archives: MVMP

“The great Fidesz gas theft”

On Friday Viktor Orbán summarized his administration’s achievements at a conference held in Bratislava/Pozsony.  The short English-language talk was mostly about the accomplishments of his unorthodox economic policies, but he briefly called attention to the necessity of having a strong domestic capitalist class. In Hungary, just in other former socialist countries, he admitted, there is not enough capital to enable local entrepreneurs to become really powerful economic engines. But, he added, “we are getting there.”

Under these circumstances how can a country create a strong monied class in record time? If conditions were normal, it would take a considerable length of time for local businessmen to grow organically and compete successfully with foreign companies. If, however, you want instant super-rich capitalists, I can see only one way of achieving that miracle: to make sure that the state creates a legal framework that allows public money to be funneled into private hands. And this is what the Orbán government has been doing in the last five and a half years. The case study I’m sharing today–MET Holding–is most likely only the tip of the iceberg.

The story is not new, but now we have most of the documentation to prove what we have suspected all along: a few of Viktor Orbán’s close friends have made billions at the expense of the Hungarian people.

In 2007 MET Group, headquartered in Switzerland, began operations “in natural gas retail and wholesale trading in the European market as well as in the retail sale of natural gas to industrial customers in Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia.” Five years later, in 2012, MET Holding was established to manage and support the subsidiaries of MET Group.

Shortly after the election in 2010 Orbán promised cheaper energy to consumers. In order to lower prices, the state-owned MVM (Magyar Villamossági Művek) was allowed to dip into its gas reserves, which it could then replenish with cheaper gas from the open market, through a pipeline from Austria. The cheaper gas was supposed to be sold to hospitals, schools, and public buildings. MVM claimed, however, that its own retailer, MVMP (MVM Partners), didn’t have enough experience, so they would have to use a Swiss subsidiary of MET Holding, METI (MET International), for the transactions. As a result, MET itself reaped about 80% of the gain that the cheaper gas coming from the West offered to MVM. That is, the savings from the cheaper gas went to the shareholders of MET Holding instead of to Hungarian consumers.

In order to make that business deal legal, the Orbán government simply changed the regulation governing trading via the pipeline. In 2011 Tamás Fellegi, minister of national development, signed a new regulation allowing MVM to be the sole trader of gas from the open market. The arrangement, which was originally intended to remedy a one-time shortage in gas reserves, was extended year after year. The Hungarian government was perfectly happy to have MET, a private company, be the chief beneficiary of the cheaper gas coming from the West and not the state-owned MVM. This arrangement, by the way, is coming to an end on July 1 because Hungary is currently under an infringement procedure for allowing a single company to use the gas pipeline without holding any auctions.

We knew some of these details already last fall. I wrote about them in November, but then we had no documentation and hence no hard proof. Since then, however, Bertalan Tóth, an MSZP member of parliament, sued MVM for refusing to release the documentation of what is considered to be “a bizarre arrangement” between MET and MVM. Tóth won in the court of first instance and, after MVM’s appeal, also in the court of appeal. He received thousands of documents back in January, but it took months to wade through them and reconstruct a plausible scenario of three years of shady transactions. This morning summaries of the documents appeared on MSZP’s website. On the basis of the documents, the losses the publicly-owned MVM suffered in three years may be as high as 100 billion forints. In November, the estimate was only half that much.

Some of the details that have emerged from these documents are truly bizarre. For example, MVM bought MET’s gas on the Austrian side and later gave it back to MET on the Hungarian side and charged only 2.3-3.5 ft./m³ for shipping. It is also clear from the documents that MVM’s claim that MVMP, the subsidiary created to be a retailer for MVM, was not experienced enough to do the actual buying and selling on the open market was an outright lie. MVMP did a brisk business already in 2011 and 2012 and bought gas for MVM 16.55 forints cheaper than MET did. It even happened that MVMP bought gas from MET on the Austrian side and sold it back to MET for a lower price. MVMP didn’t lose any money because the gas sold back to MET included some gas purchased from another company at a much lower price. From the documents it looks as if MVMP acted only as a “mailman” between MET and MVM. MVM didn’t lose money on its transactions with MET, but its own profit was minimal.

Viktor Orbán and István Garancsi

Viktor Orbán and István Garancsi

Since the documents were released only this morning, there hasn’t been much time to comb through the material. Moreover, Tóth and his experts on gas transactions figure that perhaps 1,000 documents are still missing, without which the picture is far from complete. Still, the skeleton of the story is there. The Orbán government used the power of the state and its ability to change laws to pass public money to private individuals.

One of the owners of MET, by the way, is István Garancsi, who is described as the new Lajos Simicska. He is the owner of the Videoton Football League which, in turn, has close connections with the Ferenc Puskás Academy. Garancsi is considered to be one of Orbán’s frontmen. He is the one who just signed a contract with the Hungarian government to build the sites for the Aquatic World Championships to be held in 2017.

Another corruption case and the news of the day

Yesterday I promised to write about another scandalous affair, this time involving a close friend and business partner of Viktor Orbán, István Garancsi. This morning after I read a number of articles on the subject I almost gave up on the idea. The case is so complicated–surely for good reason–that it takes some doing to figure out exactly what happened. Here is what I managed to put together. I’m waiting for more input from readers.

Shortly after Viktor Orbán won the election, companies dealing with distance heating wanted to raise their prices, a move that would not have been popular and something the new government wanted to avoid. So the government instructed the state-owned MVMP Partner Energiakereskedelmi Zrt. to supply gas to these providers from its reserves at a lower rate. In return, the government made sure that MVMP would receive cheaper western gas by way of compensation. In fact, the government bought a great deal more gas than was necessary to replenish the reserves. The extra, which was in fact the bulk of the purchases, was sold by MVMP to a company called MET. It then sold the inexpensive gas at a handsome profit.

MET has its headquarters in Switzerland, but some of its subsidiaries are in Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands. Behind its complex business structure are two Hungarians:  György Nagy and István Garancsai.  György Nagy was the founder of Wallis Rt., an investment company, whose CEO between 2000 and 2006 was Gordon Bajnai. Subsequent to Wallis Nagy was involved in several successful business ventures. István Garancsai is the owner of Viktor Orbán’s favorite soccer team, Videoton. He also owns a small credit union, Duna Takarék, which miraculously was not nationalized when all others were. It turned out that it was Duna Takarék that gave a loan of 600 million forints to Viktor Orbán’s soccer foundation in Felcsút.

These offshore companies got inexpensive gas thanks to the largesse of the Hungarian government. They then sold it at the going market price in Hungary. According to estimates, their profit was 50 billion forints in 2012 alone.

Those of you who are interested in the extremely complicated details should read the two articles published by atlatszo.hu on January 28 and February 3.

Just a taste of the complexity of the businesses involved / Source: atlatszo.hu

Just a taste of the complexity of the businesses involved / Source: atlatszo.hu

And now let’s move on to some important news of the day. Early in the morning it became known that although the Hungarian government claimed that the European Commission supported its agreement with Russia concerning Paks, the claim is not true. Of course, that doesn’t surprise me because members of the Orbán government are not known for their truthfulness. On Monday, for example, Viktor Orbán delivered a twenty-five-minute speech in parliament in which there was not one truthful statement about the real state of affairs. At any event, when the government initially made its claim that the EU was on board with the Paks deal,  HVG was skeptical and inquired from the commissioner for energy about the case. The reporter was told that the commissioner hadn’t received detailed information and that they were waiting until they had it in hand. Today came the news that the European Commission will investigate the case very soon.

And in a blow to the Hungarian government’s tax policy, the European Court of Justice ruled that

Articles 49 TFEU and 54 TFEU must be interpreted as precluding legislation of a Member State relating to tax on the turnover of store retail trade which obliges taxable legal persons constituting, within a group, ‘linked undertakings’ within the meaning of that legislation, to aggregate their turnover for the purpose of the application of a steeply progressive rate, and then to divide the resulting amount of tax among them in proportion to their actual turnover, if – and it is for the referring court to determine whether this is the case – the taxable persons covered by the highest band of the special tax are ‘linked’, in the majority of cases, to companies which have their registered office in another Member State.

To translate this convoluted sentence into plain English, the extra tax that foreign-based retail chains had to pay since 2011 is discriminatory. The judges instructed the Hungarian courts to make a ruling in accordance with EU laws in those cases where foreign companies suffered financial discrimination. Apparently the contested tax revenues amounted to about 90 billion forints. According to legal experts, it is likely that the Hungarian government will end up paying a great deal more compensation to these companies.

As for a resolution on the fate of the “Gabriel” monument, the suspense remains. Tomorrow János Lázár will have a meeting with various Jewish organizations. A leak published by Népszabadság claimed that the erection of the monument has been “postponed,” a statement that was promptly denied by Antal Rogán. Meanwhile one Jewish organization after the other is returning the money received from the government for the events of the Holocaust Memorial Year. In brief, it is a mess. But Viktor Orbán doesn’t like to admit defeat, and therefore there is a good possibility that he will go ahead with the project. Let’s hope that he realizes the gravity of such a decision given the general climate both within and outside Hungary.