I’m somewhat late in reporting on the latest developments surrounding the infamous Flórián Farkas, Viktor Orbán’s “strategic Roma ally.” Farkas is a Fidesz member of parliament, commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and chairman of Lungo Drom. He is the man who delivers the Gypsy vote for Fidesz.
Over the years it became evident that, under Farkas’s watch, billions of EU money designed for a project called “Road to Employment” had disappeared. This left the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-government) bankrupt.
In February 2015 Ákos Hadházy, then a new member of LMP who specialized in tracking down corruption cases, discovered a massive embezzlement of about 1.6 billion forints ($5.5 million), which the organization was supposed to spend on a work program for the unemployed Roma. The prosecutor’s office began investigating the case. Two years later they were still investigating. In the meantime Flórián Farkas disappeared from sight, I assume in order not to call attention to himself. He may also have also been working behind the scenes to save his skin. The prosecutors either had to abandon the case or bring charges against Farkas by June 24, 2017. Farkas, by the way, has the reputation of being a real survivor. He’s had some very close brushes with the law but has always managed to escape prosecution.
While the prosecutors were allegedly investigating the case, the ministry of human resources, which is responsible for Roma affairs, began an investigation of its own. It came to the conclusion that almost all the money ORÖ received had been “diverted.” The Gypsy organization was told that it would have to reimburse the ministry for the more than 1.6 billion forints it received. In the first eleven months ORÖ was to pay only five million forints per month, or 3% of the total obligation. Over the next 12 months, however, the balance of the diverted funds was to be paid back to the ministry. But where was ORÖ going to find that much money?
The Orbán government solved ORÖ’s “financial difficulties.” You may recall that at the end of 2016 the Orbán government found itself flush with cash. In a great hurry it disbursed about 300 billion forints among its favorite organizations and projects, including 1.3 billion forints to ORÖ in the form of “special assistance.” So, that problem was solved. The Orbán government on taxpayer money covered the funds Flórián Farkas and his accomplices had embezzled. In fact, the government had no choice. OLAF, EU’s anti-corruption office, had begun an investigation, and it was becoming obvious that this money would have to be paid back one way or the other. Since the original money was gone, the government had to dish out the missing funds.
The prosecutor’s office faced a deadline of June 24 of this year to determine what to do with Farkas. That dilemma was solved on May 29 when László Kövér and Flórián Farkas signed another “strategic alliance” between Fidesz and Lungo Drom. This time the signing ceremony was nothing like four years ago when the whole media reported on the official ceremony at which Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas signed the agreement. This time the ceremony was held not in the parliament building but in the modest Fidesz headquarters on Lendvay utca, and the organizers made sure that only the state television station’s journalist and cameraman were present. In the last minute the Fidesz organizers brought the event forward by two hours but neglected to inform all the other members of the media.
While the short ceremony was taking place, the prime minister, who happened to be in Hódmezővásárhely at the time, said that his trust in Farkas was unbroken and that Farkas would remain the number one leader of the Hungarian Roma as far as the Hungarian government is concerned. Indeed, ever since 2002 Lungo Drom has been a strong supporter of Fidesz. I’m sure that Orbán also appreciates that Farkas didn’t abandon him when in that year Fidesz lost the election. Farkas remained faithful to him through eight hard years in opposition.
After the signing Ildikó Lendvai, the former leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, wrote an amusing piece titled “The wolf is inside.” It was a take on a children’s game called “the lamb is in, the wolf is out” (Benn a bárány, kinn a farkas). “Farkas” in Hungarian means wolf. In the game children form a circle. One child, the lamb, is inside and another, the wolf, is outside. The goal is for the wolf to catch the lamb. Clearly, Farkas is safe now, inside the circle. No one will catch him for at least five more years.
Although there were rumors to the effect that Farkas’s position inside of Lungo Drom had been considerably weakened, he managed to continue in his position as chairman of the organization. In the middle of June it was reported that Farkas had resorted to trickery in order to remain in power. Instead of holding a formal meeting of the leaders, he organized a dinner party where his friends and supporters unanimously voted for his reelection. At the same time he set up a new Roma organization called “Roma Integrációért Országos Szövetség” (National Association for Roma Integration) which will be eligible to apply for EU funding. That really boggles the mind.
As for the debt of ORÖ, one would think that by now ORÖ had paid back everything it owed the ministry of human resources thanks to the government’s generosity. But in the last few months it came to light that the total amount of embezzled money was not 1.6 billion forints but 2.5 billion and therefore the “special assistance” of the Orbán government was insufficient to cover all the debts.
Although Ákos Hadházy still believes that Farkas is criminally liable and that the possibility exists of filing charges against him, I don’t think too many people would wager much money on such an eventuality.