Tag Archives: Országos Roma Önkormányzat

The Grand Alliance: Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas, partners in crime

No matter which newspaper or internet site I turned to in the last couple of months, I always seemed to find an article about new twists and turns in the infamous corruption case connected to the EU-financed project “Road to Employment.” The story goes back to 2015 when Ákos Hadházy, today co-chair of LMP and a steadfast sleuth of corruption, discovered a massive corruption case that led to the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-government) and its former chairman, Flórián Farkas. Farkas is today a member of parliament, government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and, most important, a close political ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Farkas is the man who delivers the Gypsy vote for Fidesz.

Signing of the grand alliance

Thanks to Hadházy’s insistence, the prosecutor’s office reluctantly began an investigation of the case on February 24, 2015 and has allegedly been investigating ever since. To date the office hasn’t questioned a single suspect in the embezzlement of about 1.6 billion forints ($5.5 million). Nonetheless, let’s be cockeyed optimists. The office still has about three more months–until June 24–before the investigation will probably be terminated.

Meanwhile, the ministry of human resources (EMMI), which is responsible for Roma affairs, began an investigation of its own. It came to the conclusion that, indeed, almost all the money ORÖ received had been “diverted.” The Gypsy organization was told that it will have to reimburse the ministry for the enormous amount of money it spent leasing expensive cars, buying a luxury villa on Gellérthegy Road in Buda, giving high salaries to officials of the organization, purchasing unnecessary software, and hundreds and hundreds of other useless items. The money which was intended to assist unemployed Roma achieve skills necessary for employment ended up in the pockets of Flórián Farkas and friends.

In May ORÖ and the ministry agreed on the terms for repayment of the embezzled money. In the first eleven months ORÖ was to pay only five million forints per month, totaling 55 million forints or 3% of the total obligation. In the twelfth month, however, the balance of the money owed (that is, the other 97%) was to be transferred to the ministry. It was a rather odd arrangement.

By early December it came to light that ORÖ actually owes more than 1.6 billion forints to the ministry. It had accumulated a debt of approximately 500 million forints to sundry firms, lawyers’ offices, the tax office, and ministries other than EMMI. The new chairman of ORÖ, János Balogh, just like his predecessors, enjoys an affluent lifestyle. Despite the financial difficulties the organization faces, he bought himself a fairly expensive new car without the approval of the board.

In the last few months, for reasons unknown, Flórián Farkas has become invisible. He has a nice family house in Szolnok, but his wife and his neighbors claim that he doesn’t live there at the moment. He cannot be seen in parliament either, although there is nothing new in that. Farkas is among those members of parliament who show up in the House on only the rarest of occasions.

Going back to the strange balloon payment due this spring, how in the world is ORÖ going to find that much money? For an answer we have to look no further than the handouts of the third Orbán government on December 21, 2016. It disbursed about 300 billion forints among its favorite organizations and projects: for instance, the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University, the Ludovika Military Academy, and the study of Viktor Orbán in the new building housing the prime minister’s office. Among these disbursements was a 1.3 billion forint item for ORÖ called “special assistance.” According to MTI, this money is meant to cover the establishment of the new Roma Oktatási és Kulturális Központ (Roma Educational and Cultural Center). In fact, this “special assistance” is a thinly veiled way to make ORÖ’s debt of billions disappear.

And what will happen to the “Road to Employment” program? The decision was made in February 2017 to dismantle it. The best thing is to forget about the whole thing, as if it never existed. As far as the fate of Flórián Farkas is concerned, he doesn’t have to worry. He has the full protection of Viktor Orbán. The prime minister’s office came to the conclusion that even though 1.6 billion forints disappeared, Flórián Farkas is innocent. He made a few small mistakes, that’s all. He will remain government commissioner in addition to his job as a member of parliament.

At this point one would have thought that at last we had finished with government handouts to the thoroughly corrupt ORÖ. But no. There was undoubtedly still a shortfall that had to be covered. A few days ago Magyar Nemzet reported that EMMI will buy ORÖ’s luxury villa on Gellérthegy Road for 270 million forints, which apparently is way above the current market value of the property. At the time that ORÖ bought it for 200 million, the price was already considered to be too steep. It is very possible that the government is buying a white elephant just to let the Gypsy leaders of this corrupt organization and its real boss, Flórián Farkas, off the hook. Or, viewed another way, to buy thousands and thousands of critical Gypsy votes.

March 13, 2017

The corrupt Roma organization and its former chairman have Viktor Orbán’s support

I have written at least two posts on the scandals surrounding the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/Nationwide Roma Self-Government) and its former chairman, Flórián Farkas. I devoted one post to the checkered career of Farkas, which I then followed up with Ákos Hadházy’s investigation of certain Roma programs that were being generously funded by the European Union. It turned out that instead of the money being used for the benefit of the Roma, most of the money ended up in the pockets of corrupt Roma leaders, including Flórián Farkas. However, no amount of investigation and no amount of evidence made the slightest difference. Flórián Farkas seemed untouchable.

The new chairman  of ORÖ claimed that “the chief obstacle to Roma integration is Flórián Farkas. If he cares at all about the well-being of Gypsies, he should submit his resignation” as chairman of Lungo Drum, a Roma political organization in whose name Farkas formed an alliance with Fidesz. Farkas, however, has no intention of resigning. In fact, he threatened the new leadership of ORÖ, saying that he would abolish the whole organization with the help of his highly-placed friends. I assume that among them one can find Viktor Orbán himself. Therefore it was naive of István Hegedüs, the new beleaguered chairman of ORÖ, to accept Viktor Orbán’s support in his attempt to oust Farkas.

The Fidesz-Roma alliance: New Roma politics--Together for our future

The Fidesz-Roma alliance: New Roma politics–Together for our future

Flórián Farkas still has his devoted supporters, who claim that it is Hegedüs who has ruined ORÖ, which was a well run organization in fine financial shape under Farkas’s stewardship. In fact, the four deputy chairmen of ORÖ have demanded Hegedüs’s resignation. Meanwhile the National Tax and Customs Office is investigating, and ORÖ is close to bankruptcy.

From what we can learn from documents acquired by RomNet.hu, an internet site serving the Roma community, the mismanagement of the organization can be traced to Flórián Farkas’s tenure as the head of ORÖ. Leaders of the organization were grossly overpaid and received benefits to which they were not entitled. It’s no wonder that Aladár Horváth, one of the few Roma politicians of integrity, suggested abolishing ORÖ since it is not the best vehicle for handling the affairs of the Hungarian Roma. And he was not alone. Péter Niedermüller, DK member of the European Parliament, joined Horváth. He described ORÖ as “an organization which is unfit and unworthy to represent the largest minority in Hungary. Fist fights at meetings of the organization, mutual accusations of corruption, secret meetings with government politicians” undermine any confidence in ORÖ. He argued that the money earmarked for Roma convergence, instead of being used to fund this corrupt group of Roma politicians, should be given to authentic civic organizations involved with the betterment of the Roma’s situation.

A few months ago the ministry of human resources reluctantly began to investigate some of the corruption cases connected to Flórián Farkas’s ORÖ. They found at least 270 million forints that were spent on enriching Roma politicians instead of for the intended purposes. ORÖ coughed up 18 million forints toward the amount the organization must pay back to the ministry.

At that point it looked as if Flórián Farkas, who in the past had already had some close calls, would have to give up his cushy jobs as government commissioner on Roma affairs, Fidesz MP, and adviser to the prime minister. On November 26, in a parliamentary commission meeting open to the public, the ORÖ corruption cases came up. János Lázár severely criticized Flórián Farkas and ORÖ’s handling of the generous financial resources supplied by the European Union. At one point Farkas, who attended the meeting, had to listen to Lázár proclaim that the career of a politician who makes such a “mistake” will come to a screeching halt (megy a lecsóba). Well, everybody thought that this was the end of Flórián Farkas.

They were wrong, although in the following days more outrageous stories continued to surface. For instance, ORÖ received seven or eight valuable pieces of real estate, most of which have been left to deteriorate, although one luxury apartment, which ORÖ got two years ago as “a Christmas present” from the Hungarian government, was occupied by friends of Farkas. The organization received a “castle” from the County of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, where Farkas promised to establish a school for Roma boys interested in sports. The agreement stipulated that if ORÖ was unable to open the school within five years, the property would be taken back by the county. Nothing has come of the project, but millions were spent guarding it. And other valuable pieces of property, for instance one in Balatonboglár, have had the same fate.

Lázár might have talked tough at that parliamentary commission meeting, but today he backpedaled when had to admit that “Viktor Orbán has no reason to take away Farkas’s job as government commissioner and he has no intention of severing relations with ORÖ.” Farkas is a very important man for Viktor Orbán. He is the one who delivers the Roma vote for Fidesz. And that’s the only thing that matters.

The leader of the Hungarian Roma community under scrutiny

In the last few days several investigative articles have appeared about the growing scandal at the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ), the representative of the Hungarian Roma minority. Although Ákos Hadházy of LMP called attention to corruption in one of the programs under the supervision of ORÖ in early February, the prosecutors didn’t find sufficient cause to investigate. After a while, however, it was impossible to ignore the case because the evidence of wrongdoing was overwhelming. At last an investigation began in early May. NAV, the tax authority, appeared at the headquarters of ORÖ and began collecting documents and computers.

Back in February I wrote about the case and wondered whether the former head of ORÖ, Flórián Farkas, would be investigated this time and whether, if found guilty, he would finally be punished. Until now he has always managed to avoid prosecution. In that post I very briefly outlined Farkas’s run-ins with the law. Here I would like to concentrate on his shady political career.

Flórián Farkas has had assistance from both the left and the right. Currently, he is one of the signatories of the Fidesz-Lungo Drom Alliance; the other signatory is Viktor Orbán. But he also had excellent relations with MSZP during the 1994-1998 period when an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition was in power. It seems that both Gyula Horn of MSZP and Viktor Orbán of Fidesz overlooked Farkas’s misdeeds since, for some strange reason, both thought that he could deliver the Roma vote. Whether he did or not nobody knows.

In every regime, under all governments, Farkas managed not only to survive but to ascend the political hierarchy. According to an article that appeared recently in Népszabadság, he was already active in Roma organizations during the Kádár period, but it was only in the early 1990s that he established Lungo Drom, which eventually became the favorite Roma organization of the Antall government as opposed to the Roma Parliament, which József Antall considered to be too radical. By 1993, among the various Roma organizations, Lungo Drom received the most financial assistance from the government.

Although there had been questions even at that stage about the finances of Lungo Drom, it received the support of the Horn government after 1994. Over the next four years Farkas got into all sorts of scrapes, which an ambitious investigative journalist, Attila B. Hidvégi, tried to learn more about. When Hidvégi was working on a 1995 case involving Farkas, two associates of the Hungarian secret service visited him and told him to stop digging around. He gave up. Farkas obviously had important friends in high places. Another time, when it looked as if his case would end up in the courts, President Árpád Göncz got a phone call from the ministry of justice more or less instructing him to grant Farkas clemency, which meant that the case never went to trial. Moreover, documents pertaining to the affair were declared to be top secret for 30 years.

Before the 1998 election Farkas managed to convince Gyula Horn that he would be able to deliver the Gypsy vote at the forthcoming election. Horn was certainly courting Lungo Drom. He attended its congress in January 1998 where he delivered a speech, which he included in his book Azok a kilencvenes évek… (Those 1990s). In it Horn told his audience that the Roma community has to shape up and do its share in changing the situation of the Gypsy community. Some other Roma communities criticized the prime minister but, as Horn put it in 1999 when the book was written, “Flórián Farkas and I continued to work to realize the programs that had been started.” (p. 472)

Great was the surprise within MSZP when at the end of 2001 Fidesz and Lungo Drom signed an agreement to cooperate politically. This time Farkas misjudged the situation, which was not at all surprising because almost all the opinion polls predicted an overwhelming Fidesz victory. Fidesz lost but Viktor Orbán made sure that Farkas’s name was placed high enough on the party list that he would easily become a member of parliament, where he served for two terms as a member of the Fidesz caucus.

Since 2010 Farkas’s influence has grown considerably, especially after he signed a formal alliance with the government to craft the country’s Roma strategy.

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

A few days ago, Magyar Nemzet suggested that perhaps the greatest task Hungary has to undertake in the coming years is to find a solution to the problems of the Hungarian Roma community. The author of the article estimated that 20% of all Hungarian children under the age of five are Roma. If this new generation cannot be rescued from the kind of poverty and low educational attainment the Roma community currently experiences, the future of the Hungarian economy will be in serious jeopardy. The article accused the so-called Roma elite of betraying their own people. But in the final analysis, I believe, Hungarian politicians, past and present, are perhaps even more responsible for the prevailing situation. They were the ones who handed over billions and billions of forints coming from the European Union to corrupt Roma leaders.

The Roma politicians around Fidesz have their own enablers in the Orbán government. Index learned that Tamás Köpeczi-Bócz, an assistant undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, is a suspect in the case involving the financial manipulations of ORÖ. He is in charge of the coordination of EU funds, including a sizable amount of money for Roma affairs. Apparently, it is thanks to him that no investigation of the affairs of ORÖ took place until now because he informed the prosecutors that all expenses were absolutely legitimate. In brief, it seems he is part and parcel of the fraud that has been perpetrated for years.

Magyar Nemzet learned that Farkas has the exclusive right to choose Roma politicians to fill certain government positions. That’s why, claims the paper, Lívia Járóka, a former member of the EU Parliament, was dropped by Viktor Orbán. Indeed, take a look at her biography in Wikipedia. One has to wonder why she was shipped off to Brussels in the first place. And why, after two terms, did she disappear into nothingness? The Wikipedia article ends with this sentence: “As of September 2014 she is no longer listed on the European Parliament site as an MEP.” Can Hungary afford to dispense with a Roma politician of this caliber? Viktor Orbán obviously believes that it can.

Commentators think that Flórián Farkas has never been closer to being indicted, especially since there are signs that the Orbán government might stop shielding him. János Lázár announced that if Farkas cannot clear his name, the prime minister will withdraw confidence in him. Népszabadság noted that Lungo Drom is no longer mentioned as an ally on Fidesz’s website. But who will come after  him? Offhand, I don’t see any serious, reliable candidate for the job.

Corruption in Roma organizations: The case of Flórián Farkas

If you were to ask László Bogdán, the maverick, controversial Roma mayor of Cserdi in Baranya County, he would tell you that the Roma organizations that allegedly represent Hungary’s Roma minority should all be abolished. In his opinion, these people are the worst enemies of the Hungarian Roma because they are politically and fiscally corrupt. A large chunk of the billions the European Union and the Hungarian government spent in the last twenty-five years on convergence programs for the Gypsy minority ended up in their pockets.

It’s all too easy to agree with Bogdán. There are just too many stories about local Gypsy leaders pressuring their fellow Roma to cast votes for the mayor they support or to vote for the party that bought their allegiance.

The current scandal is about the disappearance of well over a billion forints from EU funds for a program called “Bridge to Employment.” Implicated in the alleged corruption case is Flórián Farkas, who has been a faithful ally of Viktor Orbán ever since 1998.

It was Ákos Hadházy, the veterinarian from Szekszárd who uncovered the illegal grants of tobacco concessions by local Fidesz officials to friends and Fidesz supporters, who once again unearthed possible fraud. Hadházy nowadays is a member of LMP and spends his spare time digging into possible corruption cases in connection with EU subsidies. He found that the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-Government), instead of creating jobs through the “Bridge to Employment” program, spent 31 million forints for office furniture, 26 million for improvements of its headquarters, 28 million to lease ten cars for six months, 19 million for a study about what kind of software the organization should buy, 21 million for seven computers, 31 million for another study on recruitment to the program, and nothing on job creation. The top members of ORÖ are outraged at Farkas’s alleged spending spree.

Farkas’s position in ORÖ is murky. Officially, he is no longer the president of the organization because, according to the new parliamentary rules, a member of parliament cannot have any other job. In December 2014, however, Viktor Orbán named Farkas government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and in that capacity he appointed himself head of the “Bridge to Employment” program. Moreover, he seems to have a stranglehold on ORÖ. His successor, István Hegedűs, indicated that he is in his position as long as Farkas wants him there.

As for those indignant ORÖ leaders who accuse Farkas of depriving the Hungarian Roma of millions if not billions of forints, they might be upset for their own selfish reasons. Hadházy discovered that one of the organizers of the project, Tamás Monostori, told the Roma leaders at a meeting last summer that “nobody has to be afraid of being left out. It’s no secret that there is an enormous amount of money that we haven’t been able to use.” Index found even more direct evidence that Farkas promised part of the money to the members of ORÖ. In 2013, at a general meeting of the organization, he told the members who were present that “we will try to secure this money or a little more for you.” A substantial portion of the EU subsidies would be used to give full-time jobs to the elected Roma politicians of ORÖ.

As time went by, it was discovered that the transactions Hadházy unearthed in early January represented only a fraction of the money spent by Farkas and his friends. They also purchased a building (initially, the purchase price was unknown) in the elegant Gellérthegy section of Buda, on which they spent an additional 21 million. Later Farkas and Co. unintentionally revealed in an answer to Hadházy’s letter that they paid around 300 million forints for the building itself. The anti-Farkas forces insisted on calling a meeting of the representatives of ORÖ. But apparently Farkas made sure that his friends boycotted the gathering, leaving the rebels without a quorum.

At this point the government and the prosecutors decided that perhaps they ought to move. What will follow remains unclear. János Lázár, who is responsible for the disbursement of EU subsidies, announced that he would launch an inquiry only when the whole project was completed. For me this means: let’s investigate only when all the money is stolen.

Hadházy pressed charges against the leadership of the “Bridge to Employment,” but the prosecutor’s office refused to follow up. The office might, however, investigate the charge of “budgetary fraud.”  NAV, the national tax and custom’s office, is also interested in the case. And Zoltán Balog called for an internal investigation. So, we will see what happens.

It was in 2011 that Flórián Farkas took over the chairmanship ORÖ, which previously was called Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ/National Gypsy Self-Government). His predecessor was Orbán Kolompár, who had several encounters with the law and is now serving a sentence for embezzlement.

Flórián Farkas was born in 1957 and, unlike Kolompár, finished high school. For a while he worked in the building industry. Between 1975 and 1982 he ran into trouble with the law on three occasions and spent time in jail. He has been involved with Roma affairs since 1987 and in 1991 became secretary general of Lungo Drom (Long Road in the Romani language). In 2003 he was named president of OCÖ.

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

His fourth encounter with the law was in 1996 when the prosecutor’s office investigated him in connection with the foundations around Lungo Drom. As a result of this investigation, he was charged in 1998 with breach of fiduciary responsibilities. The Hungarian public never found out, however, whether Farkas was guilty of the charge or not. President Árpád Göncz gave him “procedural clemency,” and the documents pertaining to the case were sealed for thirty years. Apparently the reason for the clemency was the close relationship that existed between OCÖ and the socialist-liberal government of Gyula Horn.

In 1998, when Fidesz won the election, Farkas moved over to Viktor Orbán’s camp. Just before the 2002 elections the Farkas-led Lungo Drom signed an “electoral alliance” with Fidesz. Obviously, Farkas, like everybody else, was certain of a Fidesz victory. The Roma leader was given a high enough position on the Fidesz list that he became a member of parliament. He then had eight rather lean years in opposition until, in 2010, the billions from the EU fell into his lap.

We’ll see whether he has a fifth encounter with the law. And whether he will be protected once again.