Tag Archives: Péter Juhász

Back in business: the Orbán government is after its opponents

After the summer doldrums Hungarian politics is back in attack mode. In the last couple of days we witnessed two highly disturbing events. The first was the frisking of Ákos Hadházy, LMP’s new co-chairman and a member of parliament, by watchful policemen in Viktor Orbán’s private domain of Felcsút. The second was the crude, but potentially damaging, attempt by people most likely close to government circles to discredit Péter Juhász, co-chair of Együtt (Together), who is one of the most effective political activists in the anti-Fidesz camp.

Frisking in Felcsút

Felcsút is under the watchful eyes of the Hungarian police day and night. They make sure that no stranger loiters anywhere near Viktor Orbán’s precious football stadium. Especially suspect are people who are critical of the regime. As are camera crews. In the past, the police would retreat if confronted (I assume quite forcefully) with the argument that they have no right to interfere because the area is public property. At least this was the case about a year ago when Ferenc Gyurcsány managed to film a ten-minute video on life in Felcsút.

Ákos Hadházy was not so lucky when he appeared in Felcsút in the company of the TV crew of the German RTL2. They wanted to take some pictures of the stadium and the infamous choo-choo train which keeps going back and forth on its 5 km track, usually totally empty. They were stopped and, most likely illegally, frisked, and their car was also thoroughly searched. Apparently, a “helpful” neighbor of Viktor Orbán, who has a weekend house in Felcsút, called the police on them, claiming that they wanted to enter Orbán’s house, which was obviously a lie.

Hadházy on his Facebook page described what happened. “I was just smiling, but the Germans were downright shocked.” After their thorough search Hadházy was informed that the reason for this highly unusual procedure is that the country is under a state of “increased preparedness” (fokozott készültség). A brief video taken on Hadházy’s phone can be seen on YouTube.

When Index inquired about this claim from ORFK (Országos Rendőrfőkapitányság), they were told that the police chief of the country had ordered “increased control” (fokozott ellenőrzés) for the whole country between July 1 and September 30, 2016, which allows policemen to stop anyone or any vehicle and do a thorough search. The police didn’t explain the reason for introducing such a measure between these particular dates. I suspect that this incident has nothing whatsoever to do with the “increased control” measures but rather is part and parcel of the harassment of anyone who tries to call attention to the corruption of Viktor Orbán and his family, especially in and around Felcsút.

hadhazy

Today Orbán was accosted by journalists on his way to the yearly Fidesz picnic in Kötcse and asked about the incident. Orbán said that the police “must have had their reasons.” There are rules and regulations that everyone must obey. János Halász, the Fidesz spokesman, went further. He doubted Hadházy’s veracity because “in the past he has come up with so much nonsense that we are handling this case cautiously.” The “nonsense” Halász referred to is Hadházy’s heroic effort to uncover corruption cases related to EU subsidies.

Fidesz media comes to the rescue of Antal Rogán

This is not a pretty story either. Tamás Portik, who is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence for murder and other criminal activities, testified against Antal Rogán in the case Rogán bought against Péter Juhász, co-chair of Együtt. Juhász called him a criminal  and said that, as mayor, he had embezzled a great deal of money through his sales of property in the ritzy District V of downtown Pest. Portik claimed that at one point he was asked to deliver 10 million forints worth of euros from one of Rogán’s “customers” to the mayor. I covered the story in great detail back in June. Since then the Hungarian prosecutor’s office has declined to investigate the authenticity of Portik’s testimony. But, for one reason or another, Rogán and the people around him still don’t feel safe and so decided to go after Juhász.

On September 7 Pesti Srácok, a far-right Fidesz and government supported internet site, came out with a story that Portik’s girlfriend, Erika A. E., “handles his money” in Hungary, some of which is used to support an unnamed but well-known opposition politician. The claim is that some of Portik’s money, about €22-23 million of which is in Switzerland, is managed by his 20-year-old son. It is used to finance opposition parties.

According to Pesti Srácok, Portik’s money is funneled through a “foundation,” which recently received 80 million forints for the support of the politician. The person Pesti Srácok was obviously referring to, even if not by name, is Péter Juhász, who a few months ago asked the public for financial help because on his meager salary as district council member he cannot provide for his family of four.

Once the Pesti Srácok story was out, revelation followed revelation in the right-wing media. Válasz, another Fidesz mouthpiece, revealed that Juhász was the politician in question. A few hours later Attila Menyhárt, a former cellmate of Portik, showed up at Andy Vajna’s by now notorious TV2 studio. He recalled that Portik had proudly told him that he is able to influence politics even from inside his cell. He said that Péter Juhász was “Portik’s man, and that means a lot. He is the one who tells Juhász what to say, what to do, and what kinds of statements to make in public. Portik considers Juhász his puppet.” Portik would like to see the current government overthrown, which he believes will result in his freedom.

Naturally, Fidesz decided to pursue this juicy story. Moreover, as if the story weren’t damning enough on its face, it kept getting embellished. By the time it got to István Hollik, a member of the KDNP parliamentary delegation who was assigned to the case, the claim was that Juhász had admitted that he had accepted money from Portik.

How did this story gain traction? According to Juhász, Erika A. E., whom he didn’t know at that point, phoned him and offered him a picture on which Portik and Rogán can be seen together at some kind of gala gathering. The picture was evidence that the two men knew each other, or at least had met. When Erika delivered the photo, she asked whether Juhász would be good enough to collect some articles about the Rogán-Juhász trial for her from the internet because she is not too familiar with the ins and outs of the internet. She would like to give them to Portik, whom she visits frequently. Juhász obliged, collected the material, and was seen giving an envelope to Erika.

Juhász’s friendly gesture was a potentially costly mistake. We can expect a lengthy, ugly case that will track down the financial sources of the “foundation” and try to uncover the contents of the envelope. Rogán and his friends might have gotten hold of a story, however flimsy, that will ruin Juhász’s reputation.

September 10, 2016

Harmful politicians in the Hungarian democratic opposition

It’s time to vent my wrath against some of those politicians who allegedly want to win the 2018 election and free the country from a semi-autocratic leader who has introduced an illiberal political system in Hungary.

A couple of days ago György Bolgár invited me to outline my ideas about what the democratic opposition should do to put an end to the rule of Viktor Orbán. Among other things, I emphasized the need for one large opposition party, which would necessarily mean the disappearance of those parties that have only minimal support. As it stands now, none of them would receive 5% of the votes, so any ballots cast for them would not only be a waste but would boost Fidesz’s electoral position.

There are some very good people in these parties. People like Ákos Hadházy (LMP), Gergely Karácsony (PM), Tímea Szabó (PM), and Péter Juhász (Együtt) would be real assets in a large left-of-center party. But others should disappear from the political scene because they are obstacles to any kind of joint action and mutual understanding. The two most prominent people in this latter category are the chairman of Együtt, Viktor Szigetvári, and the co-chairman of LMP, Bernadett Szél. Szigetvári accuses MSZP of being in bed with Fidesz and wanting to lose the election as the result of a secret pact. Szél just assured Fidesz of her party’s support for the anti-refugee referendum and, while she was at it, joined the anti-Soros chorus of Fidesz.

Let me start with Viktor Szigetvári. Back in March 2014, just before the election, I wrote a critical article about him. For years, ever since he graduated from college, he was affiliated with MSZP in one capacity or another. He served under Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai. Because he was one of the organizers of the 2006 MSZP election campaign, he acquired the reputation of being an election guru with a magic touch. But, as his efforts in the 2014 election campaign showed, a magic touch was not enough. In 2013, after he left MSZP, he became co-chairman of Bajnai’s Együtt-PM which, despite promising beginnings, today has the support of only 1% of the electorate.

I freely admit that I have been following Viktor Szigetvári’s political career with growing concern. He appears on ATV frequently, and each time he lessens the chances of a unified democratic opposition. He tries to discredit and undermine the two larger parties, MSZP and DK, and puts himself forth as the only man who could engineer a democratic opposition victory in 2018.

Szigetvári’s latest foray into backbiting was an interview with András Hont of HVG where he said that “Együtt has an existing hinterland and an intellectual radiance which might not be as large as that of a party with 40% support” but the party isn’t tainted by those who were discredited in the days before 2010. Of course, Szigetvári conveniently forgets about the large role he played in the service of that “rotten regime,” whose other participants should be banished from political life.

Behind Viktor Szigetv'ari: "For Hungary"

Behind Viktor Szigetvári: “For Hungary”

The whole interview was full of contradictions. On the one hand, Szigetvári is convinced that only someone who had nothing to do with political life prior to 1990 can unseat Viktor Orbán. On the other, he indicated in the interview that his great hope for the premiership would be László Botka (MSZP), who came from exactly the kind of family Szigetvári talks about so scornfully. Both parents were MSZMP members; Botka’s mother was one of the founders of MSZP, mayor of Szolnok, and a member of parliament. And surely László, given his family background, was a member of KISZ. He became a member of MSZP at the tender age of eighteen.

László Botka is Szigetvári’s hero. The most popular MSZP politician who, due to some mysterious internal party conspiracy, was prevented from setting the agenda of MSZP for the next two years. Since MSZP blackballed Botka, the only conclusion one can draw is that the socialists don’t want to win the election, Szigetvári insists. Well, in my opinion, there is a more plausible explanation for Botka’s failure at the last party congress. It was well known inside and outside the party that Botka wouldn’t be willing to cooperate with anyone, especially not with Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, cannot be ignored as a factor in the present political constellation. My take is that the representatives who voted for Hiller instead of Botka were thinking in terms of the inevitable electoral failure if MSZP tries to run its own slate in the 2018 election.

Szigetvári himself also wants to meet Fidesz head-on, and it was at this point that he revealed his true position. “We will not sacrifice our community on the altar of ‘Down with Orbán!’” This is as clear as it can be. It doesn’t matter what Viktor Szigetvári says, it is not the politicians of MSZP and DK who want to lose the election for some unfathomable reason. It is Szigetvári’s politics that will weaken the forces of the democratic opposition and help Viktor Orbán remain in power, perhaps for decades.

The interview stirred up quite a controversy, but Szigetvári is not the kind of man to back down in the face of criticism. He accepted an invitation from Olga Kálmán of ATV to elaborate on the accusations he had made in his earlier interview. There he tried to explain the inexplicable with miserable results. Those who know the language should take a look at that encounter.

And now let me turn to Bernadett Szél’s performance at the 27th gathering of the Fidesz-inspired Bálványosi Nyári Szabadegyetem (Bálványos Summer Free University). It is no longer held in Bálványos/Cetățile Păgânilor. It moved to the larger Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad, so nowadays they call the event Tusványos. Every year Fidesz invites the leaders of the parliamentary caucuses of the opposition parties for a friendly chat with the Fidesz top brass, but last year only András Schiffer of LMP showed up. This year his former co-chairman, Bernadett Szél, also accepted the invitation. Neither Jobbik nor MSZP went.

Bernadett Szél and Lajos Kósa discussing the migrant issue

Yesterday morning I read an MTI news item from Tusványos. Lajos Kósa (Fidesz), Péter Harrach (KDNP), and Bernadett Szél (LMP) were having a friendly chat, mostly about the refugee crisis and the referendum. Kósa went on and on as is his wont about Hungarian sovereignty and that only the citizens of Hungary can decide who can settle in the country. No one from the outside can force Hungary to do anything. “I can invite anyone into my house but I won’t allow my neighbor to make such a decision.” Pope Francis is correct that we have to help our brethren, but “we should be the ones who decide the form of assistance.”

Bernadett Szél chimed in. According to her, “migration and immigration have always been within the competence of the member nations in the European Union and they must remain there. No nation must succumb to blackmail.” Therefore, Hungarians must vote “no” at the October 2 referendum. As you know, MSZP, DK, Együtt, and PM have urged their followers to boycott the referendum while Gábor Fodor recommended that the followers of his liberal party vote “yes.” Until now, LMP had said nothing. Szél finally clarified what most people had already suspected: that despite all the noise they make in parliament on other matters, LMP is not a serious opponent of Fidesz. In fact, LMP, with its refusal to cooperate with others, is an enabler of Fidesz’s political agenda.

And if that wasn’t enough, she decided to say a few ugly words about George Soros. LMP rejects Soros’s meddling in Hungarian affairs. It is unacceptable that some influential person from the outside tells us what the right attitude or position is in certain matters. He should be spending his time in other endeavors instead of giving advice in the matter of immigration. The Pope couldn’t be left out either. According to her, politicians misinterpret the Holy Father’s words.

Ákos Hadházy, who replaced András Schiffer as co-chairman of LMP and member of parliament, is an excellent man. Just like Péter Juhász of Együtt, he is doing a tremendous job unveiling government corruption involving EU funds. Quietly but fairly persistently he has talked about the necessity of “common thinking” and “discussion” among the democratic parties. But Bernadett Szél intervened and said there is no change in policy: LMP will go against Fidesz alone in 2018.

Gyula Molnár, after learning about Bernadett Szél’s shameful performance, announced that MSZP will have nothing to do with LMP. Szél won’t be upset. She has more powerful frenemies on the right.

July 23, 2016

Antal Rogán’s legal troubles: two organized crime bosses know a lot about him

The last time I wrote about Antal Rogán’s possible link to members of organized crime was a month ago, after Tamás Portik’s devastating testimony in a civil suit Rogán initiated against Péter Juhász. Here is the background.

Antal Rogán, the number three man in the Orbán government, was mayor of Budapest’s District V between 2006 and 2014. In fact, Rogán has spent his whole life as a modestly paid politician. Yet, especially in the last decade or so, he became a rich man. Péter Juhász, a former human rights activist and now one of the leaders of Együtt as well as a council member of District V, has made it his goal to uncover suspicious sales of municipal property. Juhász unearthed several cases where real estate was sold way below market price. One such piece of real estate went to the common-law wife/girlfriend of Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer and a member of the Budapest criminal underworld. Juhász, in one of his public appearances, called Rogán a criminal. Rogán decided to sue, which may have been a huge mistake on his part.

Juhász’s lawyer argued that Tamás Portik, who during his trial testified that he knew Rogán and that Rogán was lying when he claimed otherwise, should be called to testify in connection with real estate deals he knew about. The defense was especially interested in the sale of a very expensive apartment to Árpád Habony’s mother-in-law, in which Portik acted as a go-between. He was the one who allegedly delivered 10 million forints worth of euros to Rogán as a bribe in connection with the sale. Independent media outlets found the details of the encounter as described by Portik to be realistic, and the consensus was that Rogán is most likely guilty as charged.

But that was not the end of Rogán’s troubles. He is now being tied to László Vizoviczki, who comes from the shadowy world of Budapest night life and who has been under investigation ever since 2012. Over the years Vizoviczki built a restaurant/night club empire consisting of more than 40 business ventures in different parts of the city, most of them in Districts III and V. The word on the street was that without the okay of Vizoviczki no night club could open in Budapest, especially if it was located near one of his own. He achieved such dominance with the active cooperation of crooked cops and crooked politicians.

Although there was an investigation into the links between Vizoviczki and high-ranking policemen, not one of the 61 policemen initially charged in the District V station has to worry. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office closed the case in May 2015.

Despite the closed case, it seems that Vizoviczki spent millions, if not hundreds of millions, of forints for police protection. This usually involved harassing his competitors and making sure that no trouble ever came to his own business ventures. Some of the high-ranking policemen were also the source of inside information that helped Vizoviczki in his dirty dealings. An excellent, detailed summary of Vizoviczki’s rise to power and his connection to the police appears in the first installment of a Vizoviczki portrait by an investigative journalist of 444.hu.

vizoviczki

Vizoviczki also had extensive dealings with the local politicians who were instrumental in granting or denying business permits. By 2012, when Vizoviczki’s arrest was imminent and the investigators of the National Defense Service were already on his case, a conversation took place between Vizoviczki’s chief of security and a certain József T., who oversaw the District V business ventures of the crime boss. József T. reported that the district notary, a kind of city manager in the Hungarian system, had given a permit to somebody who, in the Vizoviczki man’s opinion, shouldn’t have received one. The security man says in that telephone conversation that if the city manager gave out such a permit it was “without the knowledge of Mr. Rogán” and, if that is the case, “they went against Mr. Rogán’s wishes” (az ő számításait keresztbe húzták). Although it is pretty certain that over the years the city manager received millions from Vizoviczki, after a lengthy investigation he was acquitted. The tapes were illegally obtained and hence couldn’t be used against him.

But Rogán and his city manager might not be off the hook yet. A few days ago an internet television station associated with Jobbik, N1TV, released a lengthy interview with one of the accused in the Vizoviczki trial, a female employee. She said that the terrace permits cost the businessman 4 million forints at the beginning of every season. She added that Rogán insisted on a personal meeting with Vizoviczki and that, if he was too busy to meet the mayor, the terrace openings had to be postponed. The interview can be seen on the station’s website.

That’s not all. Yesterday N1TV published a 19-page letter written by Vizoviczki, who was already in jail, in which he outlined a possible plea agreement between himself and the prosecution. The deal would be that he would say nothing about Fidesz politicians but would tell everything he knows about the socialists. He made it clear that he has plenty of information on Fidesz and indicated that if the prosecution refuses to oblige, he will not hesitate to talk about their politicians’ affairs. He very much hoped that he wouldn’t be forced to take such steps because his sympathies lie with the present government. The offer apparently involved “a member of parliament-mayor” who, we must assume, was an MSZP politician. He claimed that he has information on criminal activities of this person and his deputy that would rival the sensation caused by Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at Balatonőszöd about his lies of the past.

Admittedly, three years have gone by since this letter was written, but on July 6 Pesti Srácok, a Fidesz-sponsored internet news site, reported that Vizoviczki will apparently be released on a 250 million forint bail. Release on bail is relatively rare in Hungary, and therefore the news caused quite a stir. Given Vizoviczki’s extensive business dealings in District V, attention immediately centered on the possible connection between the unexpected release of Vizoviczki and Tamás Portik’s testimony against Rogán at the civil suit Rogán launched against Péter Juhász. The connection between the two events is made stronger by Vizoviczki’s sudden announcement a few days after he received the good news of his release that he has never met Rogán in his life. It looks as if the prosecutors rushed to help Antal Rogán who, it seems, is truly worried about his political future.

July 16, 2016

Andy Vajna’s TV station: the government’s attack dog

This afternoon Viktor Orbán was in the uncomfortable position of having to answer questions from members of the opposition parties on the floor of the parliament. The first question, “Let’s show the cards! What is the source of the enrichment of the prime minister’s entourage?” was posed by Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik. He complained that he twice suggested setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the enrichment of certain Fidesz politicians, including the prime minister. He claimed that Fidesz is “full of criminals.” First and foremost, Hungarians must find out who Lőrinc Mészáros really is. Another Jobbik MP, Előd Novák, complained about the enrichment of Andrew G. Vajna, the former Hollywood producer who has built a media empire on public money.

Viktor Orbán’s answer is always the same when he has to field such questions: members of the opposition parties have no right to accuse him of anything. Instead of this kind of provocation they should give an account of their own party’s finances. In the case of Jobbik, Vona should explain, for instance, who “the mysterious man” is who has contributed 520 million forints to Jobbik. As far as his own affairs are concerned, his “life is an open book.” At that point I almost choked on my morning coffee.

Ever since Viktor Orbán foolishly paraded Nárcisz the kuvasz on his Facebook page, interest in Viktor Orbán’s financial affairs has intensified. Particular attention was paid to the Habsburg estate in Alcsút where apparently Viktor Orbán actually lives, especially after it became known that both Lőrinc Mészáros and István Tiborcz, Orbán’s son-in-law, purchased large tracts of land in the vicinity of the Habsburg estate. The extent of the holdings of the Orbán-Tiborcz-Mészáros-Flier families is enormous, as the red area on the map inset below shows. The map was originally published in Népszabadság. This vast piece of real estate will most likely be worth a great deal more when the so-called Talentis program becomes a reality. This particular part of the country is designated to become Hungary’s Silicon Valley.

There are many people, not just members of the media, who are trying to uncover the secrets of Viktor Orbán. Ákos Hadházy of LMP has been diligently working on corruption cases that can be connected to European Union subsidies and the disappearance of billions originally intended for the betterment of the downtrodden Roma population. But Nárcisz the kuvasz aroused his interest in the most likely “fictitious contract” between Lőrinc Mészáros and the real estate company owned by Győző Orbán, father of the prime minister. Aerial photos show no sign of the agricultural equipment Mészáros allegedly stores at the estate for 15.5 million forints a month.

Meszaros foldjei

The other person with an insatiable appetite to learn the truth about corruption cases–in this case in District V, especially during Antal Rogán’s tenure as mayor–is Péter Juhász, co-chair of the opposition party Együtt. Within a few years about 800 valuable pieces of property were sold to loyal Fidesz supporters for a fraction of their real worth. Juhász has been working on this case for years without getting anywhere. The latest is that the CD that allegedly contained the financial information pertaining to these sales “got damaged” in the hands of the police and is now unreadable.

Juhász also became curious about the real owner of the former Habsburg estate in Alcsút and vowed to take steps toward an official investigation of Viktor Orbán’s finances. But he didn’t get very far with his project before he himself became the subject of a concerted attack, led by members of the news department of TV2, the commercial television channel recently acquired by Andy Vajna. Everybody knew that with the new ownership TV2 news would become a pro-government mouthpiece, but what followed shocked responsible members of the media.

Vivien Szalai, the former editor-in-chief of Story magazine and author of such masterpieces as “False pleasures: Confessions of a luxury prostitute” and “The most famous Hungarian madam: A real story” became news director at TV2. She gained notoriety as a result of a book she wrote about János Zuschlag, a young MSZP politician who embezzled about 40 million forints and who consequently received a stiff jail term. The book was full of wild accusations about his former colleagues in the party.

Kunfalvi

Nóra Kunfalvi

Several members of the team resigned right after Szalai’s appointment and others were immediately hired to replace them, including Nóra Kunfalvi (pictured here). Kunfalvi began her career at HírTV’s “Célpont” (Target), where reporters acted more like KGB interrogators than investigative journalists. After the Orbán-Simicska falling out, she left HírTV with all the Orbán loyalists and moved on to 888.hu, part of the so-called Habony media empire created after the government lost the support of Simicska-financed media outlets. You may recall that the editor-in-chief of 888.hu, Gábor G. Fodor, approved the publication of a highly controversial article about the wife and daughter of the socialist party chairman, József Tóbiás. It was from this rag that Kunfalvi moved over to TV2. By now she is called the “Petra László” of the Hungarian media. Petra László was the Hungarian camera woman who was photographed tripping a Syrian refugee.

Nóra Kunfalvi’s interview with Péter Juhász was an incredible example of unethical journalism. Kunfalvi’s task was to prove somehow that Péter Juhász lives beyond his means, that the rent on his apartment is more than half his income. She wanted to know where the rest of his money is coming from. The questions were posed in such a way that they already contained the accusations: she wondered whether his extra money derived from profits made from selling marijuana. A few years back Juhász was one of the people who argued for the legalization of marijuana, but as far we know he was never involved in selling the stuff.

The larger part of the interview, lasting about 14 minutes, was about the corruption of Fidesz politicians, but what eventually appeared on TV was about 20 seconds of the interview flanked by accusatory commentaries. The whole thing was a disgrace. The uncut interview and TV2’s coverage can be seen here. TV2 naturally sees nothing wrong with Kunfalvi’s line of questioning. According to the station, “the reporter only did her job when asking questions of a public figure.” Péter Juhász is not impressed and is suing Kunfalvi.

Meanwhile one reporter after another is leaving TV2’s news team and moving on to less risky and exposed programs. Several of them told Népszabadság that they don’t want to become Nóra Kunfalvis. Apparently since the arrival of “the blonde cyclone,” as the staff calls Vivien Szalai, about a third of the 30-member team has left TV2.

To keep pressure on the Fidesz critic, Vivien Szalai assigned another reporter the task of further discrediting Juhász, but it seems that he was not game. This morning he also resigned.

Naturally, the government parties also joined the fray. First, KDNP activists showed up at Juhász’s apartment building, holding up signs that read: “From what?” István Hollik, a KDNP member of parliament, held a press conference about Juhász’s “shady financial affairs.” Fidesz was not far behind. Fidesz’s official site demands to know how Juhász can afford a “luxury apartment” in an expensive district of Buda.

Finally, it turns out that Nóra Kunfalvi teaches an “investigative journalism” course at Corvinus. For years the course had been taught by the well-respected veteran journalist István Wisinger, recipient of all the highest prizes a journalist can get in Hungary. About a year ago he was told that unfortunately there is no money to continue the course. It turned out that Wisinger was lied to. He was sacked in order to make room for Nóra Kunfalvi, who even took over Wisinger’s description of the course and his syllabus, including his compulsory and suggested readings.

March 21, 2016

Property swindle in Budapest’s District V

The revelations that surfaced about NET Holding in the last few days, thanks to 444.hu, exposed an intricate network of affiliated companies and described the complicated international trading in natural gas. The corruption case I will be talking about today is a lot simpler. Admittedly, the loss to the taxpayers is also a lot less, about four to ten billion forints over the last eight years. Small potatoes, you might say. But keep in mind that we are talking about the sale of one-third of all real estate owned by the municipality of District V, where property prices are the highest in the country. Moreover, these shady deals occurred during the mayoralty of Antal Rogán, considered to be the third most important politician in Hungary after Viktor Orbán and János Lázár.

Stories of corruption in District V, downtown Budapest, have been circulating for almost a year. Népszava learned in April 2014 that a city official demanded a bribe from a businessman who had just successfully competed for a site to open a restaurant. The brave man refused and went straight to the police, naming names. As is typical in Fidesz country, the deputy mayor who was most likely implicated in the affair did not end up in court but was simply removed from the scene and transferred to the ministry of foreign affairs where an “urgent” job was waiting for him. His replacement was Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, who became the district mayor last October. Soon enough it became known that Szentgyörgyvölgyi himself was a beneficiary of the shady real estate deals of the past few years. Under pressure, he decided to give his apartment back because “he just got tired of all the attacks against him.” Details of these revelations can be found in a post I wrote in December.

The force behind the investigations is Péter Juhász (Együtt), who was Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s opponent in the municipal election and who subsequently became a member of the city council of District V. He thus has access to documents that shed light on the means by which expensive apartments or business sites were passed on to political friends for a fraction of their real value. Juhász is a former human rights activist with vast experience as an investigator of corruption cases.

So, how was it done? The key concept in these transactions is preemption, the right of a tenant to purchase something, especially public property, ahead of anyone else. Ever since the 1990s a law has been on the books that allows the state or the municipality to sell its properties to tenants at a reduced price. The rationale behind this practice was that every year the tenants of these public properties were obligated to pay higher and higher rents and received no equity in return. The price abatement thus assumed a long-standing contract between owners and tenants. Moreover, as Antónia Rádi of Átlátszó.hu pointed out, three persons are needed for such a transaction: the owner, the person who intends to buy the property, and the current tenant. Apparently, in practice this particular rule is often dispensed with. That is, no outside buyer is necessary for the transaction. What happened in District V, however, went beyond both the law as it was written and the law as it was practiced. The transactions were, quite simply, illegal.

Let’s say an apartment or store front became vacant. The city officials notified their friends, political or otherwise, that these sites were available for rent. After a few months the happy tenants announced their desire to buy the property. The price was determined by two “independent” appraisers. One of the appraisal firms was owned in part by György Rubovszky, a Christian Democratic member of parliament and father of Csilla Rubovszky, deputy mayor of District V. In addition, Rubovszky, a lawyer, was employed by the district as an “expert” assisting the committee in dealing with properties owned by the district. The assessed prices were very low. They always agreed with the prices on the district’s books, most likely thanks to inside information by Rubovszky. Then came the bonus: a 30% reduction in the price.

Among the many cases Péter Juhász is pursuing, he found a tenant turned owner who within a few months sold his newly acquired property for double what he had paid for it.

Juhász is not only digging through property files. He also organized a walk through the streets where most of the questionable property transfers took place.

And how much did Fidesz steal from you? Péter Juhász leading the walk in District V

“And how much did Fidesz steal from you?” Péter Juhász leading the walk in District V

Rubovszky is just one of several people with Fidesz or government connections to surface in these real estate swindles. Péter Heim also handled some of the deals. He is now head of Századvég and as such may be on the list of individuals banned from entering the United States because of their involvement in corruption cases affecting U.S. businesses operating in Hungary. András Giró-Szász, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, is also indirectly involved through his brother-in-law and business partner, Péter Serfőző.

Juhász is convinced that the city officials undertook these real estate deals as part of a private business venture and did so in a conspiratorial manner. Between 2008 and 2013 277 pieces of real estate changed hands in District V. The appraisers low-balled the value of these properties at a half or a third of their real worth. On top of that came the 30% abatement. If Juhász, who since then pressed charges against District V, can prove his claim, the people involved might end up in jail for years. Or, they should but, judging from other earlier cases, they most likely won’t.

Corruption in District V under Antal Rogán, #3 man in the Orbán regime

I have been so involved with the political aspects of the Orbán regime that I have neglected the suspicious enrichment of some of the most prominent Fidesz politicians. If a researcher had half a year (and a team of investigators) he could easily write a whole book about these people’s wrongdoings.

A quick look at the list of names that crop up most often in the media leads me to believe that being the mayor of a city or a Budapest district offers excellent opportunities for corruption. Just to mention a few politicians who have been the targets of journalistic inquiries: Lajos Kósa, until recently mayor of  Debrecen; János Lázár, who was mayor of Hódmezővásárhely until he became head of the prime minister’s office; and Antal Rogán, who in addition to being the whip of the Fidesz caucus was also mayor of Budapest’s District V. Larger towns or cities offer ample opportunities for city officials, including mayors, to extract kickbacks for municipal contracts. Rumor has it that the average bribe is 10% of the value of the contract. In Debrecen, apparently the price was double that amount.

The finances of Lajos Kósa became the subject of scrutiny of late when his explanation for how he acquired a very expensive apartment in Budapest was found less than convincing or when he was found to have traveled to New Zealand for three days for a Rolling Stones concert.

János Lázár also had some hard times of late when it turned out that he purchased an apartment in Budapest for his ten-year-old son for 60-70 million forints. Naturally, that piece of property did not show up on the financial statement he submitted to parliament.

And finally, there is Antal Rogán, the number-three man in Hungarian politics today. His fraudulent financial statements have been the talk of the town. He greatly minimized the areas of his real estate and landholdings and was forced to correct them several times.

Given the limited space, I will spend less time here on Rogán’s fictitious financial statements and more on the possible sources of his and his political friends’ enrichment.

It was discovered back in March that Rogán, his wife, András Puskás (Rogán’s deputy), and his common-law wife jointly own 490 m² (almost 5,ooo ft²) apartments worth 300 million forints. For Rogán, who has never had any job save that of a politician, such a purchase under normal circumstances would have been beyond his means. And this is not the only piece of real estate he and his wife own.

A month after the revelations about Rogán’s luxury apartment(s) and his other rather shady real estate holdings, Bors, a tabloid, found out that the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office is looking into possible corruption in District V. A businessman who has several restaurants in Budapest won a tender for a piece of property in Rogán’s district where he wanted to open another restaurant. When he went to sign the contract, he was told in no uncertain terms that they expect several more million forints “under the table.” The businessman refused the generous offer and and pressed charges against the district, naming the man who approached him. By June Népszabadság learned that at least three real estate sales are under investigation.

There have also been some rather strange comings and goings in the mayor’s office. First, András Puskás, Rogán’s deputy who is implicated in the luxury apartment case, suddenly quit his job because he was “badly needed” in the foreign ministry. Almost at the same time the man in charge of the everyday running of the affairs of the municipality (jegyző, a kind of city manager) quit in a great hurry. His replacement a few months later was seen wearing a pair of Amadeo Testoni shoes worth 980 euros. The man’s monthly salary is 433,000 forints.

But the story doesn’t end here. Puskás’s replacement, Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, became the owner of an apartment in a stately apartment building in Szerb utca which he purchased for a mere 19 million forints, paying in monthly installments of 63,000 forints. The market value of such an apartment in a historic district is worth many times that amount. Meanwhile Szentgyörgyvölgyi became the new mayor, and on November 21 he decided to give the apartment back to the District. He claimed to be perfectly innocent in the affair; “he just got tired of all the attacks against him.”

Szerb utca 9 where Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi currently mayor of District V purchased ab apartment for 19 million forints

Szerb utca 9 where Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, current mayor of District V, purchased an apartment for 19 million forints

Upon closer observation, investigators found that during Rogán’s eight-year-long tenure as mayor of District V one-third of all the real estate owned by the municipality was sold to individuals. One especially egregious case that surfaced lately is the business real estate that was sold to the common-law wife of Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer, back in 2011. The scheme seemed to have been the following. According to a city ordinance, the tenant of a property owned by the municipality has the right to purchase the property at a reduced price. Portik’s common-law wife became a tenant of a 212 m² business site in October 2011, and by December it was hers for 52 million forints. In July 2012 Portik and girlfriend sold the property for 102 millions, its fair market value.

Rogán’s bad luck is that Péter Juhász (Együtt), who was Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s opponent in the municipal elections in October, is a former human rights activist with vast experience as an investigator of corruption cases. And he is now a member of the District V city council. According to Juhász, under Rogán’s watch downtown Pest was the scene of incredible corruption. By now Rogán is a member of parliament and because of his immunity he himself is untouchable. However, András Puskás and Zoltán Sélley, who actually ran the municipality’s affairs and who prepared the contract with Portik’s girlfriend, can be sued, and Juhász is on their case.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, just one of hundreds. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the spectacular enrichment of Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s pipefitting friend from Felcsút. He also seems to be forgetful. Just lately he forgot about more than 1 billion forints he happened to have in his bank account.

No wonder that struggling Hungarians are outraged. Even some of the Fidesz true believers are angry. Yet the people involved don’t seem to realize that their conspicuous flaunting of their riches is not exactly going over well in one of the poorest nations in the European Union.

Growing troubles in opposition circles

It was only a few days ago that the democratic opposition’s mass rally ended with a protest from the crowd itself–a demand for unity and the resultant quasi demonstration against Attila Mesterházy, chairman of MSZP.

What followed was almost inevitable. The two parties that had signed an exclusive political arrangement which effectively shut out the other opposition parties and groups placed the blame for the protest on Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of DK, a party with sizable support. It didn’t seem to matter that the other speakers’ message was the same as Gyurcsány’s; he was the only one who was accused of flaunting an alleged agreement that speakers would in no way criticize the deal between MSZP and E14-PM. Opposition leaders deny the existence of any such agreement.

Then came the accusation that it was actually Ferenc Gyurcsány himself who organized the demonstration against Mesterházy. His people were the only ones who kept demanding “unity.” I looked at several videos of the event taken from different angles, and in my opinion just as many people holding MSZP red flags shouted slogans that for a while kept Mesterházy from speaking. Some overzealous MSZP politicians like Tibor Szanyi claimed to have seen Ferenc Gyurcsány leaving the gathering in a great hurry even before Mesterházy finished his speech. The implication naturally being that after he created the disturbance Gyurcsány quickly left the scene of the crime. Szanyi turned out to be wrong. Gyurcsány, his wife, and Ágnes Vadai were present to the very end of Mesterházy’s speech. According to Gyurcsány, he even applauded Mesterházy.

Gordon Bajnai joined the MSZP politicians in forcefully asserting that the deal that was signed will in no way ever be changed. This is the best arrangement even if all the other speakers and it seems the overwhelming majority of the voters on the left don’t think so. Of course, politicians can ignore popular demand, except they do so at their own peril. My hunch is that this unbending attitude cannot be maintained for long.

mistakesBut that was not the only problem the opposition had to face. Péter Juhász, who represents Milla, a group formed on Facebook, has caused a lot of trouble in the past, and he struck again. Juhász is not a politician. He worked as an activist even before 2010 and by and large has a devastating opinion of both politicians and parties, left or right. Therefore he often talks about the “past eight years” exactly the way Fidesz politicians do. I assume that within E14-PM his colleagues try to temper his outbursts, but it seems that he cannot help himself. Shortly after the October 23 gathering Juhász was the guest of Olga Kálmán on ATV where he announced that he would never want to stand on the same platform with Gábor Kuncze or Ferenc Gyurcsány. Moreover, he claimed that Kuncze wasn’t invited to participate. I guess Kuncze just appeared on the scene. Crashed the party, so to speak.

These unfortunate remarks were not without consequence. A number of well-known people, like Attila Ara-Kovács, László C. Kálmán, Mária Ludassy, and Ádám Csillag withdrew their support for E14. Most of them added that this Juhász incident was just the last straw. They had had their problems with E14 even before. Gordon Bajnai seems to be adrift, without a firm idea of his party’s goals. And E14’s floundering is reflected in its poll numbers. A year ago support for E14 was about 12%; now it hovers around 5%.

But that wasn’t the only blow to the democratic side. Shortly before he retired from politics Gábor Kuncze was asked by Klubrádió to be the moderator of a political show once a week. Although Kuncze’s program was popular, the owner of Klubrádió, András Arató, decided that since Kuncze agreed to make a speech at the opposition rally he should be dismissed. The result? A fair number of loyal listeners who have been generously contributing toward the maintenance of Klubrádió are angry. Some have gone so far as to stop contributing to the station, which is strapped for money due to the Orbán government’s illegal manipulation of the air waves. They argue that Klubrádió knew about Kuncze’s plans to attend and that Arató should have warned him about the possible consequences. These people figure that the speedy and unexpected dismissal was due to a “friendly” telephone call from MSZP headquarters. The station denies that they have ever yielded to political pressure and claim that no such call came.

Finally, there is the case of a sympathy demonstration organized in Budapest demanding territorial autonomy for the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers who live in a solid mass in three counties in the middle of Transylvania. Since I’m planning to write something about the autonomy question, I’m not going into the details here. It’s enough to say that the views of the Hungarian political leaders in these parts are close to Jobbik. The most important Hungarian party in Romania is a center-right party called RMDSZ, but Fidesz feels more comfortable with the Szeklers.

The sympathy demonstration was organized by CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), the Szekler National Council (Székely Nemzeti Tanács), and Fidesz. CÖF is the “civic” forum, actually financed by the government, that organized the two peace marches against the “colonizers” and that was also responsible for gathering the supporters of Fidesz for the mass rally on October 23. Well-known anti-Semites like Zsolt Bayer, Gábor Széles (owner of Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV), and András Bencsik have prominent roles in CÖF. The Goy Bikers also made an appearance at this demonstration.

Both MSZP and E14-PM decided to support the march as well as Szekler autonomy. They argued that after all RMDSZ also gave its cautious approval to the march that concurrently took place in Romania. RMDSZ’s position, of course, is very different from that of MSZP and E14. After all, RMDSZ needs the Szeklers’ vote; MSZP and E14 don’t. Or, more accurately, supporting their demands will not prompt the Szeklers to vote for these two leftist parties at the next election. Those who vote will vote for Fidesz.

MSZP was satisfied with verbal support, but E14 politicians actually marched along with all the right-wingers and Goy Bikers! And with that move E14 lost even more supporters.

If the opposition is to stand any chance at the next election it can’t keep alienating potential voters. And it shouldn’t act like an exclusive club open only to the MSZP-E14 “founding members.” Politics is a numbers game, and numbers rise with inclusiveness. And with unity.