Tag Archives: police

The Hungarian government’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers

On Sunday, March 5, 2017, a report from Belgrade was published in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. It claimed that refugees “with visible traces of Hungary’s brutal policies” had told the Swedish journalist about severe beatings with batons by Hungarian policeman. The officers also used attack dogs. Their stories were confirmed by Andrea Contenta of Doctors Without Borders. According to him, the number of incidents has multiplied of late. There was at least one day when 20 people needed medical attention. One of the asylum seekers ended up into the emergency room of the nearby hospital. Accompanying the story were photos of the men with visible wounds and bruises.

In no time all the major newspapers of Europe and the United States picked up Aftonbladet’s story, which was followed by a worldwide condemnation of the Hungarian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. A day later the Hungarian ministry of interior released a statement that Magyar Nemzet described as an “ill-tempered personal attack.” In it, the ministry “categorically repudiated the unproven accusations that appeared in the international and domestic media” leveled against the Hungarian government. The ministry called attention to the fact that such accusations usually occur when “Hungary is forced, in the defense of the European Union and its own citizens, to strengthen its borders.” The press release also noted that Doctors Without Borders is supported by George Soros. As for the few possible incidents, Hungarian prosecutors have already investigated eight cases, six of which turned out to be bogus. The denial of these reports continued today when Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, declared that the report of Doctors Without Borders is nothing more than a pack of lies.

But that was not all. On March 7, two days after the Swedish newspaper story, the Hungarian parliament passed a new piece of legislation that will force all asylum seekers into detention camps. UPI’s report specifically recounted that “although [the law] was fiercely criticized after its submission last month, the legislation won near-unanimous approval … by a vote of 138-6.” This lopsided vote was the result of the abstention of MSZP members of parliament, a sign of their usual ambivalence when it comes to the migrant issue. While their cases are being decided, asylum seekers, including women and children over the age of 14, will be herded into shipping containers surrounded by a high razor-fence on the Hungarian side. These camps will be wide open on the Serbian side. Therefore, Hungarian government officials can declare with some justification that the people inside these camps are not incarcerated; they just can’t step onto Hungarian soil.

On the very same day that Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik members of parliament voted for the bill that was to receive worldwide opprobrium, Viktor Orbán delivered a short speech at the swearing-in ceremony of 462 new “border hunters.” In the speech he called the new recruits’ job a “calling” in “the service of the country and the defense of the Hungarian people.” He pointed out that even if there is at the moment no migrant pressure at the borders of Europe, Hungary must be prepared for repeated onslaughts of migrants. It is for that reason that the Hungarian government will build a new fence which, according to some reports, might be attached to a source of low-voltage electricity. He described “migration as a Trojan horse of terrorism,” which assumes that all migrants are potential terrorists. Or perhaps one could go even further and interpret this sentence as akin to the contention of those American Islamophobes who say that Islam is not really a religion but rather an ideology of terrorism.

Another memorable Orbán line from this speech addressed the dichotomy between human rights and the law. Those migrants who cross Hungary’s border break the law. “This is reality which cannot be overwritten by all that rarified claptrap about human rights.” Orbán certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. Human rights are not something he worries or cares about. In fact, he is ready to transgress them in the name of “reality.”

A day later Magyar Nemzet reported that Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, expressed his “deep concern” over the detention of asylum seekers in guarded camps which, in his opinion, violates the obligations spelled out in the European Convention of Human Rights. And he is not alone. Two rapporteurs of the Council, Tineke Strik and Doris Fiala, asked János Áder to refuse to countersign this new law that most likely is in violation of international agreements. Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, considers it “a far cry from international norms” and recommends its withdrawal.

As far as the European Commission is concerned, there seems to be a shift in its position toward this latest outrage. At first Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesperson of the Commission, informed inquiring journalists that the Commission would not make a statement now but would wait until the law comes into effect. A day later, however, another spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud, told Népszava’s correspondent in Brussels that Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, will be dispatched to Budapest “to conduct serious negotiations with the Hungarian authorities about the amendments to the Asylum Act.”

By now I don’t have much hope that any international organization, be it the United Nations, the Council of Europe, or the European Commission, will be able to influence Hungarian policies either on the migrant question or on the transgression of democratic norms. Here and there one can hear from European politicians that the Hungarian government’s behavior should at least have financial consequences, but so far Brussels has been unwilling to punish Hungary for the actions of its government.

There are times when Viktor Orbán, despite all his bluster, quietly falls into line. Like today, when he cast his vote for the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. Orbán abandoned his best friend and comrade Jarosław Kaczyński and voted for “the icon of immorality and stupidity,” as the Polish foreign minister called Donald Tusk. There are steps which even Orbán is reluctant to take.

March 9, 2017

Explosion in Budapest: Skeptical Hungarians suspect foul play

Last night around 10:30 there was an explosion in front of an empty storefront at 2-4 Teréz körút. Two policemen, a man and a woman, both in their twenties, were seriously injured. According to early reports, the explosion took place inside the store, but eventually it was ascertained that the detonation of the anti-personnel nail bomb occurred outside. Hundreds of nails have been found nearby.

A few minutes after the explosion / Photo by László, a reader of Index

A few minutes after the explosion / Photo by László, a reader of Index

In no time, hundreds of policemen surrounded the area and evacuated the residents of the building. The police went from building to building, from apartment to apartment all night in the area, requesting information from the inhabitants. Some people near the scene of the crime reported a very powerful blast that did considerable damage to nearby buildings.

A demolition expert shared his knowledge of nail bombs with the public. On the basis of pictures of the crime scene he ascertained that this particular bomb was a small, most likely home-made device, adding that this was the kind of explosive device used in the Brussels airport and metro station that killed 31 people and wounded 250. Nail bombs are used mostly in the Middle East (including Israel), in the United States, and lately in Western Europe. In Hungary no such apparatus has ever been used. After this information, it was no surprise that people thought that whatever happened on Teréz kőrút was likely an act of terrorism.

Another expert, István Gyarmati, a Hungarian diplomat and political scientist specializing in national security issues, found it “odd that the victims were policemen and only policemen.” He found it equally strange that “they were only wounded” and not killed. So, it was inevitable that rumors began circulating on Facebook and in comments to newspaper articles about the possible perpetrators. This was especially the case since, until late tonight, the police refused to share any information with the public about the case.

This morning 24.hu neatly summarized the “facts,” which stoked public suspicion. The paper found it strange that only two policemen were hurt and that the first two people to arrive on the scene happened to be policemen in civilian clothes. Within minutes 100 policemen arrived in armored personnel carriers. Pieces of information coming from the policemen at the scene were contradictory and, most importantly, 12 hours after the explosion no official information was available.

Clearly, the reporter for 24.hu suspected that the explosion was an inside job. And he is not alone. No matter what the police investigation of the incident uncovers, a large segment of the Hungarian population will believe that the whole affair was staged by the Orbán government to make sure that the refugee referendum on October 2 succeeds. This shows the depth of suspicion that surrounds the Orbán government.

As the day went by more information was received from those who witnessed the bloody scene. MTV’s M1 station learned that a still unidentified man placed a package or brief case on the sidewalk seconds before the explosion. HVG learned that the two young policemen were actually the specific targets of the assailant. Employees of a restaurant selling gyros nearby claimed to see a white-skinned man around age 40 wearing a white hat. All sorts of stories were circulating, which only added to the suspicion of chicanery.

Around 2:00 DK demanded that the police and the government clear the air and tell the public by 6:00 p.m. what they have learned so far about the incident because “many people don’t find it impossible, in fact they believe it to be likely, that the Orbán government is behind” the alleged terrorist act. About the same time Bence Tuzson, undersecretary in charge of government communication at the prime minister’s office, told MTI, the Hungarian telegraphic agency, that by tonight the police will have enough information to inform the public of the details of the case. Népszabadság was pleased that Tuzson refrained from frightening people with terrorism. On the other hand, Georg Spöttle, another suspicious expert close to the Hungarian government who was apparently at one point a member of the German police force, announced that according to German law all crime using a detonating device is considered to be a terrorist act.

At last, around 9:00 p.m., Károly Papp, chief of the whole Hungarian police force, accompanied by the head of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) made an official announcement. Papp said that the assailant’s targets were the two policemen, adding an important sentence to the announcement: “he viewed the attack on these individuals as an assault on the whole police force.” A manhunt began for a 20- to 25-year-old man about 170 cm tall with a light-colored fisherman’s hat who wore a dark denim jacket, blue jeans, and white sneakers. The police are ready to pay 10 million forints to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest of the suspect.

Although Police Chief Papp didn’t call the incident a terrorist act, there are a couple of sentences in his comments that are worrisome. He announced that tightened security measures have been introduced at the Ferenc Liszt International Airport, at border crossings, and on all international trains. A well-known journalist on Facebook found it troubling that Papp considers the attack on these two individuals to be an attack on the whole police force, which can be interpreted as a terrorist act. If that is the case, the government might introduce a state of emergency for the next two weeks, which would include the day the referendum is being held. That would mean a ban on demonstrations planned by opposition parties.

To these questions we have no answers at the moment. I’m pretty certain that a lone individual is responsible for the crime, but what this man’s motivation was only time will tell. Skeptical Hungarians on Facebook, however, are certain that we will never know the truth because whatever it is will be made a state secret for at least thirty years. That’s Orbán’s Hungary for you.

September 25, 2016

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

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

Jobbik shows the way, the Orbán government follows

There are several new developments on the refugee front, both inside and outside of Hungary. Let’s first discuss Germany’s surprise move  yesterday to allow all bona fide Syrian refugees to remain in Germany regardless of where they entered the European Union. The Germans thus made the first move to suspend the current rules governing refugees laid down in the Dublin agreement. As the spokesman for the interior ministry said, the decision was dictated first and foremost by humanitarian considerations, but there were also practical reasons for suspending the current practice. For instance, it took an incredible amount of paperwork and money to send refugees back to the first EU country where they set foot. I suspect that there was a third, unspoken reason for the change in policy. Out of the would-be immigrants, the Syrians are the most desirable from an economic and social point of view. Their integration seems to be the most promising. Learning from its past mistakes, Germany now offers new immigrants help to make their adjustment as easy as possible. Germany has registered 44,417 asylum applications from Syrians in the first seven months of this year.

In Germany new arrivals who are approved receive generous benefits. Their apartments are rent-free, and each adult receives 391 euros/month and children between 229 and 296 euros/month, depending on their age. The government also provides free intensive language lessons three hours a day, five days a week. Legal immigrants can become German citizens after six to nine years of residence. Even before the recent policy change, Syrians automatically received residency permits good for two years. But now Syrian refugees can really breathe a sigh of relief.

The Hungarian government’s reaction was typical. Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács “hailed the German decision, [which means] that no one will be deported back to Hungary.” He quickly added that Hungary is grateful “even if only one-third of the migrants come from Syria.” Kovács noted, however, that “one should not overestimate the German gesture because one cannot really argue about numbers, and the fact is that migrants arrive in Hungary from 67 different countries, including Bangladesh and Mali.”

Meanwhile, as everybody predicted, the new fence was an absolute waste of money. The Serbian government hires buses to move the refugees close to the Hungarian border where they can easily get across the low, flimsy fence or, even better, they walk along the railroad tracks bothered by no one. As a result, at Röszke, the official border crossing, the lines are getting longer and tempers are flaring. This morning there was a bit of a scuffle that ended in one jittery policeman using teargas on people who had to wait outside in the pouring rain. I assume that this confrontation is going to be used to justify new, more serious measures against the refugees who are, in the Hungarian government’s opinion, illegally crossing the country’s border.

kerites ma

This is what the fence looks like nowadays

The Orbán government’s strict measures seem to be inspired by Jobbik, a neo-Nazi party. The idea of building a fence was first suggested by the Jobbik mayor of a larger village close to the Serbian border. The next Jobbik demand was reestablishing the border guard units that were abolished after Hungary became part of the Schengen zone. Soon enough the government obliged and created a force with the intentionally frightening name of “border hunters” (határvadászok). Today we learned details of this force. It will be made up of 2,000 men who will start patrolling the border on September 1. One-third of the force will consist of second-year students from two-year police academies. There are four or five such police academies in the country, and the ones I checked have only around 200 students in each class. Thus, I gather that the entire incoming second-year class will be ordered to the Serb-Hungarian border instead of to their classrooms.

The Orbán government’s latest brainstorm, that is, sending the military to the border against the refugees, also comes from Jobbik. A couple of days ago János Volner, deputy chairman of the party, expressed Jobbik’s fear that “because of the growing aggressiveness of the illegal immigrants a police presence will not be enough.” He recalled that at the Greek-Macedonian border the police force proved to be inadequate to stop the masses of immigrants. He pointed out that the constitution allows the use of the military in case of emergency. Volner most likely has Article XXXI(3) of the Hungarian Constitution in mind, which reads: “During a state of national crisis, or if the National Assembly so decides in a state of preventive defense, adult male Hungarian citizens with residence in Hungary shall perform military service.”

The very next day the government announced that it is thinking about using the army along the borders. However, as Magyar Nemzet reported yesterday, legal experts can’t quite agree whether such use of the army is permissible without changing the constitution since Article 45(1) specifies that “Core duties of the Hungarian Defense Forces shall be the military defense of the independence, territorial integrity and borders of Hungary.” Clearly, the military would not be defending the country’s independence or its territorial integrity, but I suppose it would be argued that they would be defending its borders. This morning Zoltán Kovács informed the media that next week parliament will vote on the deployment of the army along the Serb-Hungarian border. That to my mind means that the government’s legal experts have decided that there is no need to change the constitution and that a two-thirds majority in parliament will suffice. Such a super majority can easily be achieved with the support of the large Jobbik parliamentary delegation.

None of these developments is heart-warming, although at the moment the scene at the border is more like what you see on this video. The refugees simply walk through gates in the sturdier fence that was constructed along a few sections of the border.

It is hard to understand what Viktor Orbán is planning to achieve with his harsh policies. No matter what he does, Hungary will be unable to stop the flow of immigrants. The fence has turned out to be a joke. Although government officials often talk about jailing all those who damage their fence, such a response is beyond the capability of the government. Then why all the saber rattling? I assume, like everything Viktor Orbán does, it is intended to consolidate support. He has but one overarching goal–to remain in power, if possible until he drops. And, he undoubtedly believes, Hungarian voters should reward him for protecting the country against the extreme danger these refugees pose. Thus far public opinion polls indicate that Hungarians haven’t bought into the government rhetoric. The vast majority of the population never encounter any refugees, most of whom disappear from Hungary as soon as they can, so they don’t feel threatened by these Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers. Hungary is just a thruway, not a destination–unless, of course, the EU eventually decides to return “undesirables” from Bangladesh and Mali to Hungary.

It took eight years but apparently the Hungarian police found the murderer

Today, for a change of pace, I’m turning to a high-profile murder case in Hungary.

Way back on April 2, 2011 I wrote about a murder that had been committed in 2007. Irma Balla, a local Fidesz politician in Debrecen, was brutally murdered in her home. The police investigated for a whole year, after which they decided that the murderer must have been the woman’s son, Sándor Schönstein, even though he had an iron-clad alibi. He was at a picnic miles away at the time of the murder. Alibi notwithstanding, Schönstein was immediately incarcerated.

His lawyer, the well-known György Magyar, continued battling with the investigators, whom he considered incompetent and negligent. Magyar was clearly frustrated, and at one point he became a kind of Perry Mason, the TV lawyer who together with a private investigator had to solve cases in order to get his clients acquitted. Magyar began his own investigation and found a plausible suspect, Lajos D. Lajos D. had been questioned as a witness because he happened to be working next door at the time of the murder. He already had a criminal record and was, in fact, in jail when he was questioned. During his testimony he gave a fairly accurate description of the interior of Balla’s house. When asked how he could possibly know all this, he claimed that while working on the house next door he could see all the details from a reflection in an open window. György Magyar and his private detective ascertained that Lajos D. was not telling the truth. No matter the time of the day or the weather, one couldn’t see much from the reflection in the window. When a bit more pressure was put on Lajos D., he confessed to the murder twice, only to withdraw his confessions a day or two later. In any case, the police didn’t seem to be interested in him.

Sándor Schönstein and his laywer, György Magyar

Sándor Schönstein and his laywer, György Magyar

In 2009 Schönstein was sentenced to twelve years for the murder of his mother. In 2011, when I wrote my post, the appellate court had taken up the case and had some harsh words to say about the investigation, the prosecution, and the judges of the lower court. The court declared the earlier sentencing null and void. The whole court proceeding had to be repeated. In November 2012 Schönstein was acquitted due to lack of evidence. A year later the appellate court of Debrecen agreed with the lower court. But meanwhile, Schönstein, a university student, had spent two years in jail. Ever since he has been trying to receive compensation for his suffering from the Hungarian state.

I guess everybody thought back in 2013 that this was the end of story. In late 2014, however, dehir.hu learned that the investigation hadn’t been abandoned. But instead of the Keystone Kops of Debrecen, Hungary’s top investigators from the headquarters of the national police force in Budapest descended on the city.  A few months later, in early March 2015, they were prepared to press charges against the same Lajos D. that Schönstein’s lawyer, from the very beginning, had thought was the culprit.

Lajos D. seems to spend more time in jail than not. When the Schönstein case was heard in 2009, Lajos D. was once again in jail. György Magyar insisted that he be a witness at the trial. On this occasion he again confessed to the murder and specifically mentioned the crowbar which he used to break Irma Balla’s neck. The Debrecen police didn’t take the confession seriously. They figured that Lajos D. had confessed in order to get out of jail a few times during the court proceedings. Brilliant, isn’t it? And, by the way, Lajos D. is in jail again. This time he is serving an eight-year sentence for robbery. Finally, he has been charged with the murder of Irma Balla.

So, what happened? The whole case was taken out of the hands of the Debrecen police who made too many mistakes to list. Those who want more details should read the article in dehir.hu. The panel of judges was also either incompetent or negligent. Perhaps both. During the trial Lajos D. had two people testify on his behalf, but their testimony was anything but exculpatory. For example, a friend of his told the judge that when he asked Lajos D. whether he had anything to do with the murder, he paused for a while and did not give an unequivocal answer. Lajos D.’s half brother, contrary to his earlier statement, admitted during the trial that Lajos was not at home during the night of the murder. All that was ignored by the court of Hajdú-Bihar County. I might add that in June 2013 the judge who sentenced Sándor Schönstein to 12 years was promoted because of his outstanding professionalism.

So what did the Budapest detectives find that the Debrecen cops missed? Lajos D.’s DNA, which apparently was found on a blanket under Irma Balla’s body. According to Népszabadság, some new technique made the discovery possible. Of course, I have no idea about the progress in DNA research over the last few years, but I’m a bit skeptical. This story sounds to me like a ploy to mask the total incompetence of the Debrecen police. But at least now Sándor Schönstein can be found not guilty not just because the court couldn’t find evidence that he committed the murder but because, it seems, the murderer was somebody else.

The good name of Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior

Two days ago a lengthy interview appeared in Magyar Nemzet with Sándor Pintér, Viktor Orbán’s “perpetual” minister of the interior. He was named interior minister in 1998, in 2010, and in 2014. Why is Sándor Pintér so indispensable to Viktor Orbán? It’s become almost a commonplace in Hungary to say that “if Viktor Orbán could relieve Sándor Pintér he wouldn’t have appointed him in the first place.” I guess one doesn’t need too fertile an imagination to guess what these wagging tongues have in mind.

Pintér’s past is full of question marks. In October 2013 I wrote a post on Pintér, “Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?” In it I gave a fairly detailed description of Pintér’s ties to members of the Budapest underworld while he was chief of the Hungarian national police force. In fact, he might have been involved in the so-called “mafia war” that began in 1996 with the murder of a crime family member and continued a few days later with the murder of the driver of his race horses on the Budapest trotting course. There is at least one witness who claimed that Pintér as police chief appeared at the murder scene and removed the murder weapon. The two murderers got off scot-free. Apparently, they were awfully pleased when they saw “Sanyi bácsi” (Uncle Sanyi) on the scene.

Pintér was also involved with two other Hungarian underworld characters in the 1990s–Dietmar Clodo, a German, and the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, “Szeva bácsi” to his friends, who now lives in Moscow. Clodo was not so lucky. He was convicted in Hungary and allowed to serve his prison term in Germany. He was released in 2011. Two years later he gave an explosive interview to Antónia Rádai, a reporter for HVG, which was inexplicably overlooked by the rest of the Hungarian media. Let me quote a passage from that post of mine on Pintér:

Semion Mogilevich, whom Clodo described as his friend, asked a favor from Clodo. Mogilevich gave him a Hungarian politician’s telephone number. Clodo was instructed to phone the number and invite the Hungarian politician to his house and hand him a brief case supplied by Mogilevich. Clodo had to insist that the politician open the briefcase on the spot because in Clodo’s study behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. There were one million deutschmarks in the briefcase. The exchange took place in 1994. At that time the name of the politician was not familiar to Clodo. “To me he was only one of the many corrupt characters to whom I had to hand similar packages in the middle of the 1990s.” In addition to this encounter there was another meeting with a politician from the same party. “The others were police officers.”

Dietmar Clodo told Antónia Rádai the name of the politician but HVG, after consulting with the paper’s lawyers, decided to withhold it.

Whoever the politician was cannot rest easy because that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

Magyar Nemzet was planning an interview with Pintér on a wide range of questions, from the police’s handling of the demonstrations to the size of the public workforce. So, the reporter must have been quite surprised when during the discussion of the American ban on certain corrupt officials Pintér complained to him that he himself “had to endure several attempts at character assassination by foreign organizations that tried to associate [him] with certain events that have never taken place.” While Pintér was not willing to elaborate on the specifics, he added: “for example, recently the persons in question were planning to discredit [him] sometime in the near future but they were forced to give up their activities. Thus, the story is no longer of any interest.”

"By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!"  "It is taken care of....

“By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!” “It is taken care of…”

What was Pintér’s point in informing the public of his alleged harassment by foreign organizations that have been trying to blacken his good name? Given all the stories about Pintér’s past, the headline of Jenő Veress’s Népszava article on the topic was apt: “Who here has a good reputation?” Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of the same paper, in his editorial  wonders how Pintér could “force the foreign organizations not to commit character assassination.” How did he learn about such attempts, he asks. Whom does Pintér have in mind? Németh suspects that Pintér is alluding to the United States. Perhaps he fears or even knows that the Americans have something on him and thinks that it is better to forestall the impending scandal by telling the world of his innocence. However, if I may remind Pintér and his friends, that kind of tactic backfired when the government leaked information about the American investigation into Hungarian tax fraud. All the trouble started with that article in Századvég’s Napi Gazdaság. So it does not seem to be a good way of handling the dirty laundry.

—–
*The reference to “Comrade Bástya” in Gábor Pápai’s cartoon is to Béla Bacsó’s famous film, A tanú (1969).