Tag Archives: prosecution

Fidesz and the criminal underworld

Yesterday we learned from Medián’s fascinating poll on corruption that a fair number of Hungarians think of their government as a criminal organization and the country they live in as a mafia state. They are not imagining things. Not only is the Orbán government corrupt. We also have convincing evidence that certain members of Fidesz and the government had dealings with figures in the criminal underworld.

Earlier I wrote about Antal Rogán, who during his tenure as mayor of District V of Budapest may have engaged in an illegal transaction with Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer. Rogán’s name also cropped up in connection with the investigation of László Vizoviczki, another shady character who might be responsible for several deaths from drug overdoses at his nightclubs.

That Rogán had dealings with Vizoviczki is not surprising. After all, Vizoviczki owned or rented several nightclubs in District V. Rogán most likely also knew Portik since Portik’s wife/girlfriend had financial dealings with the District through the purchase of a piece of real estate.

But evidence has surfaced indicating that Antal Rogán was not the only Fidesz politician with ties to the Budapest underworld. In a letter written to the prosecutor’s office in April of 2013, in which he outlined a possible plea agreement, Vizoviczki indicated that he had extensive dealings with other important Fidesz politicians.

Vizoviczki’s implicit threat–make a deal or I’ll spill the beans–was not idle. Jobbik’s N1TV, a well-informed internet site which earlier discovered Vizoviczki’s letter to the prosecutors, yesterday made another discovery. According to the story, on February 12, 2013, the police searched Vizoviczki’s four-story mansion in Buda. Among the items found was a 10-page letter addressed to “Gábor.” Gábor turned out to be Gábor Kubatov, currently one of the three deputy chairmen of Fidesz. In it, Vizoviczki asked Kubatov to use his good offices with the prosecutors and the police to get him released from jail and placed under house arrest for the duration of his trial. As Vizoviczki reminded Kubatov, he deserves assistance in exchange “for his support in the campaign (Reform Plan).” The content of this letter is known only from the very short description written by the policeman who took an inventory of the confiscated items because the prosecutors found the letter so insignificant that they didn’t include it in the material that was sent over to the court. On May 30, 2013, Vizoviczki was released from jail.

On the basis of this very brief summary of the letter I think it’s fair to assume that Vizoviczki was a generous supporter of the Fidesz campaign in 2010, which may be one reason that his case, which is still dragging on, hasn’t been vigorously investigated. Neither the police nor the prosecution seems to be eager to go after Vizoviczki. The police are most likely trying to bury the case because high-ranking police officers were allegedly in his pay. And, as we now suspect on the basis of Vizoviczki’s letter to Kubatov, Fidesz is probably also beholden to him.

The emergence of this short summary of the letter must have come as a shock to Kubatov because in the last 24 hours he hasn’t been able to come up with a coherent story about the background of the letter. His answer at a press conference yesterday about his acquaintance with Vizoviczki was fairly light-hearted. “Of course, I know him. I’m a politician and it is my business to meet people,” he answered to a question from Index’s journalist. A few hours later he realized that his flippant answer might not have been appropriate. In the second iteration, he tried to minimize his contacts with Vizoviczki. Kubatov claimed to the pro-government Magyar Idők that they had met only twice, once at the 110th anniversary of the kindergarten they both attended and once when Vizoviczki approached him about his plans to invest in sports, specifically in Fradi, Kubatov’s football club. Kubatov was not interested. Otherwise, according to Kubatov, on that occasion they talked about the terrible tragedy at the West-Balkan disco where several people died because of overcrowding and the subsequent stampede. Kubatov and Vizoviczki discussed safety measures that should be introduced in discos to prevent such tragedies in the future.

How well did these two men know each other? I suspect much better than Kubatov now lets on. On the photograph taken at the anniversary celebration of their kindergarten in April 2012 the two men are sitting next to one another. Admittedly, this doesn’t prove anything since the crowd seems to have divided itself largely along gender lines and more women than men attended the gathering. So even if they were perfect strangers they may well have ended up sitting beside one another. But my hunch is that they were no strangers.

kubatov-Viz

The whole story is suspicious, starting with the fact that the prosecutors didn’t include Vizoviczki’s letter to Kubatov in the material they passed on to the court. This cannot be a coincidence, especially in view of the close relationship between the prosecutor’s office and Fidesz. The prosecutors, realizing the damaging material in that letter, hoped that the document would never surface, as indeed it still hasn’t.

In any case, I’m not the only person who finds the prosecutors’ handling of this important letter more than strange. Today MSZP called on Péter Polt to explain why the prosecutor’s office ignored the letter written by Vizoviczki to Kubatov. It’s easy to predict what the answer will be. The same as when the prosecutors were supposed to investigate Tamás Portik’s testimony about the bribe he allegedly handed to Antal Rogán. The prosecutors announced a couple of days ago that they see no reason to investigate Portik’s allegation. Charges were dropped.

July 29, 2016

Orbán’s vision of the future: autocracy with the assistance of law enforcement

A few days ago Viktor Orbán delivered a speech commemorating the 145th anniversary of the establishment of Hungary’s modern prosecutorial system in 1871. In 1991, on the 120th anniversary of the occasion, at the suggestion of Kálmán Györgyi, chief prosecutor at the time, the decision was made to celebrate the event every year. As part of the observance, prosecutors whose work merits special recognition receive the Sándor Kozma Prize. Kozma was the first royal chief prosecutor of Hungary between 1871 and 1896.

Until 1990 the prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the ministry of justice, as is the case in most European countries. After the change of regime, however, in an attempt to stave off undue state power over the judiciary, the new constitution declared the prosecutorial structure independent of the government. The result, even before the arrival of Peter Polt as chief prosecutor in 2000, was problematic. “Independence” in reality meant “responsible to no one.” A state within the state. At one point, during the first Orbán administration, Minister of Justice Ibolya Dávid did attempt to end the independence of the prosecutorial system and place it under her ministry, but because of the opposition’s objections the idea was dropped.

The last time that Orbán appeared at this festive occasion and delivered a speech was in 2012. At that time his message centered on the relationship between the government and the prosecution. He argued against an artificially forced distance between the two. This year he lauded the present system of prosecutorial independence, although he had to admit, most likely because Kálmán Györgyi was in the audience, that earlier he had argued rather vehemently with the former chief prosecutor in favor of placing the prosecution under the government. Now, however, he seems to be satisfied with the current arrangement. He had to admit, he said, that Györgyi was right. Of course. The pseudo-independence the prosecutorial hierarchy suits Viktor Orbán perfectly.

After a few more or less incomprehensible sentences, the prime minister came to the defense of the prosecutors under the leadership of Péter Polt. Opposition politicians consider Péter Polt the kingpin who keeps Viktor Orbán’s corrupt government in power, and they are openly asking for his resignation. They promise him jail time once Viktor Orbán is gone. So, the prime minister wanted show his support. He blamed these attacks on the prosecutor’s office on the West, where such openly critical remarks from politicians against the courts and the prosecution are commonplace. “This is one of the less desirable results of our membership in the European Union.” Naturally, Orbán encouraged them to forge ahead and do their work to the best of their ability, listening only to their own consciences.

A strange scene: the prime minister bowing to the chief prosecutor

A strange scene: the prime minister bowing to the chief prosecutor

It was at that point that he came to his core message, which some people, like András Bruck, consider to be “the most frightening speech of [Orbán’s] life.” In his view, ever since World War II, when we talked about “competitiveness” we were thinking of economic growth. The most successful nations were the ones that could provide the most prosperity for their citizens. But now Viktor Orbán believes that in the next two decades there will be a distinct change: the most successful countries will be the ones that will be able to create “order, legality, and orderliness.” How these conditions will help Hungary in the “race against time” is not clear to me.

Although the connection between order and competitiveness may be fuzzy, Orbán’s discussion of party politics and the question of order, legality, and orderliness is unfortunately crystal clear. His argument goes something like this. In the post-war developed world the most important legitimizing factor was the state of the economy. Right-of-center and left-of-center came and went, but “they all remained within the system, within the elite, within the same cultural milieu.” They were all thinking about the world in a similar way. Parties that were thinking in a novel way couldn’t enter the political structure. It was “a stable system, which will now change.” Over the past sixty years people accepted the same basic political structure because, with only few exceptions, governments were able to provide greater prosperity. “This era, ladies and gentlemen and deeply honored chief prosecutor, is over.”

If we take these sentences at face value, as András Bruck did, one could conclude that “Orbán in essence acknowledged that Hungary is not only unable to create prosperity and social security for its citizens but doesn’t even want to.” But, as usual, Viktor Orbán is never that straightforward. He can’t possibly abandon his habit of double-talk. It is true, he continued, that the European Union will be unable to provide sustained prosperity for its citizens, but this prediction is not true for all EU countries. There will be exceptions. “Thank God, we Central Europeans are not doomed to the fate outlined above because Central Europe’s economic growth surpasses that of the European Union.” Unless the leaders of the region do something very stupid, there will be continued growth in this part of the world for the next 10-15 years. So, in Central Europe the legitimating force of economic success, unlike in the West, will remain. In addition, of course, to the new organizing principles of order, legality, and orderliness.

Hungary will be doubly blessed. One blessing is that Hungary, just like all other European countries, will be led by governments and/or parties that in no way resemble the traditional governments/parties we have been used to in democratic countries. Given the Hungarian prime minister’s political philosophy, he is almost certainly talking about those right-wing, even extremist, new formations in Western Europe whose leaders are such enthusiastic supporters of Viktor Orbán. These parties and the governments they form will then enforce law and order with the assistance of the “independent” prosecution, the police, and perhaps even the army. A frightening prospect, if he is allowed to make good on it. It is up to the Hungarian people to make sure that he doesn’t have the opportunity to make his dreams even more of a reality than they already are.

June 12, 2016

Viktor Orbán and his protector Péter Polt, the prosecutor-general

A noteworthy article appeared in B1, a blog that identifies itself as a site “where blogging begins.” I must admit that I had never heard of it until yesterday, when I received three e-mails from three different sources calling my attention to a post on that site. The pieces on the site are written by “nickgrabowski.” It would require an analysis of style and word usage to decide whether all the articles are written by the same person. I have not gotten that far.

My three friends were impressed with the logic of the article titled “What or who keeps the Orbán regime in power?” Reading it, I was also struck by the likely correctness of the author’s post.

According to “Nick Grabowski,” analysts usually offer three alternative explanations for the continued political success of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. The first lays the blame on the media. Journalists are unwilling or unable to drive home all the criminal activities of the Orbán government. The second group of critics concentrates on the “impotent” opposition. Their voices are just not loud enough. And third, the continued existence of the regime is the fault of the electorate who are not bothered by the corruption all around them and/or don’t understand the intricacies of some of the rather complicated financial deals.

But these explanations are unfair, says the author. The media does what it has to do, and the opposition politicians are loud enough. It is true that the electorate can’t always understand the fine points of such matters as the Hungarian National Bank’s “foundations,” but that has no relevance to the discussion at hand because “it is not their job” to understand or interpret these details. The public pays taxes to maintain institutions that deal with such matters. Specifically, in a democratic state it is the prosecutor’s office that is supposed to handle criminal cases. But as “Nick Grabowski” points out, “while Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan had armies and Lenin, Hitler and Rákosi had their internal network of policing, times have changed. Today [heads of governments] cannot simply kill their political opponents. They must maintain a semblance of legality.”

What does Orbán have? The prosecutor’s office

“Nick Grabowski” argues that Péter Polt is the modern-day incarnation of those earlier forces that both protected their leaders against attack and went on the offensive against their enemies. Before I turn to the long list of cases “Grabowski” cites where Péter Polt, the prosecutor-general, failed to bring charges against individuals involved in highly suspicious cases, let me go back in time, all the way to 2000, when the highly regarded prosecutor-general, Kálmán Györgyi, resigned two years before his term would have ended. In those days the prosecutor-general was elected, on the recommendation of the president, for six years. Györgyi’s second term would have expired in 2002. Györgyi offered no reason for his resignation. By now the consensus is that the Orbán government wanted to get rid of the far too independent Györgyi and replace him with Fidesz’s own candidate. To this day we have no idea about the real reason for the resignation, but the suspicion is that Györgyi was blackmailed. Even before the resignation of Györgyi became known, rumors circulated that his successor would be Péter Polt. Polt has been the prosecutor-general of Hungary during every Orbán administration.

The great friends: Péter Polt and Viktor Orbán

The great friends: Péter Polt and Viktor Orbán

I agree with “Nick Grabowski.” Polt is worth his weight in gold. Although he is not entitled to special government protection, Viktor Orbán recently assigned a contingent of TEK guys to him as a security detail.

Polt’s job seems to be twofold. First, he is supposed to ensure that no procedures are launched in cases that are politically uncomfortable or worse for the Orbán regime. A few examples will suffice here. Polt’s office doesn’t seem to be interested in investigating the skinheads who prevented István Nyakó from turning in MSZP’s referendum question. The facts of the case point to Fidesz involvement. Nothing happened in the case of the phony parties the government financed in order to enhance Fidesz’s chances at the ballot box. No investigation is underway into the VAT fraud of 100 billion forints which András Horváth, the whistleblower at the tax office, reported. No matter how many times Péter Juhász (Együtt) went to the police about the real estate fraud unearthed in District V under the mayoralty of Antal Rogán, nothing happened. As “Nick Grabowski” says, “what’s going on is the systematic plunder of the Hungarian state,” but since the prosecution does nothing, we can’t even call it a crime.

Prosecutor’s office as shield and weapon

The prosecutor’s office shields the regime from any damaging legal procedure. As long as Péter Polt is prosecutor-general, Viktor Orbán and his minions are safe. And he will hold this office for a very long time. In 2010 he was elected for nine years, and his term can be renewed ad infinitum. No retirement age applies in his case. Therefore, Péter Polt can remain prosecutor-general as long as he lives.

Polt’s office not only shields the criminal activities of the government, it also acts as an agent of the government party. As “Nick Grabowski” more forcefully says, “it acts like a political police.” The office does nothing when it comes to Rogán’s shady real estate deals, but it proceeds against Péter Juhász for slander. It moves against people who “liked” a Facebook text uncovering shady real estate deals of the Fidesz mayor of Siófok. There were cases in which the prosecutors hired “false witnesses” against the opponents of the government. They were quick to bring charges against MSZP politicians on the flimsiest of evidence which, after years of litigation, proved to be unfounded.

The power to bring charges lies exclusively with the prosecutor’s office. Since 2011 this provision was even put into the constitution: “The Prosecutor-General and the prosecution service shall be independent, shall contribute to the administration of justice by exclusively enforcing the State’s demand for punishment as public accuser.” Its mandate includes corruption cases. The Orbán government, which considers corruption a means to its political goal of creating a national bourgeoisie, remains perfectly safe as long as Polt is the chief prosecutor.

What happens is the following. Some criminal activity takes place. The media uncovers all the details and the opposition protests, but the case never comes before a judge. Within three days everybody forgets about all the dirty details. “Nick Grabowski” finishes his article on this sarcastic note: “If one day we want to be autocrats, someone should warn us to make sure that we acquire a sufficiently loyal prosecutor-general…. If the prosecutor-general is ours, we can do anything.”

May 16, 2016

Letting the fox guard the henhouse: Hungarian prosecutors undermine justice

The thread that connects today’s topics is the state of the Hungarian legal system. As it stands, Hungary has a thoroughly corrupt prosecutorial system and a judiciary that at times shows itself to be truly independent despite considerable pressure from the executive branch. All three topics I’m addressing today are in one way or the other connected to these two branches of the legal system.

Let me start with a surprising verdict handed down today by the Budapest Court of Justice. Altus Zrt., Ferenc Gyurcsány’s company, sued Viktor Orbán because in May 2015 Orbán claimed that Altus is a bogus company created for the sole purpose of generating revenue from the European Union to finance Gyurcsány’s party, the Demokratikus Koalíció. Altus is actually managed by Gyurcsány’s wife, Klára Dobrev, an economist and law professor who teaches banking and financial law. The firm received, in an open bid process, a large contract from the European Union to evaluate the use of subsidies by member states and to suggest solutions for their more effective use. Given the political atmosphere in Hungary, Altus, regardless of the quality of its associates, can’t get jobs in the country and must offer its consulting services abroad.

Altus decided to sue Viktor Orbán for slander. Today the Budapest Court of Justice declared that Viktor Orbán’s claim was false and ordered the prime minister to refrain in the future from similar libelous statements. He will have to pay Altus 270,000 forints for court costs. And finally, and this is the one that must hurt Orbán the most, he has to openly express his regret for ever having made such a statement. I don’t know who that brave judge was, but the verdict is simply breathtaking. No one remembers such a verdict against a sitting Hungarian prime minister. Of course, this decision is not final. I’m sure it will be appealed.

Viktor Orbán must be livid. Fidesz immediately released a statement which, in total disregard of the verdict of the court, declared that “even a blind man can see that Ferenc Gyurcsány is financed from Brussels.” Fidesz’s spokesman quickly segued into Péter Medgyessy’s business transaction with Alstom, the French company that provided cars for the new Budapest metro line, the M4. “On the left only the companies and the size of the bribes change, the essence remains. Both Gyurcsány and the other socialist prime minister [meaning Medgyessy] conducted business through their wives. We are looking forward to Gyurcsány’s answer about how much money he received from the bribe of Alstom because, after all, it was during his premiership that the Alstom contract was signed.” Well, it is time for Gyurcsány, who a few years back swore that he would sue anybody who falsely accuses him of anything, to start proceedings again, this time against Fidesz.

That takes us back to the Medgyessy case, which I already mentioned in a post. Since then ten articles dealing with Medgyessy’s involvement with Alstom have appeared in Magyar Idők. The government obviously finds the case extremely useful politically. But how did Magyar Idők get hold of the story in the first place? The articles that appeared in the government paper are based on detailed information, including individual bank transactions. It is unlikely that the source of the information is the Medgyessy couple’s bank. We mustn’t forget that in the last couple of years the Hungarian prosecutor’s office has been investigating Alstom’s possibly illegal activities in Hungary in connection with the metro cars. So it is highly probable that Magyar Idők, just like its predecessor Magyar Nemzet, received the documents directly from the prosecutor’s office, headed by Péter Polt, chief prosecutor of Hungary and an old friend and protector of the prime minister. And this is a crime.

Marianna Polt-Palásthy

Marianna Polt-Palásthy

One cannot overemphasize the importance of Polt to Orbán’s system. It is no exaggeration to say that without Polt, or someone as crooked and loyal as he is, Orbán’s mafia state would have collapsed a long time ago. He is the one who stands between Viktor Orbán and justice and ultimately jail. So, it’s no wonder that Polt receives special treatment. A few months ago we heard that TEK, Orbán’s private bodyguard, will also guard this precious man, who is not entitled to such protection by law. And a few days ago, thanks to the documents released by the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations, we learned that Polt’s wife, Marianna Polt-Palásthy, personnel director of the bank, is also the chair of the board of Pallas Athéné Domus Scientiae, a member of the board of Pallas Athéné Domus Mentis, and a member of the Kecskeméti Duális Oktatás Zrt. She was hired by György Matolcsy in 2013, originally with a salary of 2.3 million a month, but by now she makes five million. Matolcsy’s salary was just raised to five million. So, while the chairman of the bank was making only two million, the director of the personnel department made five million. I wonder why. (Oh, those wives….) We also mustn’t forget about the extra remuneration for her jobs on the foundations’ boards.

And one more story about the Hungarian prosecutor’s office. It has something to do with the Quaestor scandal about which I wrote a year ago. The Quaestor affair is often described as Hungary’s Madoff case, except that here it is likely that the Orbán government itself was involved. Several ministries invested in Csaba Tarsoly’s pyramid scheme, and to the very last minute before the company collapsed Tarsoly was hoping for, and expecting, a government bailout. In brief, a thorough investigation of Csaba Tarsoly’s fraud case is not to the advantage of the Orbán government. And that takes us to our next story.

The victim's of Tarsoly's pyramid game The sign reads: "Orbán get lost and take your cronies along"

The victims of Tarsoly’s pyramid game
The sign reads: “Orbán get lost and take your cronies along”

It is becoming an everyday occurrence that the prosecution’s cases are so poorly prepared that cases that seem very strong even to outsiders are lost time and again. One of the worst offenders is Budapest Chief Prosecutor Tibor Ibolya who, contrary to his family name, is anything but a “violet.” In fact, he has gotten into all sorts of trouble with the courts and judges for speaking in ways the judges found unacceptable. In the Quaestor case Ibolya’s office dumped thousands of documents, absolutely unsorted, into the lap of the judge, not even indicating which documents supported what charge. Among the documents the judges found music, private documents, and photos that had nothing to do with the case. The court sent the whole mess back, asking Ibolya’s office to put their case together in a proper manner because what the court received was useless. Thus far Ibolya refuses to oblige. But the court isn’t budging either. If there is no action by May 31, the whole case against Tarsoly will be dropped. The suspicion is that this is exactly what the prosecutor’s office, with the active encouragement of the Orbán government, wants.

And one final word. It is Péter Polt’s office that is supposed to investigate the legality of the establishment of the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations even as his wife is deeply involved in and profits from the whole illegal scheme.

April 29, 2016