Tag Archives: prosecutor’s office

Open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

The letter below, addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, was written by Hans Eichel, co-founder and former chairman of G20 and former finance minister of Germany,  and Pascal Lamy, former European commissioner and president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute. Hans Eichel and Pascal Lamy also represent Franz Fischler and Yannis Paleokrassas, both former European commissioners.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear Mr. President Jean-Claude Juncker,

As signatories to this letter, we ask the European Commission to temporarily suspend payment of all EU funding to Hungary, with the exception of funding provided directly by the Commission (i.e. without the intermediary role of the Hungarian government).

Over recent years, the whole institutional and legal system in Hungary has been transformed in a way that makes it much easier to assign a substantial part of EU money directly or indirectly to certain business and political groups, no matter how detrimental this is for the Hungarian society, and thus also for attaining the objectives of the European Union.[1]

Key public institutions, such as the office of the prosecutor general and the constitutional court, have been de facto taken over by the ruling party, Fidesz.[2] The Constitution has been amended several times to serve the interests of Fidesz.[3]

Press freedom has been eviscerated, and the overwhelming majority of the media is now Fidesz-dominated.[4] Access to information has been seriously curtailed by several new laws.[5]

Universities have practically lost their independence as they have been put under the strict control of “chancellors” appointed by the government. (A notable exception is the Central European University in Budapest which the government has been trying to shut because it is still offering a home to academic freedom and critical thinking.[6])

Harassment and smothering of civil society organisations has been going on for years.[7] It is also telling that the Hungarian government has refused to join the EU’s key anti-corruption initiative, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.[8]

We fully agree with the following statement in the Commission’s Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances: “Respect for the rule of law is important for European citizens, but also for business initiative, innovation and investment, which will flourish most where the legal and institutional framework adheres fully to the common values of the Union. There is hence a clear relationship between the rule of law and an efficient implementation of the private and public investments supported by the EU budget.”[9]

More than 95% of public investment projects in Hungary receive EU co-financing. The Hungarian government announced[10] that it will use 2017 and 2018 to allocate most of the EU money available for the funding period 2014-2020, and is rapidly implementing this strategy. The purpose here is clear: to help Fidesz at the national elections in spring 2018, without any consideration of what will happen after 2018 when EU funding will be mostly exhausted. Such jerking of the economy is also extremely detrimental for business in general, the rapid disbursement leads to inefficient use of EU money, and greatly increases the risks of corruption. This brings a special urgency to the situation.

It is time to heed the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Gajus Scheltema: “The argument over what happens with our money is indeed growing ever fiercer. We can’t finance corruption, and we can’t keep a corrupt regime alive. At the same time, we need to continue supporting underdeveloped areas – that’s solidarity. Economically Hungary still lags behind Western Europe, so we need to help. – But in such a way that both the Hungarians and the Dutch are satisfied. We need to make the system much more transparent, accountable, and monitored.”[11]

To emphasise the point: a temporary cessation is what this situation requires; all funding can and should be restored as soon as basic democratic freedoms are reinstated and corruption counter-acted. We strongly believe that this is also a pre-condition for continuing EU funding to less developed regions – which is indispensable for the future of the European Union – in the period following 2020 in light of growing resentment all over Europe about the inefficient and improper use of EU funds.

It is the Commission’s duty to protect the EU’s financial interests. The Commission should live up to its duty concerning Hungary without any further delay.[12]

We are looking forward to your reply as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Hans Eichel, Co-founder and former Chairman of G20, former Minister of Finance of Germany

Pascal Lamy, former European Commissioner, President Emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute

also on behalf of

Franz Fischler, former European Commissioner

Yannis Paleokrassas, former European Commissioner

23 November 2017


[1] See, for example: “A Whiff of Corruption in Orbán’s Hungary,” Spiegel Online, January 17, 2017 http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/a-whiff-of-corruption-in-orban-s-hungary-a-1129713.html  “Vladimir Putin has been named the 2014 Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an award given annually to the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity.… Runners up to Putin this year were Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović.” OCCRP, 2015, https://www.occrp.org/personoftheyear/2014/

[2] See, for example: “Hungary – Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” by Transparency International Hungary, Transparency International, and K-Monitor Watchdog for Public funds, 21 September 2015, https://transparency.hu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Joint-Submission-to-the-UN-Universal-Periodic-Review.pdf

[3] See, for example: “Hungary’s Dangerous Constitution. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law,” October 2015, http://jtl.columbia.edu/hungarys-dangerous-constitution/ Fidesz has set the large controlling organizations and the independent branches of power to manual control. atlatszo.hu (member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network), 20 September 2014, http://english.atlatszo.hu/2014/09/20/fidesz-has-set-the-large-controlling-organizations-and-the-independent-branches-of-power-to-manual-control/

[4] See, for example: “Freedom of the Press 2017, Hungary.” Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/hungary

[5] See, for example: “New Civil Code: public fund contracts are to become inaccessible,”  Transparency International Hungary, 16.08.2012, http://www.transparency.hu/New Civil Code public fund contracts are to become inaccessible “The coming dark age of democratic governance in Hungary,” atlatszo, 08.05.2013, http://atlatszo.hu/2013/05/08/the-coming-dark-age-of-democratic-governance-in-hungary/“Further Restrictions on Freedom of Information in Illiberal Hungary,” Hungarian Spectrum, 05.07.2015, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/07/05/further-restrictions-on-freedom-of-information-in-illiberal-hungary/

[6] At Hungary’s Soros-Backed University, Scholars Feel a Chill. The New York Times, April 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/world/europe/hungary-george-soros-central-european-university.html

[7] See, for example: “Civil Society Europe briefing on the state of Civic Space and Fundamental Rights in Hungary,” April 2017, https://civil society europe. eu.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/cse-hungary-fact-sheet_april2017.pdf

[8] It is not necessary to create a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Website of the Hungarian Government, December 6, 2016, http://www.kormany.hu/en/ministry-of-justice/news/it-is-not-necessary-to-create-a-european-public-prosecutor-s-office  “European Public Prosecutor’s Office established without Hungary’s participation,” The Budapest Beacon, June 9, 2017, https://budapestbeacon.com/european-public-prosecutors-office-established-without-hungarys-participation/

[9] Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances. European Commission, 28 June 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/reflection-paper-eu-finances_en.pdf

[10] See: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+P-2017-002541+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=en

[11] Ambassador Scheltema: “We Mustn’t Keep a Corrupt Regime Alive.” Hungarian Spectrum, August 31, 2017, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2017/08/31/ambassador-scheltema-we-mustnt-keep-a-corrupt-regime-alive/

[12] See also: “Legal Grounds for the Suspension of EU Funding to Hungary Now,” Hungarian Spectrum, September 3, 2017, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2017/09/03/legal-grounds-for-the-suspension-of-eu-funding-to-hungary-now/

November 28, 2017

Another attempt to silence Jobbik

In the last few days we have witnessed an entirely new form of pressure being exerted on Jobbik, currently the largest opposition party in Hungary, by the Orbán government with the assistance of the State Accounting Office (ÁSZ).

ÁSZ audits the finances of all parties biennially. This is one of those years when ÁSZ asks for documentation of party finances. The parties were informed that the auditing procedures for 2015-2016 would begin on August 10. On October 3 ÁSZ announced that Jobbik had refused to cooperate with the office and that it was therefore turning the case over to the prosecutor’s office. Unlike in other cases, the prosecutor’s office was prompt. It referred the case to the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda/National Investigative Office (NII), which is often called the Hungarian FBI. NII deals with cases involving human trafficking, state secrets, terrorism, drug-related issues, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Jobbik denies the accusation and claims that Péter Schön, the financial director of the party, and the chief accountant of ÁSZ’s investigative team were in constant touch. Moreover, on September 21 Schön and the officials of ÁSZ met personally. At that time Jobbik was told that this year ÁSZ was not going to do the auditing on the premises; Jobbik would have to send all the documents electronically. Then, suddenly, on September 28, Jobbik received an e-mail in which it was informed that, after all, there would be an audit at Jobbik’s headquarters and that ÁSZ was also interested in the first six months of the current year. This was a highly unusual request. In the 27-year history of ÁSZ no one ever wanted to audit financial transactions of a current year. Moreover, ÁSZ also informed Jobbik that the auditing team would arrive at 9:00 a.m. on the next day although—or because—Péter Schön had informed the ÁSZ officials already on September 27 that he would not be in the office that day and suggested the following business day, October 2, for ÁSZ’s visit. I should add that Jobbik by law had five days to respond and therefore was not obliged to jump.

Once ÁSZ’s men found the office locked on September 29, the office refused to accept the electronically submitted documents that Jobbik tried to submit. It also rejected the documents that János Volner, vice chairman of Jobbik, and Péter Jakab, the party’s spokesman, carried to ÁSZ in two boxes on October 3. They were told that ÁSZ cannot take the documents. They can accept only electronically submitted material, which Jobbik was prevented from submitting earlier.

It was obvious that ÁSZ, which in the past has been fairly even-handed, must have gotten the word from above to put pressure or worse on Jobbik. We know from Fidesz sources that Viktor Orbán flew into a rage over Jobbik’s brilliant billboards showing Viktor Orbán, Lőrinc Mészáros, Árpád Habony, and Antal Rogán. In a great hurry the government proposed a new law that was supposed to put an end to billboards with political messages, but it was so sloppily thrown together that it was full of loopholes. Lajos Simicska came to Jobbik’s rescue, selling the party 1,200 billboard spaces that allowed the party to continue its political attacks on Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. I assume that Orbán decided to put an end to this cat and mouse game once and for all.

János Volner and Péter Jakab in front of ÁSZ’s headquarters

Fidesz’s auxiliary forces were on hand to offer their two cents. István Kovács, the “strategic director” of the notorious Center for Fundamental Laws (Alapjogokért Központ/AK), which is a government-financed legal think tank, moved into immediate action. In an interview on the state television’s M1 channel, “without exhibiting any objectivity,” he announced that there is a strong possibility that Jobbik’s “refusal” to cooperate with ÁSZ will result in the party’s loss of its legal status. Such a move would throw the whole country into chaos, which might result in the physical violence on the streets that Antal Rogán and other Fidesz politicians kept talking about. As it turned out, however, the super clever legal experts of the Center were mistaken. The present law doesn’t allow the shuttering of a political party due to financial misconduct. But there is a brand new law which seems to have been written just for this occasion. In a great hurry Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) published an extraordinary issue on October 6 which contained the announcement of only one law: any offense committed in connection with the statutory aid to parties will result in an abatement of the amount received by the guilty party. Moreover, the amount ÁSZ found missing must be paid back in the form of taxes. So, in case anyone is naïve enough to think that the whole affair wasn’t staged and that Jobbik was actually uncooperative, this law is proof that it was premeditated. The Orbán government and Fidesz used the allegedly independent State Accounting Office and, through it, the prosecutor’s office to concoct stories in order to deprive its political opponent of the financial means to conduct a campaign for the next national election.

LMP, in a surprise move, came to Jobbik’s rescue. The party issued a statement deploring “the campaign against representative democracy with the assistance of the commissars of the prosecutor’s office.” The party also announced that it will ask TASZ, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, to provide legal aid to Jobbik. No official statement came from the other opposition parties as far as I know. I’m sure that LMP’s concern is genuine, but at the same time the move has benefits as far as LMP is concerned. Bernadett Szél just announced her candidacy for the post of prime minister and turned out to be the most popular among all the opposition candidates. For an aspiring party and its leader it is good politics to be in the news. It is important to be active.

The Jobbik leaders already labelled the government’s attack on their party the “Orbán Plan.” They naturally portray themselves as the only likely challenger of Fidesz of whom Viktor Orbán is afraid. Jobbik politicians might exaggerate their own importance, but it is true that in the last 12 months Fidesz attacks on Gábor Vona and his party have been fierce. Although Jobbik has lost some of its supporters, I don’t believe that this was due to the concerted offensive launched by Fidesz, led by Viktor Orbán himself. The relatively small loss of support was mostly due to Vona’s effort to make Jobbik a less radical and more mainstream right-of-center party. Some of the radicals in the party’s ranks most likely moved over to the Fidesz camp, which has shown a slow but steady rise. Therefore, I don’t believe that this latest assault on Jobbik will achieve its aim. It is very possible that it will actually elicit a certain amount of sympathy. In any case, I think that András Schiffer, the former co-chair of LMP, is quite right in saying that Fidesz, when it comes to Lajos Simicska, loses even its pretense of rationality. But, he added, it is really outrageous that ten million people have to suffer because of the personal vendetta that exists between these two men.

October 7, 2017

One of many of Fidesz-inspired show trials: The Hagyó case

It was almost three years ago that I wrote about the infamous Hagyó affair. Miklós Hagyó, a wealthy businessman and an MSZP politician, was  one of the deputy mayors of the city between 2006 and 2010. Among his duties was the supervision of the business practices of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). The Transit Authority was a badly managed, mammoth organization with enormous losses.

In March 2010 came a bombshell. Zsolt Balogh, one of the many CEOs of BKV, said on HírTV that he, as the newly appointed head of BKV, paid a courtesy visit to Hagyó, who right on the spot instructed him to hand over 40 million forints. Balogh obliged, and the next day he brought the money to the deputy mayor in a box originally designed as packaging for a Nokia telephone. This Nokia box has since become synonymous with the all-pervading corruption that allegedly characterized the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition during the premiership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Just for the record, I would like to quote my own words from a September 2012 post titled “A botched-up show trial in Hungary”:

At this point I said to myself: something is wrong here. There is no way that someone, especially an experienced crook, would demand money from a man he doesn’t know from Adam. During their very first encounter. Hagyó tried to clear his name but couldn’t. In late May, right after Hagyó lost his parliamentary seat due to the change of government, he was arrested. Obviously, the Hungarian prosecutors didn’t share my doubts.

Hagyó spent nine months in jail and several months in a prison hospital. After losing 26 kg, he was sent home to recuperate under house arrest. Two and a half years of investigation revealed very little. Prosecutors, for example, hoped to prove that the millions Hagyó allegedly extorted from Balogh ended up in MSZP’s coffers. But evidence was lacking. They also wanted to build a case of bribery but couldn’t. Eventually they had to settle on the good old charge of breach of fiduciary responsibility for fifteen of the sixteen accused in the wider case. The sole exception was Hagyó, who was charged with extortion.

The Hagyó trial was an important political weapon for Fidesz, and it was the first case that was transferred from Budapest to Kecskemét by Tünde Handó, head of the National Judicial Office. The alleged rationale for the change of venue was to speed up the trial. In truth, Handó, a Fidesz appointee and wife of the important Fidesz politician József Szájer, was looking for an accommodating judge.

Soon after the trial began, in September 2012, Attila Antal, another CEO of BKV who had given evidence against Hagyó, withdrew his original testimony. He told the court that while he was in jail he was ill and the police told him that he would be let go only if “he talks.” His testimony was faxed over to the prosecutor’s office page by page for them to inspect its contents and decide whether his testimony was satisfactory from the prosecution’s point of view. Antal’s revelation of pressure coming from the prosecutors was bad enough, but when Zsolt Balogh, a few days after Antal, told the court that the only reason he gave false testimony was because he was threatened with a jail term unless he came to the rescue of the prosecution, the case started to crumble. Balogh’s testimony was the only “evidence” of Hagyó’s guilt.

That didn’t prevent Fidesz from claiming two years later, in September 2014, just before the municipal election, that voting for István Tarlós’s opponent as mayor of Budapest “would mean the return of the Gyurcsány-era when millions stolen from BKV ended up in Nokia boxes.”

Civil Összefogás Fórum's billboard picturing Hagyó with Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai The caption reads: They don't deserve any more opportunity

Mklós Hagyó with Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai pictured as criminals in 2014. The caption reads: They don’t deserve any more opportunity

Miklós Hagyó was the victim of politics of the dirtiest kind. Of the Fidesz kind. A good legal study of the Hagyó case appeared in Galamus a year ago. According to the author, “the Hagyó trial will be taught in law schools as a sad example of political influence on the judiciary.” Reading some of the details that came to light during the long trial shows that there was a conspiracy among certain Fidesz politicians and the prosecutors “to create a case.” Those who were ready to cooperate later received well-paid jobs “under the wings of the new municipal administration” of István Tarlós. Policemen active in the “investigation” received better jobs, while the judge who automatically renewed Hagyó’s jail term was appointed a member of the constitutional court. The prosecutor who lent his name to the charges received a high decoration from the president of the country. Viktor Orbán was obviously grateful for the assistance.

The details that emerged are fascinating. For example, the prosecution issued an indictment before they had investigated the origin of the 30 million forints Zsolt Balogh allegedly handed over to Hagyó in 2008 and 2009. According to Balogh’s original and later withdrawn testimony, the money came from Márk Lazarovits, CEO of Synergon Informatikai Kft. in gratitude for a contract with BKV. The prosecution went ahead with the case without ever attempting to check the veracity of Balogh’s claim.

During the trial, after Balogh withdrew his testimony, the judge asked the prosecutors about the state of the investigation of Synergon as the possible source of the bribe. Of course, there was no such investigation either because of the incompetence of the prosecutors or, as I assume, because they suspected that Balogh’s testimony was so far-fetched that it was most likely bogus. At this point the decision was made to open a new investigation, a highly irregular move. Interestingly, even during this renewed attempt to find evidence, the prosecutors didn’t question Lazarovits. I suspect the reason for this “oversight” was that they knew full well that Lazarovits didn’t hand over any money to Balogh. In fact, other witnesses alluded to the fact that the prosecution had tried to pressure Lazarovits earlier to testify against Hagyó. Obviously without success. Since the investigators found no evidence of any money transaction originating from Synergon, finally, on June 23, 2015, the prosecutor’s office announced the close of the investigation. The case had totally collapsed.

Zsuzsa Sándor, a retired judge, came to the conclusion that after these developments the prosecution should ask for the acquittal of Miklós Hagyó–that is, “if it is not a show trial.” And she added: “We will find out in September,” when apparently the case will at long last be decided.

A medieval macabre show: Hungarian Jobbik member symbolically hangs Israeli leaders

Hungarians always complain that foreigners know little or nothing about their country. Well, lately they really can’t complain. Almost a week and a half after Viktor Orbán’s controversial speech the international press is still full of comments on it. Just today I encountered an opinion piece in The Moscow Times which concluded that something is indeed coming from the East “but it’s not the wind. It’s a virus. And with Orbán’s help, this virus has begun to infect the EU.” David Brooks in The York Times described Orbán’s speech as “morbidly fascinating.”

And now here is this effigy story. AP described what happened in Érpatak, a village of about 1,500 inhabitants. Mihály Zoltán Orosz, who has been mayor of the village since 2005, described Israel as “the Jewish terror state” that is trying to “obliterate the Palestinians.” Moreover, he is opposed “to the efforts of Freemason Jews to rule the world.” On the video below you can see a shorter version of the “public execution” where an executioner with a black hood over his face kicks chairs out from under the puppets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres, each tied to a gallows.

The whole scene reminded the journalists of HVG of a medieval macabre show. Who is this man? He is a Jobbik member, but in 2010 when he ran again for the position of mayor of Érpatak he called himself an independent. He is known for his bizarre outfits which are supposed to be traditional Hungarian fare, but they are all terribly exaggerated and therefore ludicrous. He also likes military uniforms. The last time he made quite a splash was at the Budapest gay pride parade where he appeared in a female peasant costume. I am sharing a few of his most “spectacular” outfits.

Of course, a lot of people think that Orosz doesn’t have all his marbles, which is a distinct possibility. But he seems to function quite well and rules the village with an iron fist. Law and order dominate in Érpatak. He calls his “system” the “Érpatak Model,” which he claims is a great success and which should be emulated all over the country. He boasts about the low crime rate, though his critics counter that he exaggerates on that score. And there are some people in the village who are not altogether happy with his activities and the circus he creates around town hall and across the country.

orosz2

His latest performance might have serious consequences. Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor immediately expressed his outrage and said that in his opinion “the Hungarian government must act in order to stop these dangerous acts.” The Hungarian foreign ministry got the message. On Monday around noon they issued a statement in which they declared that what happened over the weekend “cannot be reconciled with European norms and with the rule of law. The mayor uses the war and its innocent victims as a pretext for spreading the propaganda of hate.”

Orosz1

How much do we know about Orosz? Not enough, I fear. We know from Professor David Baer’s Testimony concerning the Condition of Religious Freedom in Hungary, submitted to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) on March 18, 2013, that Mihály Orosz “was affiliated with, or the founder of, at least four different groups registered as [bogus] churches.” Indeed, I found the names of three of these bogus churches in a recent article in Gépnarancs: the Order of the Heart of the Sun, Church of the Sophia Perennis, and the Order of the Eye of Heart.

Orosz4

We know that in order to apply for a job in Érpatak’s town hall the applicants have to fill out a form with 165 bizarre questions on politics and everything else under the sun.

Some people believe that it is time to put an end to Orosz’s activities. Among them is Gellért Rajcsányi, a young conservative publicist of Mandiner. He quotes an announcement from Érpatak’s website which calls attention to a demonstration for June 2014 in front of the courthouse in Nyíregyháza. At this demonstration they “symbolically hanged a criminal prosecutor and a criminal judge to show them what will wait for them after their death because of their activities against the world and the nation.” Clearly, Orosz likes to hang those with whom he disagrees. He led a group of people in front of the building that houses TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of  the American Civil Liberties Union, where they verbally attacked the associates of the organization. The author calls for an end to the career of this wannabe Arturo Ui, a reference to Bertolt Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui which chronicles the career of a 1930s Chicago mobster and his attempts to control the cauliflower racket by ruthlessly disposing of the opposition.

Orosz5

Well, the moment might have arrived. Ágnes Vadai in the name of DK urged Peter Polt, the chief prosecutor, to order an investigation. That in itself wouldn’t have prompted Polt to lift a finger, but then Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor pressed charges because of “the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic horror show” that took place in Érpatak. Suddenly, the case had international implications that the government and the prosecutor’s office couldn’t quite ignore. The prosecutor’s office in Nyíregyháza began an investigation into the National Network of the Érpatak and the Youth Movement of the Sixty-Four Counties. If Orosz and the other organizers are found guilty they may receive up to three years in jail. I very much doubt, however, that he will spend even one night in jail.

The strange story of Gábor Simon and Tamás Welsz

It was in early February that Gábor Simon, one of the vice chairmen of MSZP, was discovered to have a large account in an Austrian bank. Magyar Nemzet reported that the socialist politician had made two deposits, of €575,000 and $163,000, in April 2009. The problem was that Simon, who was a member of parliament, failed to include these deposits in his yearly report on his personal finances. In no time Simon was removed from the party and shortly thereafter he resigned his parliamentary position.

MSZP desperately wanted to put an end to this embarrassing revelation; its leaders kept emphasizing that Simon’s financial affairs had nothing to do with the party. Their political opponents, however, refused to let go of the story. Magyar Nemzet published numerous articles in which they tried to connect Simon’s millions to MSZP. Surely, the argument went, Simon was hiding the party’s money in his own foreign bank accounts.

Eventually Magyar Nemzet stopped pursuing that alleged chain of guilt, although for a while they tried to tie the money to an MSZP politician in Budapest’s District XIII. But then came the news on March 6 that Simon’s money most likely had something to do with Tamás Welsz, a businessman with a checkered career whose activities ranged over three continents: Europe, Africa, and South America. Welsz in the past had had some run-ins with the authorities and was (until yesterday) wanted by Interpol. Yet the Hungarian police and prosecutors didn’t arrest him. In fact, last November, after being interrogated, he and his girlfriend Andrea Horthy were released.

Index reported on March 6 that Simon had another bank account in Hungary which he had opened under a false name. Magyar Nemzet, which  has excellent connections with Hungarian prosecutors, seemed to know that the relationship between Simon and Welsz came to light as the result of a search of Velsz’s house in Érd. There in a safe they found a forged Guinea-Bissau passport in the name of Gabriel Derdák. Simon’s mother’s maiden name is Erzsébet Derdák. The authorities allege that Welsz, who had good relations with the totally corrupt government of Guinea-Bissau, got about 500 blank passports which he sold to people who for one reason or another needed an alias or just another passport. Simon/Derdák with his African passport opened an account in a MagNet Bank on Andrássy Street. The deposit was again large: €250,000.

Gábor Simon and Tamás Welsz Source: Index

Gábor Simon and Tamás Welsz
Source: Index

Shortly after the revelations about the safe and the false passports Magyar Nemzet went into high gear. Welsz was described as a man with “excellent” connections to MSZP politicians. They claimed that several  MSZP politicians wanted to buy Guinea-Bissau passports, not just Simon. They singled out János Veres, former minister of finance who seems to be a favorite target of Magyar Nemzet and HírTV, both owned by the same concern. Veres announced that he doesn’t know Welsz and that he has no Guinea-Bissau passport; he sued both Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Magyar Nemzet retreated somewhat, saying that Veres only “contemplated” acquiring a false passport but in the end changed his mind.

Why did the investigators decide to search Welsz’s house? My hunch is that Welsz offered to give up Simon if the Hungarian authorities would release him. I suspect that the investigators knew about Simon’s bank accounts as early as last November when Welsz and his girlfriend were arrested. And not just the bank accounts in Austria but possibly about the €250,000 under the name of Gabriel Derdák as well. The authorities may have postponed acting on this information so it would have the maximum electoral punch. At any event, four days after the police searched Tamás Welsz’s house, on March 10, Simon was taken into custody.

Once the authorities went public with the information about Simon’s wrongdoings, they dragged the story out for a month, thereby providing political fodder for the pro-government press.  Day after day the public read about the sordid financial activities of this high-ranking MSZP official, activities (so the accusations went) that implicated the party as a whole. Four years ago similar stories helped propel Fidesz to its overwhelming victory. Why shouldn’t the strategy work again?

All seemed to be going according to plan, but then came yesterday’s shocking news. According to the Budapest police, Welsz was sitting in the back seat of a police car heading to the Budapest Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office in Budapest when he suddenly became ill. He was to taken the nearest hospital, but the doctors couldn’t revive him. Welsz was 41 years old and looked like the picture of health. So far the police have not provided any official information about his death–I assume they are waiting for the results of the autopsy–and as a result all sorts of rumors are circulating.

Leaked police information is contradictory. Some reporters claim that Welsz was already feeling ill before he traveled from his home in Érd to Budapest. Others say that he told the police he had taken poison and would die soon. (But then why didn’t the police immediately call an ambulance?) Some people talk about his excellent health and his upbeat mood; others report his anxiety. One report insists that he was hand-cuffed; others deny it. HVG told its readers that the people Welsz was fingering are not at all those everybody suspects, i.e., MSZP politicians. His revelations, they wrote, will surprise everybody. From this one would surmise that he had information on some Fidesz people. Whatever happened, Welsz is dead under very strange circumstances which means–as Veres pointed out yesterday on ATV–that anyone can use the blank passports to frame opposition politicians. Dead men don’t talk.

Many people think that Welsz may have been a Hungarian national security agent. József Gulyás, formerly an SZDSZ member of parliament and now a supporter of Együtt 2014, is demanding that the parliamentary committee on national security convene to question representatives from the Office of the Defense of the Constitution and other organizations dealing with national security.

This whole story is too bizarre for words. And extremely suspicious. But the more convoluted the story is and the longer it takes to decipher, the more it would seem to serve Fidesz’s political purposes. This will be a front-page story for quite a while, unless Fidesz has something else up its sleeve. They did promise three surprises: the Simon case was first, then came Zuschlag. Who will be the third?

Fidesz, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, and a Hungarian neo-Nazi site

The infamous neo-Nazi website Kuruc-info is in the news again. It was a year ago that I reported that Kuruc-info placed a blood bounty on everyone who participated in a flash mob demonstration at the time of the revelations about László Csatáry, a former police officer in charge of the Košice/Kassa Jewish ghetto in the summer of 1944. You may also recall that a man who lived in California at the time and who allegedly secured the American server Kuruc.info uses himself offered money to anyone who could provide information about the identity of the persons involved in the demonstration. Informers were offered 100,000 forints. Once some of the participants were identified, harassment via telephone and e-mail began. One of these messages read: “If I were you, I would take out life insurance.”

Eszter Garai-Édler, one of the organizers, filed a complaint on September 9, 2012 in connection with the case. After she was called in as a witness on January 18, 2013, the district prosecutor’s office ended its investigation. Garai-Édler filed another complaint, after which the case was reopened only to end on October 15 in a ruling that declared that the investigation was terminated. The reason was the same old story about why Kuruc.info cannot be shut down:

According to the information at our disposal, it can be determined that the Kuruc.info website operates on servers based in the United States of America. As such, it can be stated that the criminal act and the uploading of the web content in question occurred in the United States as well. Seeing that Kuruc.info operates off of a server found in the US, any determinations surrounding the site’s content fall outside the competence of the police. Due to differences between legal interpretations of the two countries, proceedings cannot begin in the US against the operators of the website.

Of course, this is nonsense. Uploading can occur anywhere in the world, and in the case of kuruc.info it is almost 100% certain that the editors are busily working on their computers in Hungary.

A few years back a former editor of Kuruc.info identified three men who are allegedly in charge of Kuruc.info. All three live in Budapest. The prosecutors claim to have investigated the role of a certain Balázs Molnár, one of the editors, but they said they couldn’t make their case. Another editor is apparently Előd Novák, a Jobbik member of parliament.

Kuruc.info obviously feels emboldened. A Hungarian journalist, András Dezső, discovered a huge billboard advertising Kuruc.info at a prominent place on the busy Budaörsi út.

the infamous billboard on Budaörsi út / Index

The infamous billboard on Budaörsi út / Index

Dezső immediately began his own investigation. He eventually tracked down the company that owns the billboard and inquired about the people who rented the advertising space. He was told to put his request in writing, which he did, foolishly adding his cell phone number. A few days later he was informed that the billboard will be taken down. And then came the surprise. Dezső discovered the contents of his e-mail to the company, including his e-mail address and telephone number, on kuruc.info. The poor guy’s life became sheer hell. Kuruc-info’s troll kept phoning him constantly and his e-mail box was overflowing. Dezső works for Index where this morning he published the story of his encounter with Kuruc-info.

The billboard company, Hungaroplakát, could certainly help the police and the prosecutors “solve” the mysterious case of Kuruc-info. That is, if they wanted to. Garai-Édler also came to the conclusion that “the Hungarian government has decided that it will protect Kuruc.info” for political reasons. Fidesz needs votes from the extreme right and doesn’t want to alienate the hundreds and thousands who are faithful readers of this neo-Nazi rag.

The real problem here is not so much what Kuruc.info trolls are doing to the journalist, because that is expected. What is really troublesome is that an employee of a bona fide company that has been in operation since 1998 is capable of giving official company correspondence to the neo-Nazis who publish Kuruc-info. HVG, the paper for which András Dezső used to work, inquired from Hungaroplakát about this latest outrage. They were told that the management of the firm is in the process of consulting with the company’s lawyers.

Enter Tamás Deutsch, the enfant terrible of Fidesz. He loves Facebook and Twitter and frequently uses these platforms to criticize the opposition, often with obscene language. But this time he attacked the Hungarian prosecutors for doing nothing about Kuruc-info which in his opinion operates illegally. He gave the Prosecutor’s Office 72 hours “to put an end to this Nazi website. No more evasion. No more on the one hand and on the other. Stand up on your hind legs and act.”

The spokesman of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, Géza Fazekas, announced that, although his office doesn’t normally respond to utterances of politicians, Deutsch’s statements are simply untrue. The prosecutors did investigate Kuruc.info. Moreover, they did it several times but  they couldn’t bring charges against the editors of the site because the “United States during the fall of 2007 refused the seizure of the server referring to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

So we are back exactly where we were six years ago even though the physical location of the server has nothing to do with the case. I fear that even the billboard advertisement will not be enough for the prosecutors, who obviously believe that it is not in the interest of Fidesz, which practically runs the Hungarian prosecutor’s office, to put an end to Kuruc.info.