Tag Archives: State Accounting Office

That’s one way to win an election–Eliminate the opposition

Two months ago, on October 7, I wrote a lengthy post about “another attempt to silence Jobbik.” In that article I explained in great detail the manner in which the Állami Számvevőszék (State Accounting Office/ÁSZ) normally audits political parties and that 2017 is the year that the most recent audits would take place, with ÁSZ checking the books for 2015-2016. The deadline for submitting the paperwork was October 3. However, on September 28, Jobbik was informed that ÁSZ is also interested in the financial affairs of the party during the first six months of 2017. This was an unheard-of demand in the 27-year history of ÁSZ. Jobbik was told that the auditors would arrive the next day, a Friday, although Jobbik informed them that the office would be not open that day. Jobbik asked for a postponement until October 2. The request was not granted, although the date was before the October 3 deadline. All attempts to file the documentation failed. The documents couldn’t be sent electronically, and when Jobbik officials hand-delivered them, ÁSZ refused to accept them. There were numerous signs indicating that the whole scenario had been carefully orchestrated from above. The head of ÁSZ is a former Fidesz member of parliament. His appointment on July 5, 2010 was one of the first to signal that all allegedly independent organs will be led by former Fidesz politicians.

At that time it was only LMP that came to Jobbik’s rescue. The party issued a statement deploring “the campaign against representative democracy,” and it also announced that it will ask TASZ, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, to provide legal aid to Jobbik. I don’t know whether anything came of TASZ’s legal assistance because I haven’t seen any public discussion of the case in the last two months.

Fidesz’s gift to Jobbik was delivered yesterday, the day when good children are supposed to get presents from Santa Claus. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole rotten affair was cynically planned this way. Viktor Orbán and his loyal criminals are capable of such a sick “joke.”

The billboard responsible for the present predicament of Jobbik

Jobbik was fined 331 million forints, and it will be docked another 331 million from the funds that the party is supposed to get from the budget this year. That amounts to over $2.4 million. The reason? Jobbik is charged with acquiring surfaces for its billboards below “market price,” which is the price either Fidesz or Viktor Orbán decided was the market price. In a true market economy, the price of goods is arrived at through negotiations between seller and buyer. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that ÁSZ didn’t look at the actual documentation on the basis of which it arrived at its verdict.

Jobbik has no 331 million forints in its bank account, and therefore it claims that under these circumstances it simply cannot compete fairly or perhaps not at all in the election campaign that will be officially launched very soon. Even if Jobbik asked for backing from its supporters, the money it received would go straight to ÁSZ. The government’s goal is clear: to cripple Jobbik, which at the moment is the largest opposition party. If Viktor Orbán manages to get rid of Jobbik, he will have to face only the highly fractured left-of-center parties, which are still negotiating about how to face Fidesz in the coming election. Although at the moment these parties have no intention of cooperating with Jobbik, Viktor Orbán is likely still worried about the possibility that such a collaboration might materialize, which could be a serious threat to his electoral chances. If Fidesz gets rid of Jobbik, however, it can kill two birds with one stone. The party removes a serious rival while abroad it can explain that Fidesz, which is a “conservative,” “right-of-center” party, managed to eliminate a far-right and dangerous group. Few people are aware of the fact that by now Fidesz is farther to the right than Jobbik and, what is more important, that Jobbik poses less of a threat to Hungarian democracy than the governing party, with all the political, economic, and military might at its disposal.

Jobbik’s internet newspaper, Alfahír, made an emotional appeal to the citizens of the country. First, the party turned to those liberal and leftist voters who consider Jobbik a far-right, racist, Nazi party. The author of the article claims that he understands their feelings because he himself felt the same kind of antagonism toward Soros and his supporters. But once he saw what the government did to Central European University and asked himself who the next victim will be, he changed his mind. What will happen if all opposing views are silenced? The author repeated this message for former Fidesz voters who, he states, surely didn’t vote in 2010 or 2014 for a one-party system.

The left-of-center parties more or less lined up in their condemnation of Fidesz’s attempt to annihilate Jobbik. Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt even filed charges against Fidesz, targeting its own advertising budget during the 2010 and 2014 election campaigns. The only exception seems to be Momentum, which will stand by Jobbik only if it receives answers to several questions. Momentum’s first concern seems to be the person of Béla Kovács. The case against him for alleged espionage has been in limbo for four years. Somewhat suspiciously, it was a couple of days ago that at last the prosecutors decided to charge him with espionage. Momentum inquired why Jobbik didn’t investigate Kovács’s case in the last four years. Momentum’s leaders also want to know whether Jobbik received any money from Russia through Béla Kovács. Finally, how did Jobbik have enough money to lease and later purchase several thousand billboard spaces? While the first two questions are legitimate, with the question about the billboards Momentum is essentially siding with Fidesz.

Two prominent lawyers offered their opinions about what Jobbik can do under the circumstances. Jobbik’s room to maneuver is small. There is no opportunity to appeal the verdict. András Schiffer looks at the government’s attack on Jobbik as “the beginning of the end of the multi-party system in Hungary.” The government was able to use this “trick” because the law on party financing, written 28 years ago, is most likely unconstitutional. “Nowhere [in the law] are there any procedural safeguards or the possibility of redress when the validation of fundamental rights and one of the elements of democratic governance is violated.” According to Schiffer, one possibility is for Jobbik to immediately turn to the constitutional court for an opinion. The other is for all opposition parliamentary delegations, in a joint action, to do the same. György Magyar, who by the way recently served as Lajos Simicska’s lawyer, suggests a slightly different route. Jobbik should ask for a suspension of enforcement from the courts, which in turn could go to the constitutional court.

Otherwise, after temporary gloom in Jobbik circles, by tonight Vona regained his composure and made a fiery announcement on Hír TV. The party will try to collect money, and he doesn’t preclude the possibility of asking Jobbik’s supporters to go out on the streets. He sees “a storm of indignation” in all walks of life, not just among the party faithful. In his opinion, there are only two possibilities: either Orbán wins, and that’s the end of democracy in Hungary, or Jobbik “in alliance with people” who want to remove the government from power “will sweep this government away.” He then directly addressed Viktor Orbán: “Listen Viktor, you corrupt dictator. If you think that I or we are afraid of you, you are wrong. I am not afraid of you, and Jobbik is not afraid of Fidesz, and I see that the people are not afraid either. You’re the one who should be afraid. You thought that 2017 would be the year of insurgence, but you were wrong. 2018 will be the year of rebellion that will drive you away and will make you accountable. Be prepared!”

Jobbik has a large following, and the government’s dirty trick might backfire. It might turn out to be dangerous to the health of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

December 7, 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