55th marathon “government information” press conference roundup

June 23, 2016


Today’s 55th marathon “government information” press conference began with government spokesman Zoltán Kovács and Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár praising the Hungarian team’s performance yesterday against Portugal in the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. Here are some of the topics which followed.

On both sides of the issue

Lázár remarked that today’s vote in Britain on whether to leave the EU (Brexit) “depends on the wisdom of the British.” The government launched an ad campaign on Monday in Britain’s the Daily Mail, in which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán encouraged Britons to remain in the EU. The ad, addressed to them from Orbán, reads: “The decision is yours, but I would like you to know that Hungary is proud to stand with you as a member of the European Union.” Lázár had said last week that the government takes no position on the British referendum, but it must have changed its mind before placing the ads.

When asked by leftish print daily Népszabadság about whether Hungary has a plan-B in the case of a British exit, Lázár said: “Hungary’s economic opportunities are affected whether Britain remains or exits. Great Britain has been a good ally in recent years.” There will be consequences even if they vote to remain, he added.

Népszabadság reporter Ildikó Csuhaj asked Lázár what the government would think if a foreign government campaigned against a Hungarian referendum (such as the coming resettlement quota referendum,) as Orbán seemed to do with the Daily Mail ad. Lázár responded that he wouldn’t see it as having a say in Hungarian affairs, just as Orbán’s ad doesn’t have a say in British affairs. The ad began with the words “The decision is yours,” he noted.

What’s a few recordings between friends?

When asked since when it has been customary for conversations between friends to be recorded, Lázár said he couldn’t answer the question and that he knows nothing about it. The question was in reference to audio recordings recently discovered in a police raid of media mogul and banker Zoltán Spéder’s home. Lázár himself, Orbán and former District 5 mayor Antal Rogán have been identified on the recordings having conversations with Spéder, who has recently come into the crosshairs of the government and is currently under investigation for fraud.

Almost unbelievable

“I have learned that it is not enough to look at what someone is saying, you also have to look at who is saying it,” Lázár said in response to a question about gangster and convicted murderer Tamás Portik. Portik is serving 15 years in prison, and has alleged that he gave HUF 10 million in Euros to then Budapest District 5 mayor Rogán as part of a real estate racket. Rogán denies the allegations. “I don’t give credit to this, who said it is not credible,” Lázár said of Portik.

Lázár went further to defend Rogán’s failure to appear at a hearing last Friday, where he would have been confronted with Portik’s testimony. “I know for a fact that he had important business in Germany, because I was looking for him that day too,” Lázár said.

Fidesz representative Máriusz Révész’s calls for an official investigation into the charges against Rogán were dismissed by Lázár. He said Rogán was being “hunted down”, and that Együtt (Together) party vice-chairman Péter Juhász, who made the corruption allegations against Rogán, had made a career out of trying to politically destroy Fidesz politicians.

We’ll pay, but…

“We acknowledge the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, but we don’t agree,” Lázár said about the court’s decision to award damages of EUR 100,000 to former president of the Hungarian Supreme Court András Baka for wrongful termination. The court ruled that the premature termination violated the judge’s right to fair proceedings and freedom of expression. Lázár said the state would pay the ordered EUR 100,000, but that it does not believe it violated Baka’s rights.

“We’re not doing well on this issue”

Overcrowding of prisons is still a problem in Hungary, said Lázár, adding that the Strasbourg court has handed down a guilty verdict and demanded reparations to inmates for the conditions of prisons. 17-18 thousand inmates are currently locked up in Hungary, which he said has contributed to public safety. The position of the government, he said, is that inmates must work to defray the costs of their detention.