Fidesz-funded legal center petitions Curia to rule anti-corruption referendum unconstitutional

August 23, 2017

“Friendly, pro-government legal opinion anyone?”

A legal analyst for the Fidesz-financed legal research organization Center for Fundamental Rights, Marcell Melles, has requested that the Curia, Hungary’s highest court, review a referendum question earlier approved by the National Election Office (NVB), liberal Népszava reports.

The referendum question was approved by the NVB in May after being submitted by anti-corruption activist Gábor Vágó. The question reads:

“Do you agree that the statute of limitations for corruption crimes should be extended to at least 12 years after being committed?”

But shortly after the NVB approved the question, the Curia announced that an unnamed party (presumably the Center for Fundamental Rights) had requested a review of the decision, and therefore the requisite signature gathering for the possible referendum could not proceed. This, coupled with the court’s Summer recess, delayed the process for months.

According to Népszava, Melles argues the referendum question is unconstitutional because it would make the statute of limitations for corruption cases similar to that of life-endangering crimes (assault, murder, etc.). Melles says that even the most extreme cases of corruption cannot be viewed as similar to crimes punishable by life imprisonment.

According to the Center for Fundamental Rights, the complaint filed with the Curia was “based exclusively on legal considerations.” The center would not disclose whether Melles had filed the motion as a private person or in the name of the center.

The Fidesz-tied legal center argued that the Constitutional Court has made it clear for 25 years that “the system of punishment geared toward the nature and seriousness of individual crimes, together with the normative provisions of sentencing, serve the function of lawful punishment in a rule of law state: proportionate and deserved retribution through sanctions.”

However, the referendum question submitted by Vágó makes no mention of increasing the severity of punishment for corruption crimes, only the extension of their statute of limitations.

The Center for Fundamental Rights, founded in 2013, receives substantial funding from Fidesz’s party foundation, the Foundation for a Civil Hungary (Polgári Magyarországért Alapitvány), as well as from foundations of Hungary’s central bank and Fidesz-tied think-tank Századvég. Ostensibly an independent civil organization, the center has a record of acting consistently in the legal defense of Fidesz.