Hundreds protest corruption in Budapest

November 21, 2016

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Several hundred demonstrators gathered in Budapest’s Aulich Lajos street Sunday evening to protest corruption following a lengthy exposé appearing in online daily index.hu connecting so-called “propaganda minister” and former District 5 mayor Antal Rogán, former district assemblyman Balázs Kertész, and former District 5 deputy mayor András Puskás to a series of high-profile scandals dating back to the 2003 K&H brokerage scandal.

The demonstration was held in front of 3 Aulich Lajos street where Monavis Consulting Kft., a company owned by Kertész, is located.  Rogán was filmed entering the building on several occasions while Kertész was known to be in his office.  On one occasion Árpad Habony, informal advisor to the prime minister tasked with building a new pro-Fidesz media empire to replace that of Lajos Simicska, appears to have joined them.

Also speaking at yesterday’s protest were Együtt chairman Viktor Szigetvári, LMP co-chair Ákos Hadházy, NAV whistleblower András Horváth, and Népszabadság journalist Miklós Hargitai.

Szigetvári calls for a “constitutional revolution”

At the start of the event, Szigetvári told the Beacon that people are bothered by corruption and don’t like the fact that the elite is stealing their money.  He said the main lesson of the Kertész affair was that it was necessary to continue exposing strawmen, because “rich politicians hiding their assets behind strawmen is a method worthy of (Russian Federation President Vladimir) Putin.”

Taking the stage, Szigetvári thanked opposition parties for coming together to raise attention about key issues rather than a single platform.

He reminded those attending the protest that his party organizes demonstrations around the country to raise awareness of the unscrupulous privatization of state lands and valuable real estate in the nation’s capital, and the illicit backroom deals entered into on behalf of governing party officials and their strawmen.

Pointing in the direction of the National Assembly only a few blocks away, Szigetvári called for a “constitutional revolution” to put an end to the wholesale theft of the nation.

He also pointed in the direction of the National Election Office, where István Nyakó from the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) was prevented with “skinhead force” by Fidesz from submitting a referendum question. He then accused Fidesz of utilizing more and more “private armies” to “keep the peace”.

Szigetvári praised Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-chair Ákos Hadházy for his efforts to reach the widest possible political palate to force the ruling party to reform the country’s controversial election law.

He concluded his remarks by calling on all disenchanted would-be opposition supporters to take part in the election monitoring process in the 2018 national elections.

Ákos Hadházy warns that Orbán wants “silence” in 2017

Hadházy said: “The statistics and public opinion polls show that it isn’t true that people are not interested in what is happening here. The most recent and best statistic from last week shows that just as many found corruption to be as significant a problem as immigration. Both are big problems. But at this moment, corruption is the problem that poses the greatest threat to the Hungarian state.”

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The LMP politician then shared some gossip he heard in the aisles of parliament. The gossip, which Hadházy said he cannot prove to be true, concerns an order from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself that he wants “silence” in 2017.

“The signs are certainly there [that Orbán] really wants silence. We see what is happening in the media. Unfortunately, we also see the laws that are submitted to parliament,” Hadházy said.

Briefly recounting a variety of proposals submitted to parliament, he said there is a deliberate attempt to further curtail transparency on the use of public funds.

“These are the kinds of laws we have coming in. But we can easily say that it would be easier to obtain ‘silence’ if perhaps they just stopped stealing,” Hadházy said, before announcing that he would not give up the fight against corruption.

András Horváth calls for the formation of a “technical coalition”

According to Horváth, Hungary’s criminal justice system is “dead.”

“Ergo, the rule of law is also dead,” Horváth said, placing the blame on Viktor Orbán and his “lieutenants”, Hungary’s Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt and Interior Minister Sándor Pintér.

The crowd responded with boos and whistles.

“One would believe that [these politicians] could not surpass their own cynicism. But yes! Two things happened this week that we absolutely must discuss,” Horváth continued.

First, he said, the prime minister made it clear in parliament on Monday that he does not care if there are criminal activities taking place in his immediate circles. According to Horváth, Orbán’s unwillingness to go after corruption in his own cabinet is evidence of just how cynical he really is.

“And then on Thursday, this same group organized a conference where they celebrated their efforts in the fight against corruption over the past five years. This is shameful and humiliating!” Horváth said, referring to a celebration hosted by Hungary’s chief prosecutor in which the country’s law enforcement agencies patted themselves on the back for their work over the past five years.

Finally, Horváth said anti-corruption protests have absolutely no impact on what the government is doing. He implored everyone, including opposition parties, to move beyond dialogue about opposition coalitions and to do something that really shakes Fidesz’s National Cooperation System to the core.

Horváth proposed establishing a “technical coalition” that is neither right-wing nor left-wing, rather an association tasked with bringing about system change.

“The purpose of this is to ensure for everyone, regardless of what ideology they prescribe to, an opportunity to come together for a common purpose….to change this electoral system and remove the constitutional hurdles which allow for the theft of the nation,” he said.

Quoting the famous Hungarian comedian Géza Hofi, Horváth said, “corruption here is an act of respect for our traditions.”

Gergely Karácsony says not all politicians are corrupt

Karácsony opened his remarks with the story of a Swedish politician who recently resigned from government after being caught driving under the influence.

“There are countries where politicians are simply unable to remove themselves from being subject to the laws of the land,” Karácsony said. “There are countries where politics is not a swearword. There are countries where when the citizens hear the word ‘politician’, they do not immediately think of helicopter rides, theft, and all kinds of unscrupulous activities.

“For some strange reason, the people in these countries live better lives, the economy is better, there are fewer poor people, and everyone is happier,” he continued.

According to Karácsony, it is not enough for people to come to protests and try and figure out ways to stop corruption, it is also important to not allow corrupt politicians to poison the souls of citizens by having them believe that all politicians are crooked.

“In Hungary today, many people believe that every politician is dirty,” he said. “And this is precisely what keeps Viktor Orbán alive.”

This idea, he said, is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Hungarians, one that prevents them from removing corrupt politicians from power.

Karácsony picked up on Horváth’s Géza Hofi quote and added “there are some traditions we do not need to continue and that we must change.”

According to Karácsony, Hungarians need to get two things straight for a better future: not all politicians are corrupt, and there should never be a double-standard when it comes to the treatment of corruption.

He went on to call on opposition parties to take part in an opposition primary election in the run-up to the 2018 election.

Miklós Hargitai warns government violating its own constitution with regard to press freedom

Former Népszabadság journalist Hargitai said:

“I came today to raise attention to a grave violation of the constitution. Regardless of what has happened in this country over the past six years, we still have a constitution. It is what it is. It’s a bit one party-ish, it’s a bit dictatorial, but it’s still a constitution. Concerning the press, this constitution says in Hungary the state must guarantee the freedom and plurality of the press. Because the freedom to inform is the foundation of forming democratic public opinion. But we also have a media law in Hungary. It is also very much like our constitution. This, too, was adopted by only one party, but it is still a law. The media law says – and you can check if you do not believe me – that the free press must operate independently of the state and political organizations. I came today because I am worried that the Orbán government does not know what is in its own constitution. How can we talk about a constitution that guarantees freedom of the press and media plurality when we have a publisher that is stuffed full of public funds that is buying up all the county papers? What kind of plurality is that in which all the newspapers will soon be edited from one party’s headquarters? This entire thing is like having traveled in time back to the mid-1980s where we had bits of a free press out on the periphery, but the ruling party’s announcements are even coming out of the faucet,” Hargitai said.

“What I see in Europe is that people are leaving countries where they are not allowed to do their work. They are going to countries where the press is free. Obviously, those who are leaving aren’t just leaving because they want to read free media, they are leaving because abnormal things start happening where the press is not free. A free press is the immune system of society, and we all know what happens when your immune system ceases to function. Anyone looking around can see there are many tumors growing around this country. This country’s destructive information policy is being controlled by a government minister named Antal Rogán. If we look at what is written of the press in the constitution and media law, we can certainly see that Antal Rogán does not get his paycheck to play out the remnants of various media outlets to oligarchs close to the government. He gets his paycheck to ensure the freedom to inform. My opinion is that if Rogán is doing what he is doing on his own accord, then the government must fire him and hold him to account. But if the situation is worse, and he is doing this unconstitutional activity with the full knowledge and backing of the government, then the government itself is unwilling to act in accordance with the constitution. And if the government does not like the constitution, then in a country with a rule of law two things can happen: either change the constitution or change the government.”

Juhász calls on supporters to “never forget”

Following Hargitai, Juhász temporarily mounted a memorial plaque next to the main entrance of 3 Aulich Lajos street by adhering it to the wall.  Referring to the building as “today’s foreign ministry”, Juhász said it seemed that “in addition to the theft of downtown real estate, corruption from Georgia to we don’t know how far in the world is being organized here.”

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The plaque reads:

“In this house Antal Rogán and his band illicitly spent the money of the Hungarians during the prime ministership of Viktor Orbán. We will remember this forever.”

A silent partner in crime?

Neither Rogán nor Habony are strangers to controversy.  Kertész, on the other hand, has kept a very low profile since leaving politics in 2013.  Rogán met Kertész at law school.  Together with András Gyürk (who is currently a Fidesz MEP), they founded Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth organization.

Juhász asserted that during Rogán’s tenure as District 5 mayor, billions of forints worth of municipally-owned real estate had been sold to companies owned by individuals connected to Rogán and other prominent Fidesz politicians.  In many cases the former municipal property was quickly resold for a substantial profit.  In the case of Monavis Consulting, Kertész’s company indirectly purchased its Aulich street offices, valued at over HUF 100 million, from the District 5 at a time when Kertész was overseeing the management of district property.

Rogán sued Juhász for libel.  However, in a surprise move Juhász’s defense team arranged for convicted underworld figure Tamás Portik to testify under oath that he had personally paid a HUF 10 million bribe to Rogán.  After categorically denying the claim, Rogán appeared to go out of his way to avoid confronting his accuser in court.

Claiming there was insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation of Rogán, police are instead investigating claims that “an unspecified party” perjured himself by making false allegations against the Fidesz politician in a court of law.

In the meantime, the National Office of Investigations (NNI) concluded that the privatization of numerous District 5 real estate had not violated any laws.

K&H brokerage scandal

The Index article portrays Kertész as the central figure in a number of  scandals in which Rogán has been implicated dating to the 2003 K&H brokerage scandal.

Denounced by then opposition party Fidesz as “the biggest scandal that has ever rocked Hungarian politics since the fall of communism,” a preliminary investigation into theaffair implicated up and rising Fidesz politician Antal Rogán and Balázs Kertész, whom Rogán had known since law school.  Neither were charged with any wrongdoing.

Since leaving politics in 2013, Kertész has been an employee of Kosik Law Offices (Kosik Ügyvédi Iroda).  Among other things, his law firm is connected to numerous off-shore companies involved in the highly lucrative sale of residency bonds to foreigners.

The Aulich Lajos street office is not the only real estate directly or directly owned by Kertész.  Online investigative reporting news site Átlátszó.hu recently reported that Kertész is the official owner of a luxury home in the Swiss canton of Zug overlooking Lake Geneva, where he is reported as a resident.

The Georgian connection

Among those filmed paying a visit to the Aulich Lajos street building was a delegation of Georgian businessmen, including a former prime minister.  The three individuals were caught on video discussing the construction of a power plant in Georgia to be funded, in part, with loans issued by Hungary’s Eximbank, one of whose directors is Rogán’s Pasa Park neighbor and former deputy mayor, András Puskás.

According to Index’s translation of the conversation, the deal involved “taking care” of certain Hungarian government officials.

Drinking a coffee with an old friend

Following the publication of the Index exposé, Rogán’s ministry declared that

“We see no problem in the minister occasionally dropping by an old acquaintance for a coffee.  However, it is interesting that Index’s cameramen are always present at these private programs, which raises the suspicion of forbidden observation.”

It was in response to the ministry’s statement that Juhász publicly invited his supporters to join him for a coffee in front of the Aulich Lajos street building yesterday evening.

Counter-demonstrators

A group or five or six individuals who concealed their identity by covering their faces with a photograph of Juhász blew whistles and horns until police informed them that they would be cited unless they removed their masks.

 

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