Hungarian journalist interrogated by police for revealing true owner of MKB Bank

October 27, 2016

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Criminal proceedings have been initiated on behalf of the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) in response to a series of articles written by a journalist at (weekly magazine) Figyelő about the nationalization and sale of MKB bank. The Budapest Police Headquarters (BRFK) asked journalist Gergely Brückner in an interrogation last Tuesday to reveal what sources he had relied on when writing the articles. The MNB filed the complaints citing infringement of business secrets.

Translation of  “He was summoned by the police because of an article he wrote about MKB” published by online daily index.hu on October 27, 2016.  Translated by Justin Spike.

Called as a witness, Brückner was asked by police about a letter written by MNB president György Matolcsy to János Lázár cited in his article warning that MKB was in a terrible financial situation, and would likely require an infusion of capital. While he didn’t see the specific charge, the journalist surmised that the MNB sees the description of the letter’s contents as infringement of business secrets. 

Brückner also wrote several articles about the change in ownership of the bank. One article explained how the bank could end up in the hands of a very mixed group, and about how László Szijj, who has been very successful in recent years in government infrastructural procurements, is behind the new ownership but hidden from the public. 

Everyone knew about the secret

Brückner told Index that he would not reveal his sources during the interrogation, referring to journalists’ rights of immunity, and that since he speaks with 15-20 sources for a given article, he doesn’t remember who provided the information in question. The process continued after the interrogation, and the police have put a motion before a judge to oblige Brückner to reveal the sources. 

According to Brückner, however, no business secrets were revealed from the letter, and it has been common knowledge for years that the bank was heavily loss-making. The letter did reveal, however, that the state seriously misled the taxpayers when it spent HUF 17 billion on the bank, all while the decision makers wrote letters back and forth about what a heavy burden it would be.

The initiation of criminal proceedings was a strange step on the part of the central bank, because the news magazine never received a retraction request concerning the articles: the MNB and MKB always verified the previously revealed information in subsequent announcements. “The writings on every occasion were preceded by a lot of domestic and international background discussions, and all sides always properly responded to our requests. After it was clearly revealed by the articles that a brutal burden was put on the taxpayers with the state purchase of MKB, the MNB chose an interesting way of intimidating our paper,” Brückner said. 

Brückner said that neither he nor Figyelő gained any advantage nor caused any harm by writing the truth. “Not only did we not cause any harm, we would have liked to save the Hungarian state from any harm. It would definitely be worth investigating why the government’s representatives didn’t want to avoid this harm,” he said. 

According to the court, the MNB must reveal its secrets 

The Budapest Court recently made a judgement in the lawsuit brought against the MNB by Transparency International and Magyar Narancs in the case of the sale of MKB. According to the first-degree, non-final judgement, the MNB must release data of public interest concerning the sale of shares in MKB Bank Zrt. 

All that is known is that the bank led by Ádám Balog and organized by MNB was bought by Blue Robin Investments SCA, Minerva Capital Management Zrt., and Pannónia Pension Fund. Exact information about the ownership structure and construction, however, has not been given. 

The MNB, even earlier than the foundations, defended itself by saying it wasn’t using public money, because MKB shares are not considered national assets. The court, however, did not accept Matolcsy and company’s argument, and decided that the MNB must provide data of public interest about its customers.