On the basis of the evidence presented to us a crime picture was drawn before us like that of the driver which the policeman intends to punish no matter what. If he searches enough he is sure to find a missing lightbulb set, or tires that are not sufficiently inflated, or that someone sitting in the back has not fastened his seatbelt. Following all of that, the matter can be handled in the manner of “continue on but next time pay better attention.” But it can also be communicated as cumulative violations on the part of a previously irreproachable driver… – Index.hu, 22 October 2014
On-line daily index.hu has accused the government of staging a show trial of Norway Civil Funds NGO Ökotárs. Attending a press conference held on Thursday by a high-ranking official of the Government Control Office (KEHI), the popular on-line daily concludes that the “evidence” shown to reporters consists primarily of statements taken out of context that do not necessarily support the final report’s conclusions.
Below is our translation of the article “We saw the Kehi evidence against Ökotárs, and were astonished” first posted on 22 October 2014 under the title “Norway case: This is how a show trial looks in a history book”.
At a meeting with the press KEHI presented supposed evidence against Ökotárs and allowed us to take a quick look at the report that has yet to be made public. This is how a show trial might look in a history book. And yet the officials were proud.
The press conference at which a high-ranking KEHI official presented the findings of the investigation into the Norway Civil Fund fell into confusion. At the meeting with the representatives of some media outlets, seized letters and notes serving as the basis for the suspicion of malfeasance, budgetary fraud, forgery, and unlawful financial activity were presented.
Taken out of context
Parts of the documents presented to us which make it possible to interpret things this way are not proof of criminal acts, but rather that the KEHI was fulfilling the expectations of the government which ordered the investigation.
An unsuspecting listener might recognize the characteristics of the show trials known from history if he did not pay attention to what some leading members of an existing office were saying.
Such an impression arose for example from a protocol seized from Ökotárs foundation in which Veronika Mora, the director of the civil organization, tells her colleagues: “They emphasized that among us there are those who are close to LMP. This is true.”
The officials had underlined this in red, but when we asked them to read the rest of the protocol, it turns out that the opposite was the case. Móra continued:
“These informations are several years old. The reason they refer to them is because they do not find new reasons. Ökotárs as an organization has nothing to do with LMP” (This is a nearly literal transaction based on our notes).
It was said that the Norwegian NGOs obstructed the work of the authority, proof of which in the form of two letters. In the one Veronika Móra asked a foreign NGO for help and solidarity against the government’s campaign to discredit it. In another our paper had asked the opinion of their colleagues about our approaching them when we wanted to write articles about the status of the KEHI inspections. The head of the organization suggested to her colleagues that it could be to their advantage to show the KEHI spitefulness, and for this reason supported the idea.
We regard to the above evidence: in a country where there is rule of law the fact that an organization convinced it is right searches for a partner organization does not constitute a crime. Nor does the press seeking out participants in the matter just as we are sitting here with KEHI, for example. That those standing in the crosshairs of the inspection feel it is spiteful and wish to inform the press of the details does not appear to be unequivocable villainy.
To this KEHI said the following: The above is presented to us as interesting matters.
The KEHI official explained at length that the Norwegian ambassador contacted him at the beginning of the inspection and asked to meet with them, but that since he “wanted to stay clean he did not sit down with her to talk.” We thought this strange since the ambassador is the most important participant in the matter and represented the source of the money–the state of Norway–that is the source of the problem.
That KEHI did not interview the ambassador was not a sign of probity but rather of seclusion.
After the above evidence which had been taken out of context it was difficult to completely believe that the letter in which the director of the civil organization recommends taking the important documents over to the superior organization in Brussels, the FMO, is evidence of a crime. All of this can be indicative of an intention to hide evidence, but also that it was the responsibility of Brussels to handle them in the case of an inspection.
Made to government order
We would not have used the expression “accusation standing on solid legs” either after they presented the background of the investigation to us. The KEHI officials told us that they started the inspection at the order of the government (so far so good), but that the objective was the inspection of the complete civil fund. However, they only dealt with the civil organizations criticized by János Lázár, even though this only amounts to HUF 4 billion, whereas they did not investigate the fate of the HUF 36 billion distributed under the influence of the government.
Nor did the evidence presented to us clarify the situation but rather illuminated the surreal side of the state bureaucracy. As frequently mentioned, the Norwegian civil organizations did not cooperate with KEHI because in their opinion the body was not entitled to inspect the grants given that KEHI is responsible for the Hungarian budget.
At the same time the Norway Civil Fund money goes from Norway to Brussels and from there directly to the supported organization. Hungarian state institutions are not in any way affected by the procedure. In fact, the local organizations of the Norwegian Civil Fund only make decisions. The money does not go through them.
The KEHI officials referred to law CLXXXI of 2007 on the subject of “projects realized with domestic and EU sources”. At first this did not appear to be a strong basis given that Norwey is not a member of the European Union.
KEHI however maintains that according to the Norwegian-Hungarian agreement the state should also handle this money just as it handles the HUF 36 billion in Norwegian (development funds). In their opinion there is no document to explain why the HUF 4 billion was unexpectedly taken away from the government’s jursidiction. If this is true, then one can conclude the Hungarian budget works in a bizarre manner.
Is it conceivable that it did not appear to anyone in the Hungarian ministries that HUF 4 billion was not arriving to them, and that Brussels was distributing these funds directly, circumventing the Hungarian state? It is interesting that according to the KEHI directors, (ministers) Navracsics and Balog wrote letters about the Norwegian Fund in which they merely complained about the lack of transparency and did not mention as problematic the fact that they are not the ones distributing the money.
In summary KEHI found the following mistakes on the part of the manager of the Norwegian civil funds:
- The procedure is manipulated
- The tenders are re-scored. (Ökotárs has already explained this many times. According to the procedural process open to the public, the scores only constitute part of the evaluation, the judges can decide on another order knowing the scores.)
- Conflicts of interest (Some of the judges were officers of some of the winning organizations).
- Religious organizations are excluded from applying for grants.
- Political orientation (This is the LMP line.)
- Local governments are excluded from applying for grants.
As proof of the above the KEHI officials produced the Ernst&Young report that identified numerous mistakes. This is the report that the right-wing press already released. True, they forgot to mention the study’s conclusion:
“The project technically and economically works appropriately according to the plans. The operator and its partners work with designated groups within the organization that are also capable of fulfilling the tasks entrusted in them materially, accounting-wise, and administratively”.
Socks and shrimp
According to KEHI they found irregularities in 61 out of 63 cases, which is extremely high. They presented some invoices to give us a sense of the irregularities involving one of the winning organizations asking compensation for men’s socks, shrimp, or preservative gum. All of this is terrible, if true, but it is also worthy to note that these items do not even amount to HUF 10,000 (USD 40).
Is there a set of spare lightbulbs?
The KEHI leaders said that some HUF 10 million was the amount for which they filed a formal complaint.
Reminder: the total amount of the grants is HUF 4 billion.
It is interesting to note that the KEHI officials indicated that they do not necessarily consider the Norwegian civil organizations to be unpatriotic criminal organizations made up of foreign agents. One them believes part of the problem arises from administrative matters behind which “stand problems of organizational capacity.” In other words the few people employed by Ökotárs were incapable of correctly administering many hundreds of tenders. On the subject of the alleged problem of commercial lending, he said that “this was not the greatest crime” but that since they did this without a permit it was problematic. (Ökotárs lent money to civil organizations lacking their own capital to use as equity, thereby enabling them to apply for grants and complete the work for which they were formed. The organization asked the opinion of the financial regulation authority (PSZÁF), which did not give an unequivocable answer in this matter, but did not declare this to be illegal.
Finally we asked about the role of (pro-government daily newspaper) Magyar Nemzet in the course of things, as we were already able to read part of the above that morning.
KEHI did not consider itself responsible for the fact that reports, decisions, certain seized evidence appeared in government papers Magyar Nemezt or Heti Válasz. According to them the materials did not originate from them and they have nothing to do with this. However, they did promise the report would soon be made public.
On the basis of the evidence presented to us a crime picture was drawn before us like that of the driver which the policeman intends to punish no matter what. If he searches enough he is sure to find a missing lightbulb set, or tires that are not sufficiently inflated, or that someone sitting in the back has not fastened his seatbelt. Following all of that, the matter can be handled in the manner of “continue on but next time pay better attention.” But it can also be communicated as cumulative violations on the part of a previously irreproachable driver.