József Angyán: Those renting state lands ended up owning them on highly favorable terms

February 2, 2016

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“My primary goal is to precisely document what has transpired here for future generations. . . . The overwhelming majority of those renting state-owned agricultural land were the winners of the land auctions and have become owners of the land. . . .  If anyone in one hundred years will be interested in how the country was looted, they will be able to review my work and clearly see the connections.”  – József Angyán, former Fidesz MP and undersecretary for agriculture

Translation of interview with former Fidesz MP and undersecretary for agriculture, József Angyán published by online daily nol.hu under the title “The gangwar over state lands has started” (“Elkezdődött a bandaháború az állami földek miatt“) on February 2nd, 2016.

Crony renters have become crony landowners and they didn’t even have to use their own money to buy the land. The cost of renting the land now easily covers the mortgage payments on the cheap state-subsidized loan. All this and more was shared by former Fidesz MP and undersecretary for rural development József Ángyán with Népszabadság. Ángyán does not feel any happier that his prediction from years ago is actually taking place: such was the fate of our common property.

Népszabadság: You’ve chosen the life of a pensioner, but you would have been able to remain as a professor at the university for some years.

Ángyán: I didn’t see any point to that. The Environment and Rural Development Institute (Környezet- és Tájgazdálkodási Intézet, KTI) that a colleague and I founded in 1990 was bulldozed after the national election in 2014. Within one month, and without any notice, they did away with the professional workshop that was among the first in Europe to found and develop an environmental development agricultural engineering program and a sustainable agriculture and rural development program. Last summer, the government changed the law on higher education to completely eliminate this program, so there isn’t a place in the country where students can learn about agricultural and environment development. Universities have been stripped of their autonomy, consistories – which are extensions of the government and packed with ministry personnel and government officials – now direct these institutions.

Népszabadság: Do you think the institute’s disbanding and the loss of its programs are a personal issue for you?

Ángyán: If not entirely, the decision to wipe out the institute and its programs were heavily tied to what was happening with me. When I resigned from government, I heard that the “boss”, Viktor Orbán, citing public media’s “sunflower blog” character assassination, said that they shouldn’t attack me directly because that could backfire, but instead should destroy everything around me. The dean responsible for destroying the KTI quickly received his Judas-money. Within a few months, he became the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency president and a deputy undersecretary. They usually use young, ambitious, career-driven people who have no problem being immoral for these tasks because they know that these guys also want a piece of the pie.

Népszabadság: You have continued working on land issues, and you’re currently collecting data regarding the sale of state-owned lands. Where are you getting your information from?

Ángyán: I have a small team of helpers who selflessly and energetically assist me in this. The information is usually accessible from public databases, but the decision-makers are eager to insert the data into databases that are difficult to access.  So, there is a serious research work that goes into constructing and assessing the data. But the job is great for me because, as a researcher, I have various routines and customs to help solve such problems. The results related to the sale of state lands are up on the National Land Fund’s website, this is also required by the European Union. Alas, this information must be organized systematically. I also get news from the countryside from locals. I still have many contacts, but many people are being threatened or bribed to stay quiet. The local and national media can be very helpful, too, because the land issue is one that is covered by the internet and numerous investigative pieces.

Népszabadság: Do you know how many of the former renters became owners?

Ángyán: I do not have a complete picture of this yet. I am still processing the data related to information regarding those renting the lands. I will start processing the land sale data once that is finished. We do see, however, that my earlier assertion of “crony” auctions is proving to be true. A great example of this is in Fejér county with Viktor Orbán’s friend, the “callus-handed farmer” Lőrinc Mészáros, who rents approximately 11 percent of the rentable land in the county.

He personally, including his immediate family members and associates, have purchased 28 parcels of land, totaling 1,424 hectares at a cost of HUF 1.938 billion (USD 3.9 million), for their “small- to medium-sized family farm” in Alcsútdoboz and Etyek. He was the renter of 60 percent of these lands prior to buying them. He purchased 8 percent of 17,064 hectares of land owned by the state in that county.

Népszabadság: Why is it better to own the land than to rent it?

Ángyán: An owner is not bound by the conditions and requirements that a renter is bound by when renting a state-owned land. For example, an owner is not bound to keep animals on the land. That’s interesting, right? All of a sudden we start to understand the farmers in Bihar who do not want their own animals, but instead want to put animals owned by others in their own name. These insider tenants most likely knew well in advance that the land would likely be theirs. Furthermore, the law itself gave them a right of first refusal to purchase the land. This way they didn’t even have to worry about competition.

What is more, they didn’t even have to use their own money. They used the “common fund”, at a very low cost, to buy the lands — an extremely good (subsidized) interest rate loan. They only needed to put down 10 percent at the time of the purchase, while the “outside” buyer could only receive a loan if they put down 20 percent upon the purchase. Whatever the renter had been paying in rent until now was applied towards the loan.  So there’s no risk, your private wealth increases with the increase in the value of the land, and there are serious profits to be had when you put it back on the market.

Népszabadság: The auctions have gone smoothly so far, with the exception of a few powerfuless opposition demonstrations. But there hasn’t been a single powerful oligarch who has jumped in the ring against another.  Nobody is driving the prices up against their competitors.

Ángyán: This tells me that – as was the case in the “excellent preparation” of Fejér county’s earlier rental concessions – the lands are already divvied up and the big dogs won’t foul one another’s territory. But there are indications that the Simicska–Nyerges-rented lands have resulted in some kind of gang war. But the biggest moguls, those who are renting huge state lands which will not even be sold, those which are the biggest business, they are being reclassified as “model farms” and “integrators” and in this way managed to prevent them from being sold. It is clear to me that the government-decreed criteria for determining them was crafted especially for them. But that begs the question, what kind of model farm will a gigafarm consisting of many tens of thousands of hectares be for a small- to medium-sized family business?

Népszabadság: Balázs Győrffy, the president of the chamber of agriculture and Fidesz parliamentarian, said last December that in the case of longterm rental agreements, the new owners can raise the rental price.

Ángyán: It goes to show that these gentlemen kept the rental price low when it was them who had to pay the state. It didn’t bother them when their friends only had to pay HUF 580 per aranykorona (gold crown–a measure of ground quality-ed.) into the state’s coffers. Now that they are the owners and someone else might rent it from them, all of a sudden now they feel like the rental price was far too low.

Népszabadság: Do you feel like you are fighting this battle like Don Quijote fought the windmill?  What do you think you can achieve by publishing this information?

Ángyán: Now, nothing. But I honestly believe that in this world the good and the bad eventually add up. There are times when we see nothing and all of a sudden it starts raining. My primary goal is to precisely document what has transpired here for future generations. Based on my findings, I can show in black and white what I feel right now, that the overwhelming majority of those renting state-owned agricultural land were the winners of the land auctions and have become owners of the land. My earlier reports document the anomalies of land rentals, the non-proportionality, the injustice. If anyone in one hundred years will be interest in how the country was looted, they will be able to review my work and see clearly the connections.

Népszabadság: Years ago you said that there would eventually be a law that helps cronies acquire the bigger state-owned lands. Back then everyone said it couldn’t happen, but alas, there came a law that made that happen. Do you feel satisfied?

Ángyán: It’s no joy to be right. It hurts to know that I wasn’t able to prevent something bad from happening, even when I saw it coming.