Magyar Nemzet reports that, according to its sources, the FBI has given some form of witness protection to a Hungarian citizen with knowledge of how EU funds are embezzled in Hungary. The person is reportedly being sought by Hungarian authorities for other reasons.
Per Magyar Nemzet:
- The “American sources” believe the individual played a key role in a complex money-laundering ring which could be responsible for embezzling some 3-4 billion Euros in recent years to Arab and Asian bank accounts.
- The Americans believe the money moved out of the country represents the “constitutional cost” of helping certain businesses win EU public procurements, and are therefore kickbacks meant for Hungarian politicians.
- The FBI suspects the funds were re-distributed through MKB, a bank now owned by Lőrinc Mészáros, and other financial institutions regulated by the Hungarian government.
- The transactions would start with a withdrawal of several million Euros, which couriers (such as the individual cited in this story) would then move to the Arab world and Singapore via hawala in the form of diamonds.
- MKB has not yet commented on how many cash withdrawals totalling more than EUR 250,000 have been made at the bank in the past three years.
- The Americans believe one portion of the illicitly obtained funds returned to Hungary through straw men in the form of Arab investments to purchase “luxury hotels, castles, and other real estate.”
- American authorities are concerned that this form of unlawful money movement is one of the ways in which international terrorism is financed.
- Based on the concrete testimony of the Hungarian man in witness protection, the Americans request that Hungarian authorities take specific action, but the Hungarians claim they have found no reason to suspect that a crime has been committed.
- The point of moving money in the aforementioned way is that the funds are no longer trackable in the banking system after being withdrawn. The funds arrive in bank accounts later from what appear to be legitimate foreign sources.
- The Hungarian man under FBI witness protection is currently being sought by Hungarian authorities (and is also on Interpol’s wanted list) on suspicion of large-scale money laundering. Hungarian authorities have not availed themselves of the opportunity to interview him in the witness protection program since last March. Hungarian prosecutors have declined to comment on why they haven’t yet interviewed the individual.
- Magyar Nemzet reports this individual has even met with one of its colleagues.
- Last year, Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Átlátszó reported that US authorities demanded the extradition of several Hungarian citizens accused of fraud and money laundering. Despite the extradition being approved by the courts, the individuals were never handed over. Magyar Nemzet’s sources say the extradition was vetoed by Hungary’s justice ministry.
- According to the American sources, two of the individuals sought in the extradition also took part in the money-laundering ring. These individuals reportedly took large amounts of cash (5-6 million Euros at a time) and – in accordance with their employers’ wishes – placed the cash in empty Viennese apartments.
- “If this is true, it is easier to understand why Hungary does not want to extradite them to the United States.”
Magyar Nemzet‘s report is the latest in a series of articles alleging damaging information about Fidesz politicians and the government. These articles typically do not name a specific journalist in the byline. Magyar Nemzet is owned by oligarch-in-exile Lajos Simicska, whose very public falling-out with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015 was allegedly precipitated by Simicska’s concern that Orbán was getting too cozy with the Russians. In mid-March, Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Direkt36 published this lengthy exposé of Orbán’s relationship with the Russians.
International terrorism financier Ghaith Pharaon and Viktor Orbán were neighbors in Budapest in the not-too-distant past. Pharaon also did business with Orbán’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz, whose own companies have been named in an investigation by OLAF for stealing 50 million Euros in EU funds through a complex street-light modernization scheme. The one Hungarian bank named in Magyar Nemzet is MKB, which was nationalized and then quickly privatized in recent years into the hands of Lőrinc Mészáros, a businessman many believe acts as a front for the prime minister. MKB was also named in the Ramil Safarov scandal, when investigative journalists revealed that several bank transfers – totaling more than USD 9 million – were made to an MKB bank account in Budapest right around the time the Hungarian government handed over Safarov to the Azeris. Safarov, an Azeri military officer, was convicted of murder for the butchering of Armenian military officer Gurgen Margaryan with an axe in 2004 during a NATO-sponsored language program in Budapest. He sat in a Hungarian prison for years before the Orbán government extradited him to Azerbaijan under extremely suspicious circumstances in 2012. Upon his return, Safarov was declared a national hero and pardoned for his crime.