The Hungarian Government Control Office (KEHI) has published a detailed report accusing Norway Civil Fund administrator Ökotárs of “several cases of fund mismanagement and budget fraud”. According to a statement issued on Monday by Norway’s ambassador to Hungary Tove Skarstein, the Norwegian royal minister responsible for EU relations, Vidar Helgesen, has declined an invitation from Hungarian Chancellor János Lázár to come to Budapest and review KEHI’s findings for himself. Helgesen further declared that the government of Norway maintains its firm support of Hungarian civil society and does not believe any of the suspected irregularities alleged by the Hungarian authorities.
“We don’t attach a lot of credibility to that report, to put it mildly,” Helgesen told Norwegian English journal Thelocal.no. “We made it clear that it is up to the donors to perform audits.” He also expressed his concern over “authoritarian tendencies” in Hungarian politics.
Skarstein said the official Norwegian probe of Ökotárs will conclude at the end of November, at which time Norway’s government will publish its findings and assessment of the grants process. Skarstein emphasized that since the control of funds and financial programs is the responsibility of the donor country, Norwegian authorities still think that Hungary’s audit of its civil fund administrator violates both domestic regulations and international agreements.
In mid-April Norway decided to formally suspend the payment of European Economic Area development grants to the government of Hungary on the grounds that the latter had “breached the EEA funding agreement” requirements. Following the move, the government of Hungary accused Norway Of interfering in Hungary’s internal affairs and Ökotárs of channeling funds to opposition party Politics Can abe Different (LMP). In July Prime Minister Viktor Orbán even accused Norway Civil Funds beneficiary NGOs and their activists of being “foreign agents”.
During the KEHI probe over 50 police and inspectors raided Ökotárs’s office and the homes of several of its employees, searching for evidence of the alleged “embezzlement”, confiscating laptops and documentation material of both Norway and Swiss Civil Grants programs. After the publication of the KEHI report on 22 October, the Hungarian government initiated a criminal case against Ökotárs, accusing it of fiscal malfeasance, embezzlement and engaging in unlawful lending activities.
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