Opposition parties given until July 1st to pay fines assessed by State Audit Office

January 10, 2018

Parties fined by the State Audit Office receive moratorium until July 1
Photo: index.hu/István Huszti

“We call on the affected political parties to initiate coordination with the State Treasury and NAV regarding the scheduling . . . of their payment obligation due to unlawful management.” – Ministry for National Economy

Opposition parties fined by the State Audit Office will be given until July 1st to pay, reports Magyar Nemzet.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of National Economy, Minister Mihály Varga (pictured) initiated talks with the National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV) and the Hungarian State Treasury regarding the State Audit Office’s (ÁSZ) fining of five opposition parties for allegedly accepting “forbidden campaign contributions.” Although the affected parties will still have to pay the fines, the Hungarian State Treasury has agreed to extend the deadline for doing so until July 1st.

In light of the circumstances (namely that a general election is scheduled to take place in April), Minister of National Economy Varga recommended NAV not initiate recovery procedures against the parties (that is, submit an incasso against their bank accounts) before the election. In this way, the fines would not affect the parties’ ability to contest the election.

However, as political parties in Hungary rely almost entirely on state funding to run their campaigns, the fines are likely to impact their ability to fight the election regardless of whether they are to be paid before or after voting.  Furthermore, the fines seem intended to compel opposition political parties to pay, and vendors to charge, full market price for campaign-related services in the run-up to the election. The move seems primarily intended to undermine the ability of former Fidesz oligarch and media magnate Lajos Simicska to assist Jobbik (in the same way he allegedly helped Fidesz in the 2010 and 2014 elections) in the form of discounted billboard and kiosk advertisements.

The statement follows last week’s announcement by Politics Can Be Different (LMP), followed by Democratic Coalition (DK) and Jobbik, that they would not voluntarily pay the fines, which they claim are politically motivated and intended to undermine their ability to contest the election.

Jobbik’s parliamentary delegation head János Volner told Magyar Nemzet that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sees that the ÁSZ fine is counterproductive and actually harms ruling party Fidesz.

Last month the State Audit Office announced that it would fine Jobbik and four other opposition parties (Politics Can Be Different, Democratic Coalition, Együtt and Dialogue for Hungary) for “forbidden campaign finance.” ÁSZ claimed that services, such as office rental, provided at below market rates constituted a form of prohibited finance contribution.  The opposition parties point out that many of the contracts in question were concluded several years ago and passed earlier inspections.

December marked the first time in its 28-year history ÁSZ proposed to fine parties for “prohibited campaign finance.”  The fines, which range from a few million in the case of smaller opposition parties to HUF 663 million in the case of Jobbik, Hungary’s largest opposition party, were announced at the end of 2017 even though historically ÁSZ had waited until the closure of the fiscal year before inspecting party finances for that year.