The American FBI considers Saudi businessman Ghaith Pharaon, who reportedly purchased a house next door to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Budapest residence after being issued a visa by Hungarian authorities, to have been wanted by the bureau since 1991, according to American diplomat Eric Watnik.
Watnik, who is stationed at the American embassy in Budapest, said in an interview with pro-government print daily Magyar Idők that Pharaon is wanted in the United States for fraud, racketeering and conspiracy, and is also being sought by international law-enforcement agency Interpol, index.hu reports.
“Since there is a valid extradition treaty between Hungary and the United States of America, if anyone has any information about the whereabouts of Pharaon, they must notify the authorities,” Watnik said.
The inability of the FBI and Interpol to apprehend Pharaon over a 25-year period raises serious questions in light of the man’s recent business dealings in Hungary. Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár said in a press conference Thursday that Pharaon requested a visa to travel to Hungary from Hungary’s Beirut embassy two years ago. Before issuing the visa, the Hungarian government had asked the United States, among other countries, if awarding Pharaon a visa to travel in the Schengen area would harm their interests. Germany had responded that their interests would not be harmed by Pharaon’s entrance into the EU, Lázár said, but the United States had not responded.
Pharaon was granted a visa and visited Hungary last year, during which time he reportedly purchased a villa next door to Orbán. While in the country, his activities were monitored by the Constitutional Protection Office, and intelligence gathering was also conducted under Lázár’s supervision. Both found that the businessman’s activities did not threaten national security.
(After all, why would an international fugitive from justice buying a house next door to the prime minister constitute a threat to Hungarian security!? – ed.)
Six months ago, the Hungarian press newly reported on Pharaon’s business activities in Hungary, including purchases of high-value villas and castles around the country, and business deals with companies tied to Orbán’s son-in-law István Tiborcz. The reports also detailed Pharaon’s dealings with the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s National Trading House. Such extensive business dealings in the country caught the attention of the press in light of Pharaon’s alleged connections to the financial networks of terrorist organizations, including that of Osama bin Laden, and his status as a wanted fugitive by the FBI and Interpol. Only after these reports, in April of this year, did the Hungarian government consult with the United States and Interpol on Pharaon’s status.
“If he would enter the country now, he would be arrested,” Lázár said of Pharaon at Thursday’s marathon government press conference.
Orbán has admitted to having met Pharaon once at a Budapest party, but considers the entire case surrounding his new neighbor nothing more than “an American secret services game.”