Budapest District 5 assemblyman Péter Juhász has organized an anti-corruption demonstration for 4pm Sunday, March 8. In the following interview the Milla founder and Together Party co-chairman talks about the anti-corruption network, the Hungarian justice system, Paks, and even Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law.
Budapest Beacon: The list of those invited to attend Sunday’s anti-corruption demonstration is rather unconventional. Could you say a few words about that?
Péter Juhász: I didn’t want to organize a political rally but rather a demonstration against corruption. Obviously, civil organizations and parties need to start cooperating with one another. I am in the fortunate position of having some credibility in civil matters, so in this sense I can still call myself a civil.
The main organizing principle was that there should be separate speakers for each of the most important corruption themes. Bertram Marek, who revealed the electoral fraud and the abuse of voter endorsements, is coming, as is Katalin Szabó, the head of the movement of the victims of the nationalization of tobacco retailing. Rebeka Szabó from Dialogue for Hungary (PM) will speak mostly about the distribution of state lands to Fidesz supporters. Zoltán Kész will also be there. He was one of the first to join the anti-corruption network I announced.
The police never investigate (charges of corruption), which is why Éva Ivanics, a former lieutenant colonel in the financial police, will talk about the kind of oath these people took. Independent MP Zsuzsanna Szelényi (Together) will speak either about the MET natural gas matter or Paks. Zoltán Nagy (DK) will talk about the region of Hévíz and the marina in Keszthely (recently acquired by a company in which the Prime Minister’s son-in-law has an ownership interest-ed.)
BB: The demonstrations appear to be petering out. At the same time it seems certain organizers are not able to work together.
P.J.: I would approach this differently. On the one hand, it’s a given fact that in Hungary there is still little in the way of a culture of cooperation. I would attribute this to communism, when society was dictated to from above which was expressly harmful to cooperation. I think it originates there. But the fact that it did not emerge later is the problem of the past 25 years.
The other thing that is important is that there are those with whom even I would not protest. There is a credibility deficit. There are those we believe are not acceptible in a given area. At the same time among the credible people there are antagonisms which I think have more to do with personal conflicts than matters of principle. We need to get beyond this.
In that sense, I am certain that the demonstration will set something of an example: different kinds of parties can cooperate on a given matter. There is cooperation here between civils and non-civils. But I think it important that the proportion of women at these demonstrations be the same as men, which also sends a message to society. In that way we could also set an example for the male-chauvinist government.
BB.: On December 29 you filed a formal complaint against the Budapest District 5 mayor’s office for abuse of power causing significant material disadvantage. In the end the National Investigation Office (NNI) rejected the complaint. Is this the main reason for Sunday’s protest? What was the pretext? Which real estates did your complaint pertain to? How can the matter be continued?
P.J.: We deliberately did not include specific cases in our complaint but rather reported the entire system to the authorities. In my report we called their attention to the fact that they should not investigate any one case, but rather the system that was built up. It is perfectly clear that they were selling downtown real estate for a fraction of its value to a circle of friends in a manner that maintains the appearance of legality. I’m saying that everything appears legal. They manufactured paper that has no substantive relevance. The explanation the authorities gave for rejecting the complaint is legal nonsense. Today you don’t need to be a lawyer to see that. Common sense is enough to see that the police did not do their job.
I’ll give you a few examples. They referred to laws that do not apply to the particular series of transactions (involving the rental and subsequent sale of district-owned commercial property-ed.) when concluding that everything was perfectly legal. The local government has local ordinances but they do not refer to them, but to completely different laws.
With respect to the one case we included as an example in the complaint, they say there is no case because the property was sold by the district via public tender. I have the district general assembly decision that proves that the real estate in question was sold without tender. Complete nonsense. They didn’t even investigate.
They write the reason they accept the manufactured expert opinion as such is because the words “expert opinion” are written across the top. By the same logic I could write “expert opinion” across the top of (left-wing daily) Népszabadság, and it would constitute expert opinion from that time forward. Because among the companies owned by the company were those whose activities included the preparation of expert opinions, and there was nothing to indicate that they hadn’t done their job, the authorities concluded from this that they had done their job.
Obviously they are able to behave so cynically because I have no right to complain. That is what the Fundamental Law written and adopted by Fidesz says. Only those directly affected have the right to formally complain that the authorities rejected a complaint in which the local government itself was directly affected. This means that I, as a citizen, cannot file a complaint because I was not personally affected, but all of us.
From this point on, no other solution remains but to bring social pressure to bear and to start demonstrations. Obviously we are not going to take further legal steps in these concrete matters because there is no point. I am a politician, not a lawyer, and for this reason I think in terms of what the next step should be politically. I am going to continuously expose matters that raise the suspicion of corruption. And I am not only talking about real estate transactions. For example, there is the Váci street Shopping Quarter Non-Proft Kft. (Bevásárlónegyed Nonprofit Kft.) whose job it was to promote the Váci street. Somehow it managed to spend HUF 300-400 million in under one and a half years but nobody knows what the money was spent on. I suspect the money was used to finance the campaign here in the district. We know, for example, this company paid (pro-Fidesz news portal) Pesti Srácok for communication advice, which is obviously a joke.
We know that a legal procedure has been started in connection with the Budapest Main Steet project, which was started by the European Union. This was also initiated in Hungary. Obviously, it is perfectly defensible that the EU is asking for the return of EU money for downtown development. An investigation into bribery is under way in connection with the Downtown Vizoviczky affair over which the previous district notary was convicted. So we’re not only talking about the cases I’ve raised.
BB: Altogether the European Union may impose a penalty of HUF 1.8 billion (USD 6.6 million) on companies owned by the City of Budapest and District 5 in connection with the Heart of Budapest 2009 public procurement process.
P.J.: An investigation is starting now, and then we’ll see. It is perfectly obvious to me and anyone living in the downtown that something is amiss. The Main Street was completed, the cobblestones beautifully laid, and then several months later it was necessary to renew it every two months. This work is not covered by the guarantee because the company has since disappeared. These practically must be paid for over and over again by downtown inhabitants in order to be able walk down the street. And we are not talking about small potholes but huge depressions, not to mention how the project was prepared from a professional point of view. Every downtown resident complains about walking down the street in the rain because the stone is as slippery as ice.
BB: (Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law) István Tiborcz also has an interest in the Slovakian company Asseco Central Europe, which won a public tender to develop the information system of the National Health Insurance Fund. Tiborcz claims the information you have disclosed is false, as is your conclusion that a Slovak company won a public tender last spring in which Tiborcz has an indirect ownership interest. Does the same fate await Orbán’s son-in-law as (former District 5 mayor Antal) Rogán?
P.J.: The same fate awaits every corrupt politician and every corrupt person. For some reason I believe that one day there will be rule of law in Hungary. As a politician who was formally a civil, that is what I’m fighitng for. Once that happens, it is completely evident that these people will have reason to serve time in prison, because I believe that who robs the country blind on this level belongs there.
I am aware of the political realities: for this the current opposition still has a lot of work to do. We have to organize a community which is what the anti-corruption network is about. It is irrevevant whether someone comes from the right or the left. The question is how can we live together in Hungary. Until we make people understand that politics is about them and not the legal means of a criminal enterprise completely independent of them, the opposition has no chance. It is clear from the Fidesz election law that it is only through cooperation that Fidesz can be defeated.
BB: Returning to Tiborcz, he is threatening to take legal action against you for your statements.
P.J.: There I acknowledge making a mistake. There is a legal contradiction, according to which the Hungarian company is not the owner of the Slovakian one, but the Slovakian company owns the Hungarian one. But in practice, it’s the same thing. For some reason there is a company that must win the public tender because it is connected to the Prime Minister’s son-in-law.
BB: Let’s turn to the anti-corruption net!
P.J.: This is the most imporant thing that is happening to me now, by which I mean what I consider important. Our ambition is to create a countrywide network that helps people investigate and expose matters of corruption. If we translate it into Hungarians, corruption is about stealing a community’s property. The real problem goes beyond corruption: they’ve taken over the state. The state has been captured in such a way so that even after exposing corruption one still cannot be certain that the warranted legal procedure will be initiated, and that the guilty will be punished. So, it is necessary to get the state back for the people.
For this reason our movement will focus on community development on three pillars. With poverty, we must deal with the social situation because 4 million people are living in poverty; that is a region in the country without adequate culture or education, somehow we need to redress this situation. The third is the political branch: we need to develop a communal vision. This is the work which, if not done by a political party, then we will never be able to defeat Fidesz, because the people will not believe that they have anything to do with these parties. Former ombudsman László Majthényi is setting up a foundation for so that the work of building the corruption network can be done without involving political parties, while making tip possible for as many parties as possible to join in the work.
BB: An investigation conducted by the National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) in connection with the US travel ban concluded that NAV is not guilty of any misdoings.
P.J.: They are very clever! That’s what I’m talking about. They’ve taken over the state. It is really a subject of public ridicule that NAV is inspecting itself. The local districts need to bring legal action against themselves for fraud. That is why I see it is a political task and not a legal one. It is quasi impossible to defend the law in a state where there is no rule of law. For this reason, politics is what’s left.
BB: Attorney General Péter Polt has ordered a countrywide investigation into corruption matters.
P.J.: Again against himself! It can be seen that Péter Polt acknowledged that under his reign they have not gone about their tasks adequately when it comes to matters of corruption. That’s the point! The point that he has started to investigate indicates that he sees that something is not right! It’s a fact and can be statistically shown that since he became Attorney General, they have been rejecting claims of corruption. We know because the media is full of reports that a large number of Fidesz politicians are corrupt. I am in the habit of saying that whatever Fidesz politicans may say, I have a very, very good friend whose name is truth. They cannot overwrite the truth with their lies.
BB.: They have classified the Paks contracts for 30 years. Will something come of Paks? Or is the whole thing about filling a few pockets with money over the course of planning it? I would ask the same thing of the Budapest city park museum quarter project.
P.J.: I suspect that, the from the point of view of Fidesz, Paks as about nothing other than stealing HUF 1 trillion (USD 3.7 billion) worth of public money. It is not by accident that before Fidesz came to power the cost of expanding Paks was projected at HUF 2.2 trillion (USD 8.15 billion). After they came to power, it became HUF 3,3 trillion (USD 12.2 billion). I cannot imagine that there would be any other reason to classify the project, so clearly this is the only reason.
Viktor Orbán himself said on the ominous video recording (in connection with plans to expand the Paks atomic energy plant during the Gyurcsány government) that he commits a putsch against the Hungarian people who does precisely what he is doing! I cannot predict whether something will come of it or not, but there is no guarantee whatsoever that Putin is not simply using this to chain Viktor Orbán to himself like a dog and to show that there is somebody in the European Union who is willing to receive him. That is probably what Putin needs. What does he care if there is a Paks? His interest is rather in there not being a Paks so that we can become ever more dependent on Russian energy.
BB: How much money has the real estate scandal cost the 5th district so far?
P.J.: Under Antal Rogán it cost HUF 5 million (USD 18,500) a day over a period of 8 years (one-third of the district’s property disappeared during his administration). In fact, this continues to this day, because the same gang of corrupt hangers-on is still there and are pushing the same buttons. We hardly looked around and we’ve already encountered numerous other things in the district that create the opportunity for theft apart form the sale of real estate. And they haven’t stopped stealing the real estate either!
BB: It is not possible to sell commercial real estate in the 5th district but the sale of flats is permitted. Has the practice changed or are they still selling them at a good price”?
P.J.: Flats are a delicate situation. I would make it possible to sell district flats to those who live there. But only to those people who actually have lived there for 30-50 years, paid rent, made improvements. I even know of some shops like this. But they simply do not sell them. It appears they are waiting to be able to sell them inexpensively to their friends, and for this reason make it impossible for tenants to purchase their flats so they can say that they don’t sell everything.
BB: Has (current district 5 mayor) Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi moved out of his flat?
P.J.: I believe he has. The last time we held a demonstration I heard that both Szentgyörgyvölgyi and (informal advisor to the Prime Minister Arpád) Habony had left the building. But I don’t know whether ownership of the flats was returned to the district government. A month and a half ago I last heard from one of them that the reason they could not return the property to the district was because there was a legal procedure against them because Juhász had reported them. So I am to blame for the fact that they could not return the flat.
BB: The grip around (former Distrct 5 mayor) Rogán appears to be easing.
P.J.: I am not a member of the Fidesz leadership. For this reason I don’t know how long they will keep this weight around their necks there. I am happy so long as they keep him there, because it proves how much there is no rule of law in Hungary. I am convinced that in a rule of law state Antál Rogán would have been sent to prison a long time ago.
BB: Portik is already there. I quote him “we know who is at the end of the chain.” Who is the mafia boss?
P.J.: I think former undersecretary Jozsef Ángyán may be right when he said that there are 6-8 mafia families that exercise influence over the government to such an extent, that out of 80 undersecretaries (or deputy undersecretaries), there are 6-8 that Orban names. The rest are filled by the various mafia families with their people. I believe this because he saw the system from within.