Semjén’s Swedish hunting trips paid for by gov’t-tied businessman, multiple EU grant recipient

March 13, 2018

Zsolt Semjén with a downed reindeer in Sweden | Source: Magyar Nemzet

Deputy Prime Minister and president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) Zsolt Semjén has been going on hunting trips in Sweden financed by government-tied businessman József Farkas since 2012.

The avid hunter 

Magyar Nemzet reported last Friday that since 2012 the chairman of the Christian Democratic People’s Party hunts for moose, reindeer and capercaillie in Sweden in total secrecy. Magyar Nemzet‘s anonymous sources stated that during the trips that cost USD 16-20,000 Krona each, organizers had to take all sorts of precautionary measures to guarantee Semjén’s comfort and keep his identity secret. On one occasion, organizers had to book a full 40-bed hotel so that the avid hunter need not share the resort with anybody else, let alone other Hungarians. On another occasion, organizers had to obtain horses for Semjén as he could not stand the long walking.

Semjén’s most elaborate trip took place last year. According to Magyar Nemzet‘s information, Semjén and his companions rented a helicopter to hunt reindeer. A reindeer shot by Semjén was later tied to the helicopter with a noose around its neck and carried back to the hotel airborne. The one-hour flight cost some SEK 25,000 (USD 3,000).

Almost family 

Politicians of the governing Fidesz and KDNP parties, as well as the government-tied media outlets, immediately started to downplay the news, stating that Semjén only visited his relatives in Sweden and the hunting trips were covered by his family as well. However, as Magyar Nemzet revealed on Monday, all of Semjén’s Swedish hunting trips were paid by businessman József Farkas, who is not a relative of Semjén’s. Farkas, who regularly hunts with Semjén, accompanied him on his Swedish trips as well.

Farkas’s businesses have been faring quite well in state procurements since 2010 and were awarded over HUF 530 million (USD 2.1 million) of EU grants since then. Between 2010 and 2014, Farkas’s Oxigen Hotel & Zen Spa in Noszvaj received HUF 365 million (USD 1.45 million)  of EU funds. At the inauguration ceremony of the hotel, Semjén gave a speech in which he emphasized the importance of domestic tourism.

Szaktudás Kiadóz Ház Zrt., a publisher owned by Farkas, was awarded 24 public procurement contracts between 2010 and 2014. The company was a consortium partner of the University of Debrecen, the Hungarian Institute For Educational Research And Development (OFI), the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture and the National Roma Self-Government in the controversial “Bridge to Employment” program, in which roughly HUF 1.6 billion (USD 5.7 million) in public funds were expended without the project accomplishing anything.

Another publisher company of Farkas’s made headlines in 2015 when it was revealed  that the agrarian textbook that was sold to the since terminated Türr István Training and Research Institute for HUF 31 million (USD 123,000) as a brand-new Hungarian educational material, in fact, had been copied nearly word by word from a two-decades-old US agrarian project .

Magyar Nemzet contacted Farkas, who said that “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and hung up the phone.

Bring in the prosecutors and OLAF

At a Monday afternoon press conference, Jobbik MP György Szilágyi announced that Jobbik would initiate a personal asset declaration proceeding against Semjén and file a report with the police for suspicion of bribery. Szilágyi urged the Parliament’s immunity committee to discuss the issue as soon as possible and added that if authorities fail to investigate the possibility of bribery then Jobbik will do so after forming a government.

Democratic Coalition (DK) also vowed to take steps on Monday. In a statement published on the party’s website, DK vice-chair and MP László Varju wrote that after Magyar Nemzet‘s revelations, “in a civilized country, Semjén could not remain either a member of the government, a member of parliament or the president of his party.” Arguing that initiating an asset declaration proceeding against Semjén is futile, the party would appeal to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), “the only forum that proved to be effective regarding Fidesz’s corruption cases,” to investigate the ties between Semjén and Farkas.

Monday evening, Fidesz reacted to Jobbik’s initiation in a statement released by state news agency MTI. “That Jobbik speaks, which had been bought up by the billionaire Lajos Simicska,” read the statement. The governing party’s statement also recalled that Jobbik “protects Béla Kovács who was accused of espionage and financial abuse tooth and nail.”