Simicska: Orbán planned to buy out independent TV station with Russian money

April 4, 2017

Former Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska (pictured) once played a crucial role in establishing Fidesz’s economic hinterland. After a very public falling-out with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015, Simicska’s companies have gone from being among the top beneficiaries of lucrative state contracts to being all but cut off. Since the falling-out, there has been much speculation about the role Simicska will play in the 2018 national elections. His wealth and vast holdings in media would certainly give any opposition force a much-needed boost. This has led some to suggest that Simicska is quietly backing Jobbik, Hungary’s second-largest opposition party.

Simicska revealed to news site 24.hu on Monday that he very recently withdrew his consent for Reuters to publish an interview with him because of a “content dispute.” Simicska explained to the site what the dispute was all about.

The billionaire told 24.hu he had made several bold claims about Hungary’s political situation during a two-hour interview with a Reuters journalist. In London, however, the approved version of the interview was “censored” so greatly that Simicska said he would not consent to it being published.

“What sense would it make to publish a weather report?” Simicska told the news site, commenting on the watered-down interview.

According to Simicska, the most important part cut out was his recounting of a conversation he had with Orbán immediately after the 2014 national elections in Hungary.

Simicska said he called Orbán to congratulate him on the victory on election night, and the two agreed to meet at Simicska’s house the next day to discuss their plans for the next four years.

When they met, Orbán had laid out his plans for taking over Hungarian media.

“During our discussion he outlined a complete media program, with broadcasters and everything,” Simicska told 24.hu, adding that Orbán “even wanted to buy RTL Klub” purely with the aim of shutting down Hungary’s largest commercial television broadcaster.

“I was appalled by what he was saying and I tried to explain to him that it doesn’t work like this,” Simicska said.

The oligarch-in-exile said that’s when Orbán asked him how much it would cost to buy RTL Klub outright.

“I told him I do not know but at first glance probably around 300 million Euro, 100 billion Forint, to which [Orbán] replied, ‘That’s no problem, Rosatom will buy it for me’,” Simicska said.

In 2014, Prime Minister Orbán and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement granting Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company, a no-bid contract to carry out the expansion of the Paks II nuclear plant in Hungary. As per the agreement, 80 percent of the financing for the project would come from a Russian state-owned bank. The project was criticized by many as being a hotbed for corruption.

When Simicska and Orbán met one week later, Simicska says he told Orbán that he wanted nothing to do with the plot, citing his discomfort with Orbán’s increasingly tight Russian connections, and added that he considered the entire thing to be unacceptable.

“You can point fingers and say ‘oligarch’ and ‘billionaire’ but I still have values,” Simicska said. “My own father would turn over in his grave if I would have taken part in this. I swore no allegiance to a mafia boss and traitor.”

According to Simicska, that was the point when he and Orbán had their falling-out.

24.hu contacted the Prime Minister’s Office to ask if the prime minister was with Simicska the day after the 2014 national elections, but the press secretary for the office, Bertalan Havasi, said that, “We will not respond to the absurd statements made by Jobbik’s billionaire owner,” referring to rumors that Simicska might be backing far-right Jobbik.

Reuters has not commented on Simicska’s statements about the interview.