State-owned MVM must answer for half a billion forints in contributions to Fidesz-tied NGO

October 2, 2017

Photo: Index.hu/Tamás Német

Hungary’s state-owned electricity company MVM (Magyar Villamos Művek) has 15 days to release information related to the donation of more than half a billion forints it made to the Fidesz-tied civil organization Civil Unity Forum (CÖF). The requirement was placed on MVM by president of the Data Protection Authority Attila Péterfalvi, according to a report from RTL Klub.

According to Péterfalvi, the HUF 508 million (USD 1.9 million) given by MVM to CÖF qualifies as public money, since MVM is under 100 percent ownership of the Hungarian state. The failure of the company to release the details of its donation therefore violated the law, Péterfalvi said. He called for MVM to release all data related to the appraisal, accounting, reporting and expenditure of the funds.

According to radical-right party Jobbik, which requested action from the Data Protection Authority in the matter, provision of the data could finally reveal whether MVM’s donation to CÖF was in fact an illegal case of secret party financing from state coffers.

“We are certain that this money was directed to CÖF within an illegal campaign financing framework,” said Jobbik MP István Szávay.

CÖF financing data from last year shows that besides the HUF 508 million it received from MVM, CÖF received funding from only one other source: Fidesz’s party foundation, the Foundation for a Civil Hungary (Polgári Magyarországért Alapitvány), which contributed HUF 45 million (USD 170,000).

MVM earlier wrote in response to questions on its major donation to CÖF that the donation was “covered not from public money, but from our own sources.”

Reacting to this position, however, Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár said in May that “the money which belongs to the state-owned companies belongs to the taxpayers. It is the public’s.”

CÖF, well-known for organizing a number of so-called pro-Fidesz “Peace Marches,” also campaigns on behalf of Fidesz through political advertisements. The organization has been unwilling to reveal to journalists the details of its financing, reacting to an inquiry by Átlátszó by saying that it only reveals the sources of its funding to journalists, party foundations or civil organizations if those organizations do the same.

The government, for its part, denies that it has anything to do with MVM’s decisions on where it gives financial support. But in an interview with Origo.hu, the company’s communications director Réka Bentzik revealed, seemingly accidentally, that the government’s National Communications Office (NKH) approves all of the company’s contributions. The NKH has been under the control of propaganda minister Antal Rogán’s ministry since 2015.

According to a public information request by opposition party LMP, MVM has spent HUF 2.2 billion advertising itself in government-tied media outlets, effectively supporting them with public funds. The ads do not advertise any particular service offered by MVM, and appear almost exclusively in low-circulation, pro-Fidesz media outlets.