Hungary’s highest court the Curia handed down a final decision this week in a lawsuit filed by Hungary’s Prosecutor General Péter Polt against Együtt politician Viktor Szigetvári. The Curia ruled in Szigetvári’s favor, deciding that his earlier characterization of Polt as a “criminal abetter” and other statements were not a violation of Polt’s personal rights.
Polt initially filed the suit in spring of 2015 after Szigetvári, then the president of opposition party Együtt (Together), made statements at a press conference in Dombovár that suggested the Prosecutor General was deliberately failing to investigate Quaestor CEO Csaba Tarsoly for his role in the then-unfolding Quaestor brokerage scandal because Tarsoly’s personal secretary was reportedly in a romantic relationship with Polt’s daughter. The next day, Szigetvári claimed on state radio that, out of “family obligation,” Polt had given Tarsoly around two-and-a-half weeks to hide money after the scandal broke open before seeking his arrest.
Szigetvári also said that “the Fidesz-captured state has gone bankrupt in the last few weeks – the Fidesz prosecutor’s office, central bank, government – by allowing the abomination which developed in this case.” In his lawsuit, Polt claimed that such statements caused damage to his personal honor and reputation, and damaged the prosecutor’s office as well by suggesting it was controlled by the Fidesz party.
Polt demanded a public apology and sued Szigetvári for up to one million forints in damages. He did not, however, deny that such a romantic relationship existed between his daughter and Tarsoly’s secretary.
The Curia’s final decision
The Curia agreed with earlier court rulings that Szigetvári’s statements were expressions of his personal opinion and could therefore not be considered defamatory, arguing that the right to free expression of opinion is protected even if that opinion contains untruths.
But the high court did decide that “such facts do exist which give basis to the formation of the opinion.” For example, that Tarsoly was, in fact, only taken into custody two weeks after the launch of the Quaestor investigation. The Curia also noted that it is an undisputed fact that Péter Polt’s daughter is in a long-term relationship with a person tied to one of Quaestor’s senior officials.
Concerning Szigetvári’s characterization of the prosecutor’s office as a Fidesz-controlled organization, the Curia ruled that this was also an expression of a political opinion, and therefore does not constitute defamation. A second-level court earlier noted that Polt’s earlier Fidesz party affiliations were well known.
The Curia ruled that Polt must reimburse the state for the expenses of the legal procedure in the amount of HUF 100,000 (USD 390).