In 2015/2016, the Orbán government privatized state-owned agricultural lands. While the government claimed the sale of these valuable lands would contribute significantly to the state budget, critics argued that the government’s real aim was to create a new class of landowners in Hungary.
The government implemented a number of cosmetic safeguards to ease the concerns of critics. One such safeguard stipulated that no foreigners could purchase land, and a single individual could purchase no more than 300 hectares.
Few could take full advantage of land privatization, as the average cost of one hectare sold for around HUF 1 million. Small farmers in rural Hungary bought small plots of land, whereas a few parties closely connected to the prime minister fared much better.
According to 24.hu, in Fejér county, the prime minister’s childhood stomping grounds, two families fared especially well with the land auctions: the Tiborcz and Mészáros families. In these transactions, the two families spent a combined HUF 2.7 billion to acquire the valuable land, of which HUF 1.71 billion was in the form of favorable bank financing.
The Tiborcz family bank
The family of István Tiborcz, Orbán’s son-in-law, managed to acquire 492 hectares for HUF 559 million by enlisting Tiborcz’s sister and father as buyers.
According to 24.hu, the Tiborcz family’s land purchases were financed entirely through loans.
István Tiborcz has become something of a real estate magnate in recent years, using his companies to acquire office buildings, villas, and castles around the country. The aforementioned acquisition of agricultural lands required Tiborcz to personally assume HUF 180 million in debt. In total, the Tiborcz family received HUF 558 million (USD 2.2 million) in loans to make the acquisitions.
The land acquisitions were financed by Gránit Bank, a commercial bank 36.5 percent owned by the Ministry for National Economy. The bank, which has been recapitalized on several occasions, has financed a number of Tiborcz’s real estate projects, including the Tiborcz family’s land acquisitions. 24.hu reports Tiborcz currently has 12 different loan contracts with Gránit Bank.
The Mészáros family
Lőrinc Mészáros, one of the richest men in Hungary who many believe is a strawman for Orbán, also fared well with the land auctions. Mészáros and his immediate family – wife, two daughters, and son – purchased 1,257 hectares with loans totaling HUF 1.154 billion from OTP.
24.hu reports the Mészáros family agro-businesses operate on some 3,800-3,900 hectares, which includes land these enterprises do not own but have exclusive rights to use.
Is a new elite class of landowners on the agenda?
Dr. József Ángyán, a renowned Hungarian agricultural scientist, says that is certainly the case. According to him, major land legislation adopted in Hungary since Fidesz returned to power in 2010 served just this purpose.
Ángyán was as an undersecretary for the Ministry of Rural Development during the second Orbán government (2010-14). He joined the government on the assumption that he would have the opportunity to craft an agricultural policy that helps small family farms in rural Hungary.
In June, Ángyán opened up to the Budapest Beacon about his experiences and what he saw as the Orbán government’s agenda regarding the privatization of state-owned agricultural lands for the purposes of creating a class of landowning elites.