Photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) and his son-in-law, Istvan Tiborcz, who soon became one of the richest people in Hungary. Source here.
On the occasion of the parliamentary elections in April 2022, important not only for Hungary, but also for Romania and the European Union, LARICS started an extensive series, spread over several episodes, about the political realities in the neighboring country. We will try to understand the recent developments in Hungary, with a focus on the main characters and the team around them. Today we will talk about the “Orbán Partisanship” scholarship and the widespread corruption in the system, both internally and externally. In future issues we will present the file of cooperation with Viktor Orban’s secret police, but also the file of the continuous cooperation of Orban’s regime with Putin’s regime. The first part of this episode can be read here. The Romanian version of the text can be read HERE, and the Hungarian version HERE. (LARICS).
Internal Network: Orbán Regime Poligarchs
Analysts familiar with the operation of the Orbán regime believe that the description of Hungarian expert Bálint Magyar on key actors in the Hungarian mafia state is similar to reality.
Bálint Magyar presented in his work, “The Hungarian Octopus – The Post-Communist Mafia State” (2013), the economic-political actors of Hungary, whom he called “polygars””.
Poligarchs are those who have obtained illegitimate wealth, as members of the political class. Their political power is known, but their economic power and wealth have remained hidden. They generally use “straw men” and their money is often hidden in foundations. The main polygarch is Prime Minister Orbán himself. Under the poligarchs there is the class of oligarchs who began their economic activity through legitimate trade initiatives and who, as a result of their economic power, acquired political power. In post-communist states, their activities are legal, but the way in which they acquire business opportunities is often not legal, that is, they gain advantages over their competitors through illegal means. Their autonomy is limited and they depend in part or in whole on the goodwill of the state.
The oligarchs who illustrate these categories, namely the network of the Orban regime, are among the richest people in Hungary.
According to Forbes 2021, in the top 10 richest Hungarians, who strengthen the circle of influence of Prime Minister Orbán Viktor are the following: 1. Mészáros Lőrinc and his family (488.1 billion forints – 1.27 billion euros); 2. Csányi Sándor (467.9 billion forints – 1.22 billion euros); 3. Felesuti Zsolt (286.4 billion forints – 748 million euros); 4. Veres Tibor (282.9 billion forints – 739 million euros); 5. Rahimkulov Ruszlán (270.7 billion forints – 707.6 million euros); 6. Gattyán György (253.8 billion forints – 616.4 million euros); 7. Rahimkulov Timur (211.4 billion forints – 552.6 million euros); 8. The family of Demiàn Sàndor, who died in 2018 (197.2 billion forints – 515.5 million euros); 9. Szíjj László (190.5 billion forints – 498 million euros); 10. Jellinek Dániel (189.2 billion forints – EUR 494.6 million euros).
Also one of the owners of MET Holding, Garancsi István, who ranks 16th in the Forbes / 2021 chart, with a fortune of 100.8 billion forints (263.5 million euros), is described by the Hungarian media as the new Lajos Simicska (ranked 41st in the Forbes / 2021 chart, with a fortune of 39.2 billion forints – 102.4 million euros), in his relation with Orbán. Garancsi is considered to be one of Orbán’s current leaders, involved in the management of the following Hungarian entities: FC Videoton, CD-Hungary Zrt., Magyar Természetjáró Szövetség / Hungarian Association of Hikers, Market Építő Zrt.
Photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz. Source: direkt36.hu.
A last-minute entry into this type of charts is the son-in-law of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, István Tiborcz, who has become one of the richest people in Hungary. István Tiborcz made his debut in the top 100 richest businessmen in the 32nd place. According to the Hungarian press evaluation, he is worth 35 billion forints (107 million euros) and is the youngest person on the list. Benefiting from huge European funds and protected by justice, the young István Tiborcz is the Hungarian businessman with the most dynamic economic growth in recent years. About 2013, when he married Rahel Orban, the prime minister’s daughter…
Photo: Billionaire Megdet Rahimkulov, the 62nd richest man in Russia.
Much has been written about the Rahimkulov family, especially about the father, Megdet Rahimkulov. The Russian oligarch, currently on the US sanctions list, has been head of Gazprom Hungary, is a shareholder in the largest bank in Hungary, Országos Takarékpénztár (OTP Group Plc.) since 2007. OTP Group controls banks not only from Hungary but also from Russia (OTP Bank), Ukraine (OTP Bank), Slovakia (OTP Banka Slovensko), Serbia (OTP banka Srbija), Croatia (OTP banka Hrvatska), Montenegro (Црногорска комерцијална банка – Montenegro Commercial Bank) Romania (OTP Bank Romania SA) and Slovenia (OTP Banka Slovenska). The main Hungarian oil company Magyar Olaj és Gázipari Részvénytársaság (MOL) is also in OTP with 8.57%. Megdet Rahimkulov himself is a shareholder in MOL, where the state holds a 33% share.
Romania was more vigilant and cautious. Here, the regulatory authority, the National Bank of Romania (BNR), banned the takeover of Banca Românească S.A. (owned by the National Bank of Greece – NBG) by OTP Bank Romania S.A. since March 15, 2018. According to Ziarul Financiar, “the ban of the regulatory authority is an unprecedented case in the history of the country.” “BNR analyzed very carefully the transactions between 2012 and 2015 through OTP Bank Romania, which aroused many suspicions”, writes Ziarul Financiar. However, the Bucharest banking regulatory authority did not provide any details. OTP has been in Romania since 2000, when it acquired Robank and Millennium Bank. According to data for 2017, OTP holds 2.2% of the Romanian banking market. (Source here)
OTP also entered the Republic of Moldova, where it aquired the third largest bank in the Republic of Moldova – Mobiasbanca S.A. (Groupe Société Générale).
Widespread corruption in Hungary
According to the Transparency International / 2018 rating, Hungary had one of the weakest indicators of the Corruption Perceptions / CPI index of all EU countries (only Bulgaria lagging behind), which indicates the level of deterioration of the rule of law and of democratic institutions. (here and here).
According to Euronews, Hungary was the most sanctioned country for fraud involving EU money, in the period 2016-2020, 2.2% of payments made during this period were subject to a correction request, more than seven times the EU average, as shows the annual report of the EU / OLAF / 2021 Anti-Fraud Office.
In 2018, OLAF announced that Hungary should reimburse $ 51 million from EU funds, which were directed to Elios Zrt., owned by the son-in-law of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Tiborcz István. Orban’s son-in-law’s company was the subject of an OLAF investigation into the costs associated with the street lighting system provided by Elios Zrt. and which were almost 50% above the market price.
Mészáros Lőrinc’s family businesses were enriched with EU funds between 2010 and 2017, according to Hungarian investigative journalists from Atlatszo.hu. According to public procurement documents, the various companies of Mészáros Lőrincék won a tender totaling 476 billion forints (1.2 billion euros) at the end of 2017. 83% of this amount, respectively 396 billion forints ( 1.03 billion euros), came from EU funds.
The external network of the Orban regime. Bethlen Gábor Fund
Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and Árpád János Potápi – Secretary of State for Hungarian Communities Abroad – presented the main policy results for Hungarian communities abroad at the plenary session of the Hungarian Permanent Conference and the Hungarian Diaspora Council in November 2020. On the occasion, officials said that the policy for Hungarian communities abroad has four objectives:
- unification of the Hungarian nation under common law;
- strengthening the Hungarian identity;
- intensifying relations with Hungarian organizations abroad;
- economic development of Hungarian communities abroad.
The most important international steps to expand the rights of the Hungarian minority were:
1. in Romania, representatives of the UDMR party were elected to leadership positions at the level of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
2. Lorant-Gyorgy Vincze was elected Vice-Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament (25.05.2021).
3. Iuliu Winkler is Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) (2014 – present)
4. UDMR party members who are part of the Romanian Parliament delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: Csoma Botond, Nagy Szabolcs. It should be noted that Csomo Botond is also the secretary of the SRI Control Commission, i.e. a trusted person from Budapest has access to information about the Romanian Intelligence Service activity in that position;
5. the efforts to collect Signatures for ICE – MSP have been intensified; FUEN continued to promote ICE – MSP; January 10, 2020 – the signatures in support of ICE – MSP were registered in the online system of the European Commission;
6. the year 2020 has been designated as the “Year of National Cohesion”, as part of this approach, signature collection campaigns have been organized;
7. Subsequent to the “Year of National Cohesion” the following objectives were set: signature collection campaign, under the auspices of the World Union of Hungarians and the Trianon Society; 7-point action plan by Mi Hazank; commemorative moments, actions dedicated to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Trianon;
8. 2021 was named “Year of national restart / relaunch”.
State Financial Resources – Bethlen Gábor Fund
According to the media of investigative journalism (February 2021): Átlátszó (Hungary), Átlátszó Erdély (Romania), Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (Serbia), Investigatívne centrum Jána Kuciaka (Slovakia), Oštro (Croatia), Investigative Journalism for Europe grant / IJ4EU, in the last 10 years, the Hungarian government has provided grants worth about 670 million euros to various entities of Hungarian minorities abroad, with the help of a Hungarian government fund totaling over 1.4 billion euros, respectively Bethlen Gábor Fund / Bethlen Gábor Alap / BGA, indirectly funding: political parties, NGOs, media, churches, hundreds of millions of BGA forints went to football facilities in Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania and Croatia , etc.
The conclusion of the specialists is that the transparency of the decisions to subsidize this fund is questionable, as there is no single, centralized, easy-to-search and up-to-date public database that provides clear and legible information about taxpayer funded projects.
From the recent public documents on the financing decisions of the Bethlen Gábor Fund, existing in the records of the relevant national institutions, we can draw some conclusions about each country.
Photo: People close to the Orban Government among the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries
Organizations linked to Slovak-Hungarian politicians have received money from the Hungarian government, according to the Jan Kuciak (ICJK), Investigation Center, although Slovak law prohibits funding for political parties abroad.
Gombasek Camp has been an annual music festival and intellectual forum for debating the state of the Hungarian community in Slovakia for years.
In Slovakia, millions of euros from Hungary were directed to FC DAC Dunajská Streda, a football club owned by Orbán’s old friend Oszkár Világi, and to the DAC Football Academy, coordinated by Világi’s daughter, received money from the BGA.
The Dunajská Streda Football Club has also been a symbol of Hungarians in Slovakia for many years, and the media of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is another area of interest for the Hungarian government.
Some of the organizations behind the funded portals and magazines are on the Hungarian government’s “List of Institutions of National Importance“, receiving tens of millions of forints each year. In the Hungarian mass-media in Slovakia, the Hungarian Community Party / Magyar Közösség Pártja / MKP, chaired by Forró Krisztián is taking up more and more space.
According to information provided by the Slovak Statistical Office, promoted on English-language channels, in 2020, 447,932 Slovak citizens declared their Hungarian citizenship, representing 8.20% of the Slovak population, most of them Hungarians living in the Nitra region and Trnava. At the 2011 census, most people of Hungarian nationality lived in Komárno, Dunajská Streda and Bratislava.
Recent local media reports show that the Hungarian minority in Slovakia has a politically moderate position, although the Slovak press reported that Orban Viktor was concerned about fueling resentment among ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, while providing money from the state budget for projects to support: schools, churches, football stadiums, Hungarian-language media and cultural events.
Most-Hid Leaders. Source: cas.sk3.
At the level of political representation, public information shows that the only Hungarian party in the Slovak Parliament Most-Hid won 11 seats, or 6.62% of the vote, in 2016, becoming part of the ruling coalition led by the populist party SMER-SD.
So did Magyar Közösség Pártja, who appeared just before the deadline for the submission of electoral lists, by merging with: Strana maďarskej komunity / SMK and two newly formed movements, Maďarské fórum and Slovenská pospolitosť.
The Slovak media reported that three non-parliamentary parties of the Hungarian minority, namely Magyar Közösség Pártja – President Forró Krisztián, Most-Híd – President Solymos László and the Összefogás / Spolupatričnosť movement – President Mózes Szabolcs, will sign (August 20, 2021) a declaration on the establishment of a common party.
In this context, Mózes Szabolcs, chairman of the Összefogás / Spolupatričnosť movement, stated that the movement he leads would be renamed the “Alliance“.
The support of the Hungarian government in Serbia is seen in the widespread censorship in the media of the Hungarian minority, which is given only what Budapest wants to know.
RTV Pannon – general manager István Bodzsoni, the largest Hungarian media company in Serbia, received over 9 million euros in 2012 and about 4.5 million euros in 2019.
BGA funds went to the oldest Hungarian-language Serbian daily publication, Magyar Szó, the oldest weekly publication Hét Nap and to other media entities. The three media entities do not criticize Orbán Viktor, the political party Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina, the Hungarian ethnic political party, SVM and its founder, the National Council of the Hungarian Ethnic Minority, but often broadcast statements made by these institutions.
Orbán’s government is also relying on the church to spread its message to the Hungarian community in Serbia. From 2011 to 2020, Hungary paid 7.3 million euros to religious communities. They renovated churches, built kindergartens adjacent to religious buildings, as well as Christian schools and homes.
Prior to the 2018 elections in Hungary, Dolinszky Gábor, the deputy bishop of the Evangelical Christian Church in Serbia, attended a public event with members of the SVM party. According to the daily publication Magyar Szó, Dolinski told Hungarians with dual citizenship that they had a duty to vote in elections for all that their country of origin had done for them in “material, economic and spiritual terms.” He then advised his compatriots to ask for financial support and that, after receiving the money, there would be no dilemma as to who would vote for whom.
Orbán’s government is also a close partner of Serbia’s most powerful Hungarian political party – the Union of Hungarians in Vojvodina / Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség / VMSZ, chaired by Pásztor István. Due to legal restrictions, VMSZ cannot accept money from the Hungarian government, but such restrictions do not exist for the foundation that the party set up, namely the Karolj Biro Foundation / Bíró Károly Alapítvány, which received 1.4 million euros from the Hungarian budget to buy an Art Nouveau house, in which three Hungarian minority organizations have established their headquarters.
The area of the autonomous province of Vojvodina has a population of about 2 million, most of whom are Serbs (66.76%). The next largest ethnic group is the Hungarian minority (13%). The area has autonomous status, and the Hungarians have their own national council / Magyar Nemzeti Tanács.
The Hungarian government is expanding its influence in this country by funding mainly the Democratic Community of Hungarians in Croatia / Horvátországi Magyarok Demokratikus Közössége / HMDK and the associated organizations.
The chairman of the HMDK is Róbert Jankovics, who is also a member of the Croatian Parliament, representing the Hungarian minority. His 2016 election was surrounded by allegations of bribery in exchange for voters and an investigation followed. In 2019, two people were convicted in the first instance for bribing non-Hungarian Croats to declare themselves Hungarians and to vote on the list of the candidate HMDK Jankovics. Between 2011 and 2020, the BGA provided grants to Croatian organizations totaling around € 26.2 million.
The BGA has provided € 9.5 million to HMDK partner organizations such as: Europa AP, the Hungarian Teachers’ Forum / Horvátországi Magyar Pedagógusok Fóruma and the Hungarian Center for Education and Culture / Horvátországi Magyar Oktatási és Művelődési Központ. All of them maintain close ties with HMDK through their management members.
In 2017, the Economica Hungarica Foundation / Economica Hungarica Alapítvány was founded in Croatia, with Palizs-Tóth Hajnalka as chairman. The Foundation operates in accordance with HMDK’s strategy for economic and rural development and provides funding to Croatian citizens of Hungarian origin for the purchase of buildings and land or the establishment of a business. In three years, Economica Hungarica has provided funding for 783 entities, six of which have purchased homes, and 30 companies have bought 82 hectares of agricultural land.
In 2020, BGA expanded its football funding portfolio in Croatia by approving € 700,000 through Europa AP to support and develop Várdaróc FC, a small football club in a village with a population of 630. Várdaróc FC funding comes after BGA has already approved around 16.1 million euros in the last three years for the construction of 8 football fields and a stadium for the FC Osijek Football School / Škola nogometa NK Osijek, which is still under construction. Osijek FC is currently owned by László Szíjj, one of the richest Hungarian businessmen with ties to the Hungarian Government.
Although it was planned to be built by the end of 2019, the football infrastructure in Lendava (formerly Dolnja Lendava), the heart of the Hungarian community in Slovenia, is still awaiting construction equipment. By October 2020, a single artificial turf football field near a bilingual high school in Lendava was completed and operational. But by the end of 2020, BGA had already approved about 10.4 million euros in cash for the FC Nafta 1903 Football Academy project, currently ranked 5th in the 2nd League of Slovenia.
Although BGA has made a series of payments to this football club worth at least 5.7 million euros, the public data of the fund on contractual payments show a single payment in 2019 amounting to 300 million forints (approximately 430,000 euro). According to data and documents on BGA grant decisions, 60% of all funds for Slovenian organizations went to FC Nafta 1903, at least EUR 10.4 million. Half of this money was allocated to the club through a single decision signed on December 27, 2020, approving other projects worth 2.1 million euros to the Hungarian National Self-Government Community Pomurje / Muravidéki Magyar Önkormányzati Nemzeti Közösség / MMÖNK, from Lendava, chaired by Ferenc Horváth. MMÖNK has received more than a third of the total project funding of EUR 17.4 million meant for Pomurje since 2011. Of this, 97% of the grants were allocated between 2016 and 2020. MMÖNK’s annual reports for some of the most successful years show that substantial Hungarian grants were often paid at the end of the year, but were intended for the following year or years. MMÖNK told the Investigative Journalism Center in the Adriatic region, Oštro, that they could not influence BGA’s payment deadlines.
The non-profit association “Wiener Ungarischer Schulverein” / The Hungarian School Association in Vienna is a non-profit organization founded in 1926 and has two main areas of activity:
- supports the Hungarian minority in Austria through language training (mother tongue) as well as cultural and traditional activities;
- carries out projects in various fields, supports a bilingual kindergarten (German / Hungarian) open in Vienna, hosts Comenius assistants and Erasmus participants, etc.
(to be continued)
* C. Ioana is a graduate of the Master of Security Studies at the University of Bucharest and a LARICS expert on the Hungarian issue.