Hungary: Ministers make major property purchases amid economic crisis
By Justin Spike – !!444!!!
As millions of Hungarians struggle with the financial fallout of the coronavirus
pandemic and many workers, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors,
complain of little or no help from the government, generous state investments have
been made into the government’s favored businesses and industries: a chain of
hotels owned by Hungary’s richest man, L?rinc Mészáros, received HUF 279
million (€784,000) in pandemic compensation from the state this month, after
receiving HUF 17 billion (€48 million) in state aid last year for development
of the business. (Mészáros is a personal childhood friend of Prime Minister
Viktor Orbán, and is thought by critics to hold assets of the prime
More than HUF 140 billion (€393 million) in public money has
also been invested in Hungary’s rapidly expanding collection of sports
stadiums and sports clubs since the beginning of the pandemic, while
religious organizations received HUF 103 billion (€289 million) in state aid.
Meanwhile, the public healthcare system was the beneficiary of HUF 50.7 billion
(€142 million) earmarked from the public budget during the worst public health
crisis in more than a century.
On Monday, at an extraordinary Parliamentary session called
by the opposition parties, MPs sharply criticized the government’s handling of
the coronavirus pandemic and accused it of using the crisis to enrich
Fidesz-tied business interests. Opposition MP Tímea Szabó claimed that the
government had stolen 76% of the funds earmarked for protecting the
economy during the pandemic. (Fidesz-KDNP MPs boycotted the session.)
“No would should have any doubts about why this is
happening,” LMP representative Antal Csárdi said. “The bled-out
tourism sector will be filled up with government-tied businesses, and the
entire sector will be bought up with public money.”
Last week, frustrations among restaurateurs appeared to
reach a peak as many business owners and workers in the sector publicly
complained that their businesses would go bankrupt if they were not allowed to
re-open or did not receive badly-needed financial assistance from the
government. Of the roughly HUF 27 billion (€76 million) in wage assistance
promised by the government to the sector, only HUF 7 billion (€19.6 million)
have been paid out, and many restaurateurs say they’ve received no help at
As workers struggle to cope with the lockdown as it enters
its fourth month – and was last week extended until March 1 – several high-value
property purchases by prominent government ministers were discovered involving
sizeable loans from banks connected to Fidesz’s so-called “System of
National Cooperation” (NER).
On Tuesday, 444 reported that shortly before his wedding in
mid-December, the head of the cabinet office of the prime minister Antal Rogán
(Fidesz) became involved in a massive land deal worth HUF 1.6 billion (€4.5 million).
Rogán’s new wife Barbara, her parents and two other business partners purchased
more than 1,022 hectares in northeast Hungary at a down payment of HUF 83.2
million, or around 5 percent of the purchase price. The rest was supplied by a
loan from the state-owned Budapest Bank, part of a bank holding company owned
in large part by L?rinc Mészáros and other prominent Fidesz-tied businessmen.
It was also reported last week that in December 2019,
Justice Minister Judit Varga and her husband purchased a 270 sq. meter apartment in an exclusive
district of Budapest, just minutes from the home of Prime Minister Orbán, for
HUF 200 million (€562,000). The pair made a down payment of HUF 8 million, and
the rest was supplied by a bank loan. The property was reportedly sold at well
under the market rate for other real estate in that district of the
Additionally, it was reported that in 2017 the couple drew HUF 10 million (€28,000) in state aid under
the family home creation allowance (CSOK) program, designed to assist young
families with children to purchase or build homes. With the money, the couple
built a tasteful home in Balatonhenye, a quiet, dead-end village near Lake
The assistance, which does not need to be repaid, may only
apply to homes intended for permanent habitation and may not be used for
vacation homes. But given that Balatonhenye is 150km from Budapest, where both
Varga and her husband live and work in prominent positions, it appears unlikely
that the couple holds the property as anything more than a summer home.
Varga responded to questions concerning her use of the
financial assistance, saying that when her family returned to Hungary from
their previous life in Brussels, they had intended to move permanently to
Balatonhenye, but ultimately remained in Budapest after finding work. Varga
said that if the family has not moved to the summer home by the 5-year grace
period allowed by the CSOK program, her family will repay the assistance to the
state with interest.
The 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives. It uses a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
(*) — Justin Spike is an independent
journalist and fixer based in Budapest. He was the managing editor of the
Budapest Beacon, an independent, English-language news portal dedicated to
Hungarian politics and economy. He run InsightHungary in partnership with local
news website 444.hu. He have done fixing work for Financial Times, France24,
Aftenbladet, Heartland TV, and Princeton University. — !!444!!!
InsightHungary, is one of the few independent media
beyond the control of autocrat Viktor Orbán.