Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Hungary's Orban stonewalls US corruption allegations

  • 'Without evidence you cannot accuse anyone,' said Orban (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Hungary is demanding the US hand over evidence after the Americans placed an entry ban on six officials close to Viktor Orban’s government last week.

The Hungarian prime minister in Brussels on Friday (24 October) told reporters that his country would not launch any investigation into the corruption allegations on the six without first seeing some proof.

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“Without evidence you cannot accuse anyone,” he said. One of the accused is reportedly his own special advisor.

Orban told this website he was not proud that Hungary was the first EU member state to have a US-entry ban on officials.

Normally being first is something to be proud of, "but not in this case", he said.

The US, for its part, says it has credible information that the six are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.

Andre Goodfriend, the US deputy chief of mission in Budapest, earlier this week said the corruption in Hungary was weakening its democratic institutions.

As for the accusations against the six, Goodfriend in a tweet said Hungary “should investigate on evidence provided by (Hungarian) citizens, not (only) by the US.”

Decade-old rules

The US blacklist stems from a decade-old rule that was until now usually reserved for nailing high-ranking officials from corrupt governments in developing nations and oppressive states.

The so-called ‘Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision’ allows the US authorities to impose entry bans without proof of charges. Names are not disclosed for privacy reasons.

The privacy distinction has generated some controversy among pro-transparency and civil rights groups in Hungary.

“In our point of view this is not personal data, instead this should be published as data of public interest if the banned persons undertake public service,” said a contact at the Budapest-based Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

But Hungarian media report the six are high-ranking officials from Orban’s centre-right Fidesz party, including the prime minister’s own advisor Arpad Habony.

Other individuals include the president of Hungary’s national tax and customs administration (NAV) and two other managers from the same institution as well as the head of the Szazadveg Economic Research Institute, a government-backed and -financed think tank.

One of the two managers is said to run the NAV’s anti-corruption and fraud investigative department.

It is not the first time the national tax authority has run into trouble.

Last November, a former staff member blew the whistle on companies committing VAT fraud with the complicit help of the NAV.

The disgruntled employee finally went public after his complaints through the official and government channels went ignored. Police then raided his home in mid-December 2013, seizing documents and hard disks.

Crackdown on NGOs

Critics say the spate of restrictive media laws along with a recent police crackdown on Norwegian-backed NGOs is part of the Orban’s larger agenda to turn Hungary into an illiberal state.

Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, earlier this month made a thinly veiled attack on Orban.

"How can you sleep under your Nato Article 5 blanket at night while pushing ‘illiberal democracy’ by day; whipping up nationalism; restricting free press; or demonising civil society?,” she said.

US president Barack Obama also criticised Hungary in a speech in September when he placed Hungary in the same league as Egypt in terms of "overt intimidation" against civil society.

The European Commission, for its part, has refused to comment on Hungary's crackdown on the Norwegian backed NGOs.

"As EU funds are not involved, we are not a party in the ongoing Hungarian investigation over the use of the funds and we can’t take any specific position regarding this specific case," an EU commission spokesperson said in September.

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