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Two new recordings have been made public, with Gyula Gansperger still in the focus since our last followup on the case. The Budapest mayor published the full documentation of all the Municipality’s property sales from 2019. 

While the case began with the potential sale of Budapest City Hall, by now the focus has shifted to a related yet different question: is there a commission system (a.k.a. corruption) in practice with the Budapest Municipality property sales? Important to note, that other than the mentions of it in the recordings by people not working for the municipality, no proof of such has been revealed yet.

A brief and very rough summary of the previous episodes

  • Fidesz-linked Index published a strange contract on November 4th between a real estate agency and a company undergoing forced lay-offs about a deal regarding the City Hall building.
  • Zsolt Berki is one of the key figures in the show. He is the owner of Northern Rock, a company without any employees or revenue, that signed a contract with a well-known real estate agency, with the Mayor’s Office as the broker of the deal and City Hall as the object- although it wasn’t about an actual purchase.
  • Karácsony consistently denies having any relations with Berki
  • He also denied any intentions to sell it and he filed a police report, too.
  • New audio recording on November 9th: there might have been a period when the municipality was considering the possibility of selling the City Hall building.
  • This was already admitted by the municipality, saying that the idea was only one of the many options and was taken off the table about one and a half years ago.
  • Budapest Capital City Property Management Center (BVFK) leader, Balázs J. Barts, was given a written reprimand for having discussed a preparatory study of the possible long-term scenarios of a sale with real estate investors after it had been rejected by the mayor’s cabinet.
  • In a new recording [Fidesz’s former important background player, and former left-liberal PM Gordon Bajnai’s business partner] businessman Gyula Gansperger speaks of the city leadership’s “commission system” (which many think in fact means corruption) in property dealings.
  • In response, Karácsony filed charges in connection with the “slanderous” tape and denied any wrongdoing.
  • A photo depicting Bajnai and Gansperger together was published in the pro-Fidesz media.
  • A new edited recording on November 19: despite his earlier denial, Bajnai appears to be involved in the talks, too. The audio was recorded in the summer, while the Budapest mayor said earlier that the sale had been put off the table earlier. Bajnai also called Gansperger, an “old fellow-fighter” of his and speaks of “sharks seeking commission” in City Hall.
  • On November 24, the Budapest municipal assembly voted to set up an investigative committee to look into the case. The seven-strong committee is headed by the 16th district’s Fidesz mayor, Péter Kovács, and consists of three Fidesz and four opposition members.

New recording on November 25

In a new similarly edited recording by ‘Anonymous,’ Gyula Gansperger and a former Wallis colleague of his explain how the capital’s commission system works and Zsolt Berki’s role, who appears to be some sort of an important intermediary with a ‘facilitating’ role and can arrange how a tender is issued at City Hall.

“If we agree with Zsolt, we can have a say in the tender, it’s in the price.”

“I know from Zsolt, that it’s going to be very brutally bid out to whom they want.”

“I read the tender in advance, they asked if it was good for me, I said it was good,”

can also be heard on the recording. It is still a mystery why Gansperger says these things and whether there were any truth in his words.

In addition, he also speaks of concrete properties. Two plots of land are mentioned in Kelenföld, and one already bought by Gansperger in Budatétény (of which Telex notes that there weren’t any special rules in the tendering and Gansperger himself confirms that). While ‘Rimaszombat 2’, is worth HUF 5.2 billion, “…it could go down to HUF 5 billion,” he says.

Gansperger also says: “let’s do the first one, the Tétényi road – Etele one, let’s start this one, if they see the positive attitude, you can comment on the tender, then you can start with the package you described.”

There is also a reference in the conversation to the cost of this (perhaps the so-called commission), which is around 10%.

Interview with Bajnai: A full, uncut version would confirm my truth and honesty

In an interview with 24.hu, Bajnai defends himself by arguing that the pro-Fidesz media tries to discredit him “with a tendentiously cut recording of a secretly recorded conversation.” As he summarized:

“One: I was invited to a meeting. Two: when I arrived, a photo was taken of Gyula Gansperger and myself. Three: our conversation was subsequently recorded by someone in excellent quality. Four: weeks later, a five-minute false version of this one-hour conversation, edited almost word for word, was released to the public. Five: it was all part of a systematic campaign of character assassination lies about City Hall.”

“In hindsight, of course, I’m [more] clever. It seems that since I’m not active in Hungarian public life and work mostly in consolidated democracies, my alarm reflexes have dulled.”

Regarding the actual case, he explained that he had made inquiries about City Hall before the meeting, called BVFK board member Csaba Tordai, who told Bajnai that City Hall is too big for its current functions and is in terrible technical condition, so the city leadership wants to systematically consider how to develop it in the long term, while maintaining it as public property. But it was still in the very early phases of brainstorming, Bajnai claims.

He denied that Gansperger would be his friend and argued that after the meeting he chose not to be involved in any further activities in the matter.

Since he is convinced that the meeting was a set-up, a covert, premeditated, illegal operation and insists that the uncut, full version would prove his innocence, he announced he would be pressing charges.

Fact

Bajnai himself refers to what Telex also confirmed in reference to unnamed sources, that Gyula Gansperger reportedly feels offended for being depicted as of the left, mostly by the pro-Fidesz press, and insists that he is still right-wing. As we previously reported, he was an important background player of Fidesz, in charge of privatization issues, during the first Orbán-led government. While the pro-Fidesz media highlights his links to Bajnai through the Wallis company, Telex notes that important Fidesz politicians such as Tamás Wachsler and Balázs Fürjes also worked at the asset manager and car dealer giant.

Ruling Fidesz: Several police reports

Up until now, several reports have been filed with the police, mostly by Fidesz MP Gyula Budai. “Karácsony and his pals’ shameful explanation that they don’t know anything about Zsolt Berki is incomprehensible, and it is also incomprehensible why there hasn’t been any internal investigation started against Capital City Property Management Center leader, Balázs J. Barts (…) “What luck that they can’t sell the House of Parliament,” Budai commented.

There is already a police investigation underway in a property dealing in a Fidesz-led district that is linked to the City Hall case along with one of its major players.

Budapest mayor: Come see us at investigative committee

“Dear Anonymus, Dear Antal [most likely meaning the cabinet chief responsible for government communication, Antal Rogán], I appreciate your words about wanting to help the work of the capital’s Investigative Committee to find out on what basis [Orbán’s system of national cooperation] NER figures unknown to me and oligarchs close to Putin [meaning the Rahimkulov family, who are said to be interested in the sale], who are also supported by the government, are talking about the capital’s wealth management, and what this has to do with the worldwide phenomenon of the Russian secret service using its own compromising methods to interfere in elections,” Mayor Karácsony wrote in a Facebook post in response. Besides calling on them to appear before the investigative committee, Karácsony also urges them to:

“Make public all the audio recordings in your possession, since it seems that wherever this NER fella Gansperger, an accountant for Fidesz and the Orbán family, goes, a recording comes up with Gansperger admitting to a crime…”

Karácsony also insists that the municipality conducts its property sales through public tendering, which are made according to a template, without conditions that would narrow down the pool of potential buyers.

Another recording mentions Berki once again and a list of properties

In the latest recording, again released by Anonymous, presumably Gansperger can be heard once again explaining that when he applied to buy a Budapest municipality property, Zsolt Berki helped him to “make sure there were no mistakes,” and checked the application and whether someone else had also submitted an application, and if so, “what numbers” (the speaker is probably referring to a purchase offer) he had put on it.

Gansperger also says that ‘the colleague’ insists on HUF 200 million (EUR 552,000), that this must be told to the partners, and that he sees ‘what they are hungry for is City Hall,’ adding that there is an internal fight going on as everyone wants money.

Anonymous also published a list of properties alleged to be affected by the suspicious dealings.

Fact

Democratic Coalition leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, meanwhile, defends Karácsony by depicting him as someone who is clean but reluctant to embrace the government’s war logic. “There can be no doubt that he is a clean person, not corrupt. What is more, he is fighting against it (…) The City Hall sale is a fabricated story. A provocation (…) Unfortunately, there is a war going on. The rules of war are special. It’s them or us. (…) Even as a decent democrat, Karácsony is reluctant to accept this logic. That is why he is in trouble now (…) He deserves our support, and we will support him…,” the former PM writes.

Budapest leadership: “Nothing to hide”

In the latest development of the case, and perhaps in response to the latest recording the Budapest Capital City Property Management Center has sent out for investigation, they also published the full documentation of the property sales from 2019 in order to show that “the sales were made on the basis of an open call for tenders without any restrictive conditions or other ‘specifications.'”

He then once again claims that Fidesz is “using Russian intelligence methods” in the case and that Fidesz-linked figures can also be heard on the recordings, concluding:

“It is time to introduce the creators of this sham, the Fidesz and Fidesz-linked figures, none of whom the city administration knows, never discussed with, but who have assisted in an untruthful smear campaign. More details to be coming soon…”

featured image: Budapest mayor Karácsony; via Tamás Kovács/MTI