A week ago, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó was caught vacationing with his family on the Adriatic Sea on a luxury private yacht belonging to a pro-government billionaire businessman, while he posted photos on his Facebook page depicting him to be working. For the first time since the photos of his holiday were made public, the minister addressed the issue, saying that the articles violate his sense of justice, and his “compliance with the law is not a seasonal issue, I can assure everyone I respect the law both in my public and private life.”
The photos were taken on the 16th, but the Minister is suspected to have arrived there much earlier, as the yacht left its docking site near the Split airport on the 12th. The yacht called Lady MRD, with an estimated value of about EUR 17 million (HUF 6 billion), belongs to fast-emerging billionaire businessman László Szíjj, Hungary’s fourth-richest person, who is very close to the government circles and has won many high-profile public tenders. Based on the flight data, Átlátszó supposes that the foreign minister flew out to Croatia with an Austrian private jet (called OE-LEM), that the Prime Minister also used recently.
The photos also caused controversy, since on the same day they were taken, the Foreign Minister posted photos on his Facebook page depicting him to be working, more specifically they showed him in talks with his Latvian, Estonian, and Lithuanian counterparts regarding the situation in Minsk that morning.
At the weekly government press conference, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said last week in response to a question concerning Szijjártó’s holidays, that the government would not investigate into any government member’s holiday. He said it was the situation in Belarus that forced Szijjártó to continue working even during a family holiday. Gulyás said he was convinced that Szijjártó acted in line with legal regulations during his holiday and it was up to him to answer questions raised about where he was spending his holidays and who had invited him.
Minister Szijjártó: Family vacation private matter but ‘I respect the law both in my public and private life’
On Tuesday, the foreign minister finally answered questions concerning his holiday. He said that his “life is an open book, mainly because I spend 100% of my time at work.” He added that, however, this does not apply to his family life and family vacations, and asked everyone to respect this. Szijjártó said that his “compliance with the law is not a seasonal issue, I can assure everyone that I will respect the law both in my public and private life.”
The minister also revealed that in addition to his family, his friends were with him on the yacht as well. When asked why he was vacationing on László Szíjj’s ship, Szijjártó only said that his “family vacations are part of my private life.” He did not answer the question of how he paid for the yacht either.
Opposition parties: Foreign minister should step down for vacationing on gov’t-favored billionaire’s luxury yacht
At the same time, the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) has written a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán demanding to know how many government members have been flown by private plane to a luxury yacht on the Adriatic. DK spokesman Balázs Barkóczi said at a news conference on Tuesday that “the government’s favored private jet has been commuting between Budapest and the Adriatic for days.”
He cited press reports alleging that the private jet had been parked on an island in proximity to a luxury yacht used by Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, and suggested that the prime minister himself was also sailing on the Adriatic. The opposition party’s spokesman insisted that the use of the yacht by several other government members had been accepted unlawfully. “We’ve got the right to know how many billions of public money a corrupt Fidesz politician has to steal to be entitled to such a trip,” he said.
Bertalan Tóth, the president of the Socialist party (MSZP), commenting on Szijjártó’s holiday on the Adriatic, which, according to his declaration of assets, the foreign minister could hardly afford, that “all vacations are, of course, a private matter, as long as the elected politician who can be held accountable, does not vacation on a luxury yacht, owned by public procurement-winning billionaires. If a minister accepts gifts worth hundreds of millions, or if he posts an office image on Facebook from a yacht in the Adriatic, it is certainly a public matter.” He added that based on his declaration of his assets, Szijjártó could not pay for the trip and that “in a fair rule of law, the foreign minister would have resigned a long time ago if he had failed in such a case.”
Another opposition party, Párbeszéd (Dialogue) also demanded the politician’s resignation in a Facebook post. According to the post, “if a member of the government (i.e. Péter Szijjártó), holidays on a yacht owned by a businessman enriched in public procurements, he vacations as the employee of the state, that is, an employee of the Hungarian people (…) on a yacht acquired with the money of the Hungarian people.” They added that it is a public affair, suspected corruption, and unacceptable, adding that is why Péter Szijjártó should resign. The party also added that they will turn to OLAF with the case of László Szíjj, who lent his yacht to politicians, on suspicion of corruption.
In contrast, Gábor Vona, former president of Jobbik, essentially defended Szijjártó. In a Facebook post, Vona said that although he disagrees with the government’s foreign policy in countless things, if someone cannot be accused of avoiding work, it is Péter Szijjártó. He acknowledged that it was foolish to illustrate the work done on the ship with a workplace image, but added, “I think it is very minimal when we build a smear campaign on the holiday- jealousy of Hungarians.” Vona added that in a similar situation, he would also stand up for any politicians – opposition and pro-government alike.
featured photo: Mátyás Borsos/KKM/MTI