In the newest leaked recording, former left-liberal prime minister, Gordon Bajnai, can be heard talking about City Hall, which appears to confirm his involvement in the background talks about its potential sale. Meanwhile, in reference to a Russian family behind the scenes and some other suspicions, Gergely Karácsony suspects the Russian secret services behind the recordings and suggests their cooperation with ruling Fidesz circles.
Previously, in the City Hall case:
- Fidesz-linked news outlet 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.
- Mayor Karácsony denied any such intentions to sell it and he filed a police report, too. His deputy, Ambrus Kiss, also said it was nonsense that there had been an intention to sell.
- 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 partner] businessman Gyula Gansperger speaks of the city leadership’s corruption-like methods in property dealings.
- In response, Karácsony filed charges in connection with the “slanderous” tape, and denied any wrongdoing.
- A police investigation is also underway in another property dealing in a Fidesz-led district that is linked to the City Hall case along with its major players (such as Zsolt Berki).
- A photo depicting Bajnai and Gansperger together was published in the pro-Fidesz media.
Bajnai: Secret service methods
Soon after the aforementioned photo had been published, Bajnai released a statement claiming that it may have been taken this summer when he was observed “using secret service methods” while meeting with Gansperger. (This contradicts Karácsony who had previously said that the City Hall sale had been swept off the table last November).
Bajnai claims that “in the second part of the meeting, I was asked for my opinion on the political feasibility and chances of a development idea concerning Budapest City Hall. I first made it clear that I have no influence or play any kind of mediator role in this matter. During the discussion I also explained that in my view, an investment in a building with such symbolic importance would definitely come under political attack in the current irrational environment.
Finally, I stressed that regardless of the current situation, such a development could only be considered by decision-makers in the first place if there is a broad political consensus and in a fully transparent way,” Bajnai commented.
Newest recording contradicts Bajnai
On Friday, a new audio recording was released, featuring former left-liberal PM Gordon Bajnai, who can be heard talking to an unknown person about the interest of real estate developers in City Hall, and the intention of the Budapest municipality to move to a smaller and more modern building after a possible real estate development.
The former prime minister says in the recording that he spoke to a man who is far above Balázs Barts about the City Hall project, which could be Gergely Karácsony, but Bajnai doesn’t mention the name.
“They have an internal calculation that the whole municipality could be accommodated here, in a newly built modern office wing, and this could be developed into a hotel, office, or whatever kind of housing the developer has in mind,” Bajnai can be heard saying.
“All I can do is to signal this to [Karácsony’s legal advisor, and BVFK’s chairperson of the executive board Csaba] Tordai once again that I have heard that there is an intention to go on,” he also said.
Fact Telex highlights
that Budapest City Hall is definitely not as iconic of a building as, for example, the Parliament. It was built some 150 years ago, originally as army barracks, and its potential conversion and that it perhaps could be used better for other purposes was already a matter of discussion in the 2000s.
Some comments on the recording also appear to confirm that he was involved in talks too, despite his denial of it before the leak. “I know a lot of people there. […] I asked them what the situation was. […] About the City Hall project, I was told that there is an intention to turn it into a development,” he stated.
One name also mentioned on the tape, Gyula [Gansperger], whom Bajnai depicts as an old fellow compatriot of his, who asked whom he should contact about the real estate development plans for City Hall.
Karácsony suspects Russian involvement
The mayor once again labeled the case a smear campaign orchestrated by Fidesz, and said that pro-Putin oligarchs (meaning the Rahimkulov family) may additionally be involved.
Megdet Rahimkulov arrived
to Hungary after the regime change. He quickly became the richest person in Hungary. Although he returned to Russia some ten years ago, the combined wealth of his two sons estimated to be twice that of Viktor Orbán’s fast-emerging childhood friend, Lőrinc Mészáros. His family’s involvement was already suggested before as one of the potential buyers of the building.
Karácsony similarly described the recordings to have been made with secret service methods, and labeled them “partly manipulated, partly lies,” made with Gyula Gansperger’s steady presence.
Unlike Bajnai, Karácsony describes Gansperger as “a former accountant of Fidesz, a key figure in the Fidesz headquarters scandal, the first Orbán-led government’s chief private broker and a business associate of the creditor [Orbán’s unofficial advisor], Árpád Habony.”
The mayor claims that the Russian thread is the novelty of the case, arguing that “the whole story strongly resembles a classic, planned Russian disinformation campaign technique aimed to confuse people,” and that he finds it “hard to imagine that a conversation in the Rahimkulovs’ office, the richest family in Hungary, who are implementing a major investment project with Fidesz’s support and have many ties to the Russian state, could have been secretly recorded without the knowledge or against the will of the Russian secret service, and thus the Putin regime.”
Karácsony concludes by explaining that Russia’s attempts to meddle in the free world’s elections in the interests of corrupt local political actors, have become a regular feature recently, and we are facing the same situation now and will have to face it in the pre-election fight of the coming months.
featured photo: Gordon Bajnai earlier; via Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI