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The committee set up by the Budapest Assembly to investigate what many dub as the City Hall case, began working with public hearings. KDNP’s former deputy mayor admitted to have met one of the key figures. A Fidesz mayor accused the opposition-majority committee of hindering the truth. Meanwhile, Mayor Karácsony considers it obvious that the case is only politically motivated, and that the commission system, a.k.a. corruption in City Hall, is non-existent.

The City Hall case is based on the pro-Fidesz media’s publication of secretly-made recordings centering around talks about the sale of Budapest City Hall. While Karácsony admitted that a sale was only an option that was taken off the table, he also consistently denies any wrongdoing. The case is just too complex to sum it up in a few sentences, but by now its focus has somewhat shifted to a related yet different question about the alleged commission system (a.k.a. corruption) in practice with Budapest Municipality property sales. While ruling Fidesz politicians pressed several charges in connection with the cases,  several of those involved, such as Gyula Gansperger, an important background figure in the first Orbán administration, may be linked to Fidesz circles too.

While the government side seeks to depict the case as proof of the opposition’s corruption or of Mayor Karácsony’s incompetence (for not knowing about the background dealings), the opposition labels it a politically motivated smear campaign of the ruling forces.

No wrongdoing has been proven yet, but a police investigation has begun.

Lately, an investigative committee was set up for fact-finding purposes. The body is headed by Fidesz’s Péter Kovács and has an opposition majority.

Opposition member: politically motivated scam

  • Budapest Capital City Property Management Center (BVFK) board member, Csaba Tordai, said he attended the November 2020 cabinet meeting, where the use of City Hall was discussed. He said the submission discussed by the cabinet outlined the sale of City Hall as a theoretical possibility, but the cabinet clearly didn’t support it. He said,

“…what is going on here is clearly a political party scam.”

  • Incumbent Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss said that it isn’t true that he was a member of the “commission system running the capital” and that he had accepted bribes from anyone. He added that he had not met any real estate investors. He noted that people he did not know were talking about him on the tapes, people he didn’t know; he has also filed a police repor.
  • Former PM Gordon Bajnai sent a letter in which he insists that the recordings were illegally-made and manipulated. He claimed that the police investigation, initiated by him, is well underway.
  • According to Csaba Horváth (MSZP), there is no fact or document in the hands of the committee that would confirm the existence of a “commission system.” He labeled the case a theatrical production intended to influence the parliamentary elections.

Fidesz: Committee report ready before hearing

  •  (Fidesz-backed) former mayor István Tarlós refused to turn up at the hearing. He said “what the Karácsony clique doing is nothing more than a feeble attempt to re-master the story after a series of lies and self-contradictions, and to put the events in a different context from the original.” According to Tarlós, it is not known what could have happened, and perhaps the investigative authorities will find something, because the committee investigating the case is unlikely to be in this report. He added that the main issue in this story is not the sale of real estate, but how the system of real estate sales is now operating in city hall, and how city hall operates at all.
  • Committee chairman Péter Kovács (Fidesz-KDNP) said the committee isn’t making any progress because left-wing MPs were blocking fact-finding. He accused the opposition majority to have already fabricated the committee’s final report.
  • Fidesz group leader in the Budapest Assembly, Zsolt Láng, argued that no one had claimed that there was a commission system in operation at City Hall, but that witnesses had testified to this, and that the committee was only trying to clarify what it had heard in the media and from witnesses.
  • On the other hand, ruling Christian Democrats’ (KDNP) deputy mayor between 2010 and 2019, Gábor Bagdy, said he did know and meet Zsolt Berki (who is one of the key figures being the owner of Northern Rock, a company without any employees or revenue, who 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 subject- although it wasn’t about an actual purchase) speaking 3-4 times about property purchases.

Fact

Meanwhile, Index‘s domestic political editor announced he would step down, referring to the governing side’s increasing political pressure on the media outlet. Actually, it was Index to have first burst open the case by publishing the allegations. (Index‘s previous staff decided to leave the paper for fear of losing independence after Fidesz-linked figures appeared in the management. They later founded Telex). Now, when explaining his departure, Balázs Gabay explicitly refers to the City Hall case. “For me it seems obvious that in this case Index was used by someone as a platform to launch a political attack on opponents.”

Karácsony: A kind of confession 

In reference to a scheduling conflict, the Budapest mayor didn’t appear before the meeting; however, he promised to turn up at the next one.

In an ironic Facebook post, Gergely Karácsony refers to both Bagdy (who admitted to having met with one of the case’s key figures) and Láng’s statement, which in his view, confirmed that he was telling the truth regarding the non-existence of the ‘commission system’ and the potential sale of City Hall.

featured image Láng and Bagdy earlier; via Márton Mónus/mti