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Dozens of National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) employees showed up at the buildings of the Gábor Iványi-led Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET) and Oltalom (Shelter) Charity Association on Budapest’s Dankó Street on Monday, where they searched for “evidence and assets.” The search was initiated by the Investigation Department after a criminal complaint was filed on suspicion of “large-scale budgetary fraud,” NAV later said in a statement. The adjacent buildings also house a homeless shelter, a hospital, and a college. The conflict between the state and the church began when the Orbán government revoked the church status of several organizations previously registered as “churches,” depriving them of billions of forints in funding.

This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute. Translated by Júlia Tar.

“Over the course of the criminal proceedings, the necessity of locating and seizing a set of documents emerged,” NAV said while still investigating the offices of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship and the Oltalom Charity Association, adding that it could not release further details due to the ongoing investigation.

The Oltalom Charity Association announced on its website on February 22nd last year that due to financial difficulties, they owed NAV 246 million forints (EUR 690,000) in unpaid payroll taxes which included a 90 million forint penalty for delay.

This harms not only the state budget but also individual employees. In such a case, depending on the employer’s violation, the health care of the affected employees could be at risk, and there may be problems concerning their future pensions.

We are incapable of paying back in the form of either a tax or debt repayment the amount we are entitled to but have not received over the past several years,”

the charity said.

“Let us emphasize that with the money taken away from us we do not fund our church’s religious activities, but give the poorest hope to recover, live a dignified life, and build a future.”

The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET), which was registered as a church for more than forty years, had its church status revoked by the government after 2012. From then on they did not even receive the 1% of personal income tax that can be donated to churches until last year when they got their ‘technical’ number back. (A technical number is a 4-digit identification number assigned by the tax authority to recognized churches. If a church wants to claim the 1% donation, it must have a technical number – ed.) Over the past decade, MET has actually accumulated significant debts to utilities, and in February last year, NAV fined some of the organization’s entities a total of 246.13 million forints. For years, the head of MET has repeatedly stated that they cannot pay their debts because they are not receiving the subsidies they are entitled to from the Hungarian state.

Fact

The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET) runs a number of schools and social institutions in Budapest and across the country, mostly in poor areas. Oltalom (Shelter) Charity Society, belonging to MET, provides material and spiritual assistance to vulnerable children, the homeless, the sick, and the lonely since 1989. Their activities include, among other things: social work, family care, food, in-kind and financial assistance, and healthcare; psychological care and legal assistance, as well as occupational therapy, activities related to the support of minorities in Hungary and Hungarians in other countries, and child protection. MET and its charity organizations employ some 1,000 people, while the church itself has approximately 18,000 followers.

Iványi now told Telex that the state owes them nearly 12 billion forints. They also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and from 2017 they received compensation of 1 billion forints, but the Strasbourg panel also ruled that the Hungarian church law violates the European Convention on Human Rights. In Hungary, the Constitutional Court has twice ruled that Parliament violated the Constitution by failing to regulate the status of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship.

In addition, the Ministry of Public Education did not sign a contract with them last year, depriving them of another 95 million forints.

Iványi believes Viktor Orbán’s personal revenge is behind their disabling, as he has repeatedly criticized Orbán and his name had also been mentioned as a possible opposition candidate for president in recent weeks.

Fact

Gábor Iványi, a former liberal (SZDSZ) politician active until 2002, had baptized two of Viktor Orbán’s eldest children. However, he has long been critical of the PM and has often publicly shared his opinion as well. For example, he once said: “I thought we both wanted to eliminate the one-party system and build a democracy. Today I know it was just a dream of mine, I’m disappointed in him.” In addition, Iványi once said about Orbán’s policies: “what he does is against the teachings of Christ.” Iványi regularly appears in government-critical demonstrations, too. Recently, Iványi’s name was mentioned among the opposition’s potential candidates for president of Hungary. He would have accepted the nomination, but in the end the opposition alliance chose economist Péter Róna instead.

Demonstrations began on the spot

From 6 p.m., the opposition parties organized a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the MET. András Jámbor, deputy candidate of the affected Budapest district, the first speaker, called the case “shameful.” “There should be a NAV investigation in Felcsút (Orbán’s hometown – ed.) with such a force. In Józsefváros (name of the Budapest district – ed.), a new scandal is created at every election. We are fighting for this force to disappear from Józsefváros and the whole country. Don’t bully those who do something for the community, bully those who steal the money!”

The mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, emphasized on the spot:

Gábor Iványi, the head of the MET, embodies the conscience of the Hungarian nation.”

The mayor said he believed the reason why Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was “bothered by” Iványi was that the pastor “reminds him of the democrat he once used to be, who betrayed everything he once stood for, and who today represents his own interests instead of those of the public.”

Other opposition politicians called “the raid on the office of a 70-year-old pastor who helps the homeless a conceptual crackdown and a vendetta.”

All parties of the opposition coalition participated in the demonstration.

Orbán Critic Iványi's Small Church Turns to Supreme Court After Gigantic State Fine
Orbán Critic Iványi's Small Church Turns to Supreme Court After Gigantic State Fine

Gábor Iványi’s Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET) is turning to the Supreme Court (Kúria) after the Tax Authority (NAV) debited their tax account due to owed payments. MET says they haven’t received the state subsidies they would be entitled to, hence they couldn’t pay their taxes and bills, while this recent ruling endangers their daily, mostly […]Continue reading

Iványi presented the minutes of the search compiled by the tax authority, which revealed that the authority had seized computers and documents from several of the MET’s schools and elderly care homes across the country. “We don’t know what they were looking for, but it is certain that they will find it,” he said, adding that he believed NAV’s operation was “a personal goal.”

“We want to live in a country where we won’t have to be afraid anymore,” Iványi said. “Where laws aren’t passed on Christmas Eve or during the night, where elections don’t involve cheating and where the press isn’t taken over in its entirety.”

Sources: Telex, Index, MTI

Featured image via Magyar Hang


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