Hungary’s opposition parties on Thursday called on Justice Minister Judit Varga to step down in the wake of bribery allegations against a former senior ministry official.
Pál Völner resigned as state secretary on Tuesday after the chief prosecutor’s office asked parliament to lift his immunity so he can defend himself against charges of receiving bribes on a regular basis.
At an online press conference held in front of the justice ministry, the opposition Momentum, Párbeszéd, Jobbik, LMP, Democratic Coalition (DK) and MSZP (Socialists) parties, along with the Everyone’s Hungary Movement (MMM), called on Völner to also step down as a lawmaker.
Noting that Thursday marked International Anti-Corruption Day, Momentum board member Miklós Hajnal said “systemic corruption” in Hungary was “also visible from the inside, not just at the tip of the iceberg”.
They are practically running a criminal organization within the ministry, and the state is practically being controlled by the Fidesz mafia,”
he insisted. Hajnal said the opposition would “cleanse” every ministry if it won next year’s general election and aimed to ensure that Hungary was “not the European champion of corruption”.
Párbeszéd’s Bence Tordai said two other MPs of ruling Fidesz, György Simonka and István Boldog, faced “similar allegations to Völner”, but “their parliamentary seats are the key to maintaining Fidesz’s two-thirds majority”.
György Szilágyi of Jobbik said “the most shocking thing” was that Hungary “has become the most corrupt country in the European Union”.
LMP group leader László Lóránt Keresztes noted that Völner is suspected of having received “millions of forints” in bribes from the president of the branch of bailiffs over a sustained period of time. “Until the threads of corruption are investigated, the repossessions need to be suspended,” he said. Keresztes added that because Völner had also been in charge of approving surveillance requests, “we must assume that he also handled those in a corrupt manner.”
Socialist lawmaker Ildikó Borbély Bangó called for details of the case surrounding Völner to be declassified. She wanted to know whether Völner had “provided services to certain individuals in other areas” and if the bribes in question had “also ended up in other places”.
DK’s László Varju said Völner’s asset declaration was not a reliable source of information in the investigation against him, arguing that he and his family “hid their illegally-acquired wealth in the business empire they own”.
Everyone’s Hungary (MMM) board member Katalin Lukácsi, who spoke on behalf of Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition alliance’s prime ministerial candidate, speculated that the justice minister and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had been aware of Völner’s actions. “In a happy country the justice ministry is the headquarters of honour, but in Hungary it’s just another subcontractor of the crime syndicate led by Viktor Orbán,” she said.
Fidesz: Left-wing should examine itself
In response, the ruling Fidesz party said that while corruption among the ranks of the left wing had happened with impunity, Völner was prepared to clear his name in court.
“The left wing should examine itself: [Momentum’s] Katalin Cseh is up to the eyes in a corruption scandal, a mafia is operating at the Metropolitan Council, and the cronies of [ex-premiers Ferenc] Gyurcsány and [Gordon] Bajnai are acquiring real properties in Budapest for bribes,” Fidesz said in a statement.
While the left wing has shown no intention of investigating its cases, Völner is prepared to clear his name, and pro-government MPs will vote to lift his immunity to enable him to do so, Fidesz said.
In the featured photo: Justice Minister Judit Varga. Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI