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Several small markets have sprouted up recently in the villages of Fidesz MP and former state secretary Zsolt Szabó’s constituency around Gyöngyös and Hatvan (Heves county). The projects independent MP Ákos Hadházy drew attention to, are financed from EU funds and both their pricing and the bidding processes have led many to suspect fraud.

In total, there are eight marketplaces that have been or are being built in a 20-kilometer radius for a total of HUF 277 million (EUR 771,300), all financed by the European Union’s Regional and Municipal Development Operative Program (TOP).

The case has been put on the agenda by independent (formerly Fidesz and LMP politician) Ákos Hadházy, one of the loudest and most active anti-corruption fighters in domestic politics. The strange and expensive market developments are exclusively located in Fidesz MP Zsolt Szabó’s constituency around Hatvan, south of Gyöngyös (Heves 3rd). Apart from the usual parliamentary jobs and others, Szabó also served as state secretary in the Ministry of National Development between 2014 and 2018.

Fact

Szabó has been in media headlines of news outlets not under the government’s influence many times due to his suspicious dealings. Ahead of the 2018 elections, then gov’t-critical Magyar Nemzet showed documents about his wife’s offshore account where she allegedly kept some HUF 1.2 billion (EUR 3.3 million), the existence of which Szabó denies (an investigation is underway). In another ongoing investigation he is suspected to have influenced the results of other TOP tenders, a case that very much resembles a similar investigation against another Fidesz MP, István Boldog. According to the charges, those who were promised to receive the funding undertook to entrust the companies favored by the politicians in return. Lately, Hungary’s best known triathlete Csaba Kuttor decided to step down from the federation after Szabó took over the leadership. The three-time Olympian suggested that Szabó didn’t know anything about the sport, only made it there through favoritism and power plays, and “the first 50 results of a Google search on his name are exclusively about corruption.”

Now Hadházy suspects something similar in this case, too. He commented that these market developments fit together with the other TOP tenders that seem to be linked to corruption, but the funds dissappearing during kindergarten extensions and modernizations are less obvious.

Liberal 24.hu in its lengthy onsite report also claimed that in comparison to other similar TOP projects nearby, these markets seem fairly over-priced. The tenders were announced by the Heves Project Regional Economic Development Ltd. (HPRG), which organizes public procurements in most of the constituency. According to the minutes of a board meeting, the mayor of Ludas revealed that this company has been in fact set up purposefully by Szabó so that the 36 municipalities of his constituency “would be in one hand.” Hadházy suspects favoritism in the case of those winning the implementation too, among them a company that previously produced shows for state media MTVA.

Mayors deny over-pricing

In the case of Atkár, Hadházy demonstrated the detailed budget of the project cost HUF 25.8 million (EUR 71,900) in total. Instead of ten sales stalls, three have been completed and the stone paving cost HUF 12,500 (EUR 35) per sqm while the container restroom was HUF 3.5 million (EUR 9,750). In this case, the mayor commented that in addition to the construction costs, planning and permit expenses, project management tasks, public works, and the publicity required by the EU were to blame for the price.

The Atkár market; image by Ákos Hadházy’s Facebook page

In Tarnaörs, not even the landscaping works are fully completed although the project’s target date has long expired and the money has run out.

In Ludas, a village with some 730 residents, the project (consisting of a 150 sqm, semi-paved area with four stalls, a 4 sqm fenced section, and a restroom already in decline) cost some HUF 25 million (EUR 69,700). Here the village’s Fidesz mayor rebuffed corruption allegations and labeled Hadházy’s claims as a “disgraceful attack,” explaining that the market has been made this small because people “didn’t want a gigantic sized” one.

In the case of Boconád, the market includes three tables, a container restroom, a small parking lot, which all amounted to some HUF 20 million (EUR 55,700). According to the mayor’s explanation, prices in the construction industry were going up a lot, additionally pointing to the mandatory electric car charger and the landscaping and technical permits that had to be obtained. “What is expensive or what is cheap is relative,” he also commented.

One of the container restrooms. Image by Ákos Hadházy’s Facebook page

Fidesz’s Zsolt Szabó has yet to comment on the matter.

featured image: the market in Ludas; via Ákos Hadházy’s Facebook page