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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 charity, work. Many suppose political motivation is behind the authorities’ rigor towards them. 

In total, NAV debited their account by some HUF 246 million (EUR 684,000). In a Facebook post, MET also complains that the Tax Authority moved immediately without waiting for the case to go through all legal forums or MET receiving the judgement. As a result, MET asked for immediate legal protection.

According to the religious association, they don’t receive the state subsidies they are entitled to, that is why they cannot pay the contributions and other debts. Government organizations, for example, fail to pay the support coming in from the 1% offers (in Hungary, taxpayers can request that 1% of their previous year’s paid PIT be given to a non-profit organization, while an additional 1% may be given to a religious organization). MET calculates the amount the Hungarian state owes them to be HUF 6 billion (EUR 16.7 million) in total. Of this amount, only some HUF 1 billion has been paid out, a compensation ruled in their favor by ECHR in 2017. As a consequence, MET is still waging several lawsuits against governmental bodies.

Fact

With the Religious Law that went into effect in 2011, the Orbán government stripped some 300 mostly smaller churches and religious groups of their legal status, and as a result, of access to state-endorsed funding programs and subsidies. MET was one of those. Later, both the Constitutional Court (AB) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the law violates freedom of religion and should be amended. None of the rulings have since been implemented, and MET’s status has been up in the air ever since. AB later additionally ruled that MET’s legal status should be arranged, something the government still hasn’t done. Meanwhile, in a rather unforeseen turn earlier in February, NAV gave back MET its technical number thanks to which the aforementioned 1% contributions can be offered from this year on. Their legal status, however, is still not settled.

The government, however, denies that it would owe MET any money, saying that it gets state support for the institutions it runs. State secretary for church and ethnic relations Miklós Soltész stated that from 2010, the total amount of state money came to HUF 22.8 billion (EUR 63.3 million). Other government officials also say that the money invested in MET hasn’t provided a concrete return.

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 some 18,000 followers.

Many suppose the government’s dislike of MET and Oltalom leader Gábor Iványi is behind the authorities’ ‘special attention.’ Iványi, a former liberal (SZDSZ) politician active until 2002, back then 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. He once said for example: “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, about Orbán’s policies Iványi once said “what he does is against the teachings of Christ.” Iványi regularly appears in government-critical demonstrations too.

This is not the first time they’ve recently made it to the news due to finances and/or a clash with the authorities. Referring to the coronavirus, in September the government halved their funding, causing uproar while with other spheres it proved rather generous. And Public Utilities also wanted to switched off the gas in their Dankó Str. (Budapest’s 9th district) homeless shelter due to unpaid bills, something that resulted in demonstrations and the authorities backing off.

In a tense interview with liberal 24.hu, Iványi now says that if they can’t come to terms with the tax authority, they won’t be able to pay salaries in March. He claims he doesn’t consider the state’s money as a donation, as these organizations are in fact taking over the duties the state fails to do. Besides noting that with these activities the government penalizes the poor, he blames the Prime Minister for the current situation. “[It is] Sin, cynicism, meanness the way they deal with the cause of the poor, the way they deal with the cause of refugees, how they waste public property, how they produce laws to legalize their villainies. They are ruthless. And at the peak of the madness, there is the prime minister sitting enthroned without any control,” he said angrily.

featured image: Iványi in 2014; via János Marjai/MTI