Six months after the Pegasus surveillance scandal hit the headlines, a journalist was finally able to ask Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the case during a press conference. In his evasive answer, Orbán emphasized that Hungary, just as the Hungarian secret services, are governed by the rule of law.
As we have previously reported, Emmanuel Macron visited Budapest yesterday. During his stay, the French president had talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and several opposition politicians such as Péter Márki-Zay, Gergely Karácsony, Anna Donáth, and Klára Dobrev.
The same day, during the joint press conference of the Visegrad Group (V4) leaders and Macron- in accordance with diplomatic customs – the French press was able to address questions to the Hungarian Prime Minister. A reporter of Le Monde quickly seized the opportunity to ask Orbán about the Pegasus scandal. In his question, the French journalist even mentioned the recently-surfaced news about President János Áder’s bodyguards who were allegedly also targeted by the military-grade spyware.
The question was particularly piquant, because prior to that, no journalist had the opportunity to ask the Hungarian Prime Minister about the scandal that broke six months ago back in July. The Hungarian prime minister does not often stand in front of the press, he is only faced with questions in his weekly interviews for the state radio. But there he has never once been asked about the surveillance scandal.
The Prime Minister gave a rather evasive answer.
Orbán said that Hungary, along with its secret services, was governed by the rule of law. “When we started out in politics, this was not the case, since we come from the resistance to the communist regime,” the prime minister said, referring to the times before Hungary’s democratic transition in 1989-1990.
The Pegasus Scandal
It broke headlines in July that thanks to broad, international cooperation, in which Hungarian investigative and whistleblower platform Direkt36 also participated, it was discovered that multiple national governments were actively using Pegasus to target political opponents, primarily journalists, politicians, and businessmen.
Ever since, suspicion against the Fidesz government has been very strong, taking into account that software manufacturer NSO only offers its services to national authorities, while Pegasus operations began after Orbán’s national security expert had personally met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and Pegasus can only be bought with the Israeli Defense Ministry’s approval.
The Hungarian portal has since been publishing the results of their ongoing investigations. According to our current knowledge, these people were among the 300 or so Hungarians potentially targeted by Pegasus:
- Photojournalist Dániel Németh who has been documenting luxury trips of pro-government businessmen and politicians, such as that of Foreign Minister Szijjártó on László Szíjj’s yacht.
- Four journalists: two employees of investigative outlet Direkt36, a former journalist of liberal weekly HVG, as well as a fourth journalist who has chosen to remain anonymous.
- A Hungarian photographer who collaborated with an American journalist covering the Russian-led International Investment Bank’s affairs in Budapest.
- One of Central European University’s international students, Adrien Beauduin, who was arrested in 2018 for taking part in an anti-government protest.
- Zoltán Varga, owner of Central Media Group Plc. (publisher of 24.hu among other outlets), who has allegedly faced multiple attacks from government circles, as well as other businessmen who joined Varga at a dinner meeting in 2018.
- Opposition media owner and former Socialist (MSZP) politician, Zsolt Páva.
- The son of former pro-Fidesz oligarch, Lajos Simicska, and a close confidante of Simicska’s. Simicska initiated an open media campaign against the government during the elections of 2018.
- Gödöllő’s (opposition-backed) independent mayor, György Gémesi (formerly centrist MDF’s politician).
- Renowned high-profile lawyer, János Bánáti.
- Attila Chikán, an economics professor and former Minister of the Economy in the first Orbán administration, known for becoming critical of the Fidesz leader.
- Former state secretary of Orbán, Attila Aszódi, who got into conflict with the government as the Russians were pushing for the Paks expansion construction’s premature start, which Aszódi opposed.
- An unnamed technical counterintelligence officer of the Special Service for National Security (NBSZ).
- Former deputy head of the Counter-Terrorism Center (TEK), Zsolt Bodnár, who became a target after he had to leave the elite police force in 2018, following an inner (perhaps also political) conflict.
- A pilot who informed the media about Fidesz circle’s private jet trips.
- Two former leaders of Hungary’s internal security intelligence agency under the former Ferenc Gyurcsány-led government also appear on the list of targets.
- The bodyguards of President János Áder and his family have also been targeted by Pegasus.
Featured photo by Benko Vivien Cher/PM’s Press Office/MTI