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US Senators Address Cornstein over Russian IIB Bank and Freedom of Press

Ábrahám Vass 2019.09.26.

Nine US senators and two Congressmen from the Democratic Party, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, addressed the US ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein, calling on him “to uphold American democratic values and security interests when dealing with the autocratic government of Viktor Orbán, whose embrace of Russia and anti-democratic actions are cause for considerable concern.”

In the letter, also forwarded to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they wrote that they’re “deeply troubled” about Russia’s International Investment Bank’s (IIB) move to Budapest. According to them, the IIB “is widely seen as an arm of the Russian secret service and whose chairman has longstanding ties to Russian intelligence.”

In addition to the immunity law approved by Parliament this spring, Cornstein’s earlier claims are also mentioned. He claimed he was given guarantees that IIB’s staff wouldn’t get immunity and would be properly screened. Gergely Gulyás, however, recently contradicted this, as the PMO Chief insisted that no such assurances were made.

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Freedom of press and “PM Orbán’s assault” on it is the other highlight of the letter. They state that they applaud the return of independent news broadcast to Hungary via Liberty Radio. It is for this reason that they are “deeply troubled” by media reports that Cornstein sought “to gain assurances from the agency that it would avoid any negative stories or investigative journalism regarding Hungary.”

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The senators then concluded their letter with eight questions for Cornstein:

  1. Did the United States communicate to Hungarian authorities its opposition to the relocation of the IIB from Moscow to Budapest, the capital of a NATO ally?
  2. Did Prime Minister Viktor Orbán assure you that the IBB’s employees would not automatically be granted immunity and that all visa applicants would be thoroughly screened by Hungary’s intelligence services? If so, when did he make this assurance and were these assurances made by any other Hungarian government official to you or to any other U.S. personnel at our Embassy?
  3. Does the U.S. Embassy assess that the Hungarian intelligence services are capable of implementing thorough screening and monitoring of potential Russian intelligence personnel in the country? If so, do they have the will to conduct such screening?
  4. Have the Hungarian intelligence services cooperated with U.S. intelligence in monitoring the activities of the IIB and its personnel currently in Hungary?
  5. Do you have concerns about intelligence cooperation with the Hungarian government given the Hungarian government’s relationship with Moscow?
  6. Do you agree with the Hungarian government’s assessment that the IIB is not a Russian bank, particularly in light of the institution’s decision-making structure?
  7. Did you or any of your staff have any meetings with representatives of the USAGM or RFE/RL about plans to return broadcasting to Hungary?  If so, did you or any of your staff in any way try to shape or restrict the content of Liberty Radio broadcasts into Europe?
  8. What has the U.S. Embassy under your tenure done to push back against free media intimidation by the Orbán government?

The letter in its entirety can be read here.

featured image: illustration; via Viktor Orbán- Facebook