There are still a lot of question marks over MP and Deputy Minister of Justice Pál Völner’s suspected corruption case, but several details are emerging from press reports. The investigation has been going on for several months and thousands of pages of wiretap transcripts are available. According to the pro-Fidesz media, personal revenge might be behind the case.
It came as a shock when state secretary and deputy justice minister, Pál Völner, resigned on Tuesday after the chief prosecutor’s office asked parliament to lift his immunity due to suspicion of accepting bribes. According to the charges, Völner received sums of 2-5 million forints (EUR 5,500-13,700) from the president of the branch of bailiffs over a sustained period of time in exchange for “handling specific things for him.”
Several details of the case are still unclear, but according to press reports, the prosecution is already working on declassifying the documents of the criminal proceedings.
So far it seems the corruption case centers around a circle of suspects led by György Schadl, head of the Hungarian Court Bailiffs Chamber, who were illegally “selling” bailiff positions for money while a kickback was paid to state secretary, Pál Völner, who was also the commissioner responsible for the sector since 2019.
According to hvg.hu, the suspects’ phones have been monitored by the authorities for several months, and thousands of pages of evidence, mostly wiretap transcripts, have been collected in the course of the investigation.
The telephone tapping – directly or indirectly – concerned a very wide range of people, and eventually led the police to Völner.
There are currently a total of twelve suspects in the case – eight of them are bailiffs and one is a deputy bailiff. Six suspects are currently in custody and one person is under house arrest.
The suspected bailiffs were genuinely shocked about the wiretapping and the investigation launched against them, hvg writes, because for a long time they felt invincible with the deputy justice minister behind their backs.
The whole scandal dates back to mid-November when tabloid Blikk reported (without naming the person concerned) that a criminal investigation was being launched against a senior member of the branch of bailiffs and his wife, who is also a bailiff. Furthermore, they were both arrested by police at the Budapest airport just before their departure to Dubai. Following the surfacing of the news, however, there was a press blackout on the issue, and for a long time, little else was known about the case.
Independent MP Ákos Hadházy, known for his battle against corruption in Hungary, was the one who later broke the silence. Hadházy said that based on the property deeds, it seems the prosecutor’s office is likely investigating György Schadl’s case as a seizure on the properties of the head of the branch of bailiffs and his wife had been implicated.
Later in an interview, Hadházy also said that Schadl may have accepted bribes for bailiff’s jobs, and that the trails lead to the highest level of the Ministry of Justice.
How the corruption case came to the attention of the investigating authorities is still a mystery.
In an article published a day before Völner’s name hit the news, pro-government news site origo.hu claimed that personal revenge might be behind Schadl’s arrest. Hadházy shares a similar view, as according to him, an acquaintance of a senior Fidesz politician paid a substantial sum to get into the business, but was eventually replaced by someone with a better connection. The businessman, who felt cheated, then filed a criminal complaint, the independent MP says.
For the time being, this is only speculation, but one thing is certain: Hungary’s chief prosecutor’s request to lift the deputy justice minister’s immunity triggered a huge political backlash and could seriously shake public trust.
Additionally, if the suspicion that Völner has indeed regularly accepted bribes is confirmed, his superior, justice minister Judit Varga is also likely to find herself in a difficult position. This could lead to her resignation as well, just like the opposition parties have already demanded.
Less than six months ahead of next year’s general elections this could have unforeseeable consequences for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party.
Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI