Correspondence course

How have Gyurcsány and his party blackmailed one another?

/ 2009.05.21., csütörtök 12:00 /

Even national security experts from the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSP) are examining certain letters which have spread like samizdat and which, though written before the March party congress, have predicted Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s resignation, the influence Russia has gained in Mol, Hungary’s oil and gas company, and the possibility of a hitman turning state’s evidence. Now that these nightmare visions have partially become reality, Heti Válasz believes it is time to place these significant documents under a critical magnifying glass.

"This is an open letter, yet an anonymous one. That likely detracts a great deal from its credibility. I have no future, only a past. Nor do I have a family any more, one that I might use as a reason for not daring to speak out openly. It's just that I know you because I've worked with you for such a long time." So goes the missive hidden in a corner of the internet and addressed to a certain Mr Prime Minister (or Dear Feri). Accessible at www.freewebs.com/beszelo, the letter found its way from an unknown sender into the in boxes of several news editors signed "Your former friend, Anonymous". The document, also making the rounds among the MSP leadership, was initially picked apart on the Reakció blog, a familiar outlet for the centre-right civic underground - weeks after the congress on 21 March that accompanied Ferenc Gyurcsány's resignation - but until then there had been no publication to free the pamphlet from its internet captivity.

Actually, the letter is a clear sign of an eroding MSP. With the intention of uncovering Mr Gyurcsány's exercise of power, it lists with insider confidence cases of co-operation between the secret service and the far right as well as stages of "hushing" socialist rivals. The credibility of the piece is reinforced by a series of predictions that have come true since they were made in mid-February - such trifles as Mr Gyurcsány's departure and the rapid Russian incursion into Mol, Hungary's oil and gas company. Further, the writer, who hides behind the name Anonymous, identifies himself at numerous points: he mentions a shared Young Communist League (YCL) experience with Mr Gyurcsány from January 1989 and makes it clear that he is now disappointed with the (former) prime minister. Meanwhile, he flaunts his national security experience and admits "yesterday" (the day of the last parliamentary sitting before the piece was posted) watching from the Parliament gallery as his boss engaged in his rhetorical writhing. Additionally, it turns out that he has a favourite "parable" by writer György Moldova, which says "the reason the ship won't even budge an inch is that some idiot has fixed the full steam power of the engine to the ship's horn".

Based on these remarks, Reakció assumed that the author was Ferenc Juhász, once a vice chair in the MSP and now a member of Parliament's national security committee. The former defence minister had been first secretary of the YCL in northeastern Hungary's Szabolcs-Szatmár County, which is to say he might well have attended the same meeting of party activists with Mr Gyurcsány, who was elected secretary of the YCL central committee in January 1989. Our hero's seat as MSP vice chair was actually vacated in spring 2008 since the party chair had bequeathed the running of the organisation to Mónika Lamperth. However, Parliament video recordings show that Mr Juhász was absent from the chamber while the PM was speaking on 16 February, though he did dash in later (and therefore might even have seen the "writhing" from the gallery). And one more key moment. During an April committee hearing of secret service minister nominee Ádám Ficsor, Mr Juhász asked him to depoliticise the security services, to involve the opposition and to work actively - indeed paraphrasing his "favourite" expression by Moldova: "it is my express wish that there be less steam for the whistle and lots of steam for the wheels".

Given this, all that can be said is that if the letter writer was not the former MSP vice chair, then it could only have been someone who wished to divert suspicion to Mr Juhász. When the former minister was contacted for comment, a staffmember told us: "Mr Juhász has withdrawn from party politics and he does not wish to alter the situation." (Still, he has not left the seat on the MSP executive board which he won in March.) Absent a response, it can only be maintained that the document excerpted below, which has the destructive potential of Mr Gyurcsány's leaked Balatonőszöd speech in 2006, bears the marks of a decision maker with experience of socialist internal affairs and - as those close to the matter have confirmed to this paper - the party's secret service specialists are likewise "familiar with" this memorandum and are "studying" it. This is much like the collection of writings placed anonymously on www.eastcasablanca.bravejournal.com on 4 March (we were given advanced e-mail warning by our socialist informants that the blog had been completed); it similarly predicts Mr Gyurcsány's fall - 17 days later - as well as the business tactics Russia's Gazprom has had in store for Hungary.

In the following paragraph, the parts of the two internet letters which would most seem to hold water (and are partly borne out by actual events) are placed under critical scrutiny. I refer to Anonymous as Commentator - after a Hungarian word in the website he uses - and the author of the East Casablanca home page simply as East. Spelling errors have been corrected.

I. The Gazprom lobby

Commentator (mid-February):
Mr Prime Minister, will you be launching an investigation into the matter now being discussed by more and more in the inner circles? The one about how Gazprom and [Austrian oil and gas company] OMV lie behind the UD surveillance scandal [in which a private security firm was potentially engaged in illegal surveillance for political purposes].... If, in the near future, there is an acquisition after all - a weakened Mol is bought up by either OMV or Russia's Gazprom (directly or through a front company) or OTP [a major Hungarian bank] is snapped up by investors of the same ilk, how will you lot allay the suspicion that one of you was not representing Hungary's interests in the UD affair?

East (4 March):
The acquisition of Mol would have numerous benefits for the Russian side. Aside from a network of gas pipelines, Gazprom would acquire Mol's natural gas storage units, which is particularly important because if it fills them up it can put a complete stranglehold on US-friendly Ukraine. After all, come the next gas war, it wouldn't matter if the Russians shut off the gas. They could replace the amount Europe was missing with reserves from Mol's improved storage facilities.     

»One of these transactions was completed - at least partially - on 30 March: a front company called Surgutneftegaz, or Surgut for short (the only Russian oil concern that had not yet expanded abroad), purchased a 21.2 per cent stake in Mol from Austria's OMV. The timing was clearly not independent of Hungary's stormy domestic politics: Mr Gyurcsány had resigned from his post as party chief two days before.

»According to the Kommersant newspaper, Gyurcsány's departure meant that Russia had lost one of Gazprom's lobbyists. The paper also learned that the Russians will be able to use Surgut to gain inside information on the Nabucco project, which is being managed by Mol and represents an alternative to the Southern Stream gas pipeline. These assertions are given a certain weight by the fact that the owner of Kommersant, Alisher Usmanov, is at the same time the head of Gazprom affiliate Gazprominvestholding (and majority shareholder in the Arsenal football club).

»It turned out after the surveillance affair came to light that UD, which was nabbed by the National Security Office (NSO), had been acting, among other things, as MOL's internal intelligence agency during the Russian-initiated attempt to infiltrate that company in 2007. As we reported (Heti Válasz, 2 October 2008), UD had identified a solicitor's office in central Budapest as a lobbying centre for the operations against Mol. Secret service minister György Szilvásy, who would uncover UD's "crimes", even distributed the relevant telephone conversations to MSP members on Parliament's national security committee. Interestingly, though an investigation into the UD affair has been underway for over eight months, there is not a single suspect in this tale of intrigue.

»The news on 10 March was that Gazprom actually plans to expand the gas storage facility at Pusztaföldvár-Dús in southeastern Hungary's Békés County, though it is fated to co-operate with Mol on this front, as it owns the land.

II. The NSO steps in

Commentator:
Feri, I know how ... contact was kept up with quite a few prominent types in the radical right, that a key person in the [ultranationalist Hungarian] Guard leadership worked with the Military Security Office for years. I know that the pipe bomb Olympian [a former Olympic athlete accused of planning an explosion at a shopping mall] was being watched by the NSO for months. ... They decided not to detain anybody, except the one who made the bombs. Two weeks later, he was released, he's a free man, because 20 bombs in the boot of a car in the busiest part of the city is not really such a big deal. ... I know how you all tried to do in [Fidesz leader Viktor] Orbán before the 2006 elections. ... Kokó's [Olympic gold-winning boxer István Kovács's] bar is nice, isn't it, Mr Prime Minister? And they're all so photogenic there, all the more so when they're turning state's evidence...Is it so important that that Slovak hitman [Jozef] Rohác, the one everybody hates, should finally tell prosecutors that he was approached by [Fidesz MP and former national security minister] Ervin Demeter and his friends to blow up the homes of Fidesz and Smallholder politicians in 1998? ... That damned lie is so important that your vassals already announced months ago that if Rohác says what he knows, you lot won't hold him accountable for the deaths at Aranykéz Street [the 1998 murder of a businessman involving a bomb that killed three others and wounded some 20].

»István Dósa, the Holocaust-denying head of the Hungarian Guard, which split off from the far-right Jobbik party, retired on a military pension. His father was a brigadier general in Kádár's Workers Militia, and, as we reported two weeks ago, Dósa once told the Jobbik leadership that when he was named national commissioner of the Guard he was approached by the Military Security Office, but he supposedly declined to work with them. Nevertheless, Jobbik lore has it that Dósa was further radicalised because he was being blackmailed by the secret service.

»On 23 October 2008, the police actually did release Krisztián Tölgyesi, the bomb-making Olympian collared near Budapest's busy Western Railway Station (this was last year). The NSO's suspicion of terrorist activity, therefore, proved unsubstantiated. In the end, a proceeding was launched against the athlete for misuse of explosives.

»E-journal Stop.hu reached the conclusion on 9 May that Jozef Rohác, who had also been tied to the 1998 explosion on Budapest's Aranykéz Street, had made a deal with the police and thus no longer required celebrity solicitors. According to the investigation, at least ten attacks in 1998 can be pinned on the Rohác gang - among them, hits on the homes of Fidesz politician József Szájer and erstwhile Smallholders party chief József Torgyán. As early as the 2006 election campaign, the incumbent socialist party press was making an effort to imply that the opposition may have been involved in "blowing themselves up" as part of a campaign strategy. At the time, it was not Mr Rohác that was the key figure, but a certain Róbert M., similarly hinted at as the one behind attacks on party leaders - a man who also had himself photographed with Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán at István Kovacs's Box utca restaurant.

III. In focus: Szili and Kiss

Commentator:
Is it true that [Speaker of Parliament] Katalin Szili was blackmailed using a secret service method to exploit a personal secret that could be understood from a human standpoint but would not be expedient politically?... At least Pécs will have a proper mayor! Well, that's something, isn't it?... Is it true that you managed to put a check on [top socialist politician] Péter Kiss, when he got a bit too close to the Asia Center leadership, you know, the ones who are currently being hauled in for questioning on suspicion of fraud to the tune of one billion forints?          

»No one in the MSP has any proof that Katalin Szili was blackmailed, though our sources tell us that the Speaker was "pressured from above to run for mayor in Pécs". On 9 February, the e-journal Index, for example, was already speaking about Szili's candidacy as a matter of fact, supplementing this with the comment that "she is likely to end up doing very well and will also be able to build an excellent local base of support" - which certainly sounds out of date in the light of the resounding Fidesz victory in Pécs on 10 May. Ms Szili made it clear in a statement that nobody had pushed her to throw her hat in the ring: "there are no instructions from the party at all, either from below or above".

»The Budapest Police Command denied that an investigation is being conducted into the leadership of the Asia Center, a wholesale shopping hub in the city's District XV. The truth is, however, that the Asia Center's founder, Song Wu Qiang, was a member of the executive board of a public endowment called For Each Other - Each for the Other and that the prosecutor's office brought charges against the organisation because a circle of potential suspects had sold Far Eastern groceries after Hungary's EU accession in a billion-forint (several-million-euro) tax fraud scheme in 2004. It is also a fact that Péter Kiss has been an MP for Újpalota, the Budapest district where the Asia Center has been located since 1994, and that he has built up excellent relations with Lajos Galambos, who was previously head of the NSO and currently sits on the public endowment's board. However, none of this proves that Mr Kiss could be blackmailed for high-stakes fraud.

IV. The socialists after Gyurcsány

Commentator:
Mr Prime Minister, you must think we're complete idiots. You think we don't see what you're cooking up for us in March? ... You've done all the calculations and worked out that the 2010 ship has left. ... You know exactly what you need: the party chairmanship. On the day after the 2010 election is lost, you lot will re-organise/dissolve/re-form (tick one) the party. And that will be it for the old party faithful.       

East:
It is clear that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány will be unable to hold on to his political power.... They need a person who can keep the party under control when the old leader has left..., so that Gazprom's interests are not compromised. The only choice is Miklós Hagyó.

»It should be emphasised again that these quotes are from mid-February and 4 March, i.e. well before the start of Mr Gyurcsány's series of resignations. Political analysts then were not yet emboldened to talk about the dawn of a new political era - and certainly not to suggest that the PM would not be able to hold onto power.

»There is nothing to prove that Mr Gyurcsány left the party to Miklós Hagyó. However, there is no doubt that this deputy mayor of Budapest is the unofficial head of the MSP's largest lobbying group. For example, the city's party organisation had succeeded in having the national executive board approve the names of Budapest's individual and list candidates for the 2010 election - though it was not until 23 May that the party's national committee was due to discuss the selection process for MP candidates in that election. It has become a certainty, therefore, that when it comes to who will represent the MSP it is out with the old (Etele Baráth, Pál Filló and Judit Csiha) and in with the young Titans loyal to Mr Hagyó (Gergely Bárándy, Csaba Tóth and Bernadett Budai, the government's spokesperson inherited from Mr Gyurcsány). In other words, everything is in place to eclipse the "old party faithful". That the list was put together in such a rush may be justified by the idea that the voice of socialists in local government - who have an interest in elections being pushed forward - will arguably grow stronger after a defeat in the European parliamentary elections. However, if Fidesz wins in 2009, its popularity may wane enough by the time local elections roll around in autumn 2010 for the MSP to preserve its position in towns and villages.

V. The East German connection

East:
Miklós Hagyó was not always a politician. He previously worked in Hungary as one of Stasi asset manager Zeno Meier's people.

»News weekly HVG was already reporting in 1998 that the moneys held by the state party in the former East Germany were being siphoned off through CW Bank in Vienna. This typically involved solicitors carefully ensuring that, as a matter of course, the money was not repaid. One such character was a Swiss man named Zeno Meier with several businesses in Hungary where Mr Hagyó was listed as CEO. In 2007, the deputy mayor told the liberal weekly Magyar Narancs that when CW loans were being raised he held no post in these companies, and that in fact his time in business and Mr Meier's did not even coincide. It was probably important for the writer of the excerpt above to link Mr Hagyó's name to the Stasi funds because the head of the company that is building the Northern Stream pipeline as part of a Russian-German joint project is none other than Matthias Warning, a former major in East Germany's secret police. It should be concluded that the Southern Stream, which is in the works with Hungarian involvement, also has people with Stasi connections bustling about. This is already entering the realm of conspiracy theory, however, so let's not go any further than we already have.

VI. Postscript

Commentator:
If these are the means to staying in government, then ... power doesn't matter, at least not to us. ... Feri, I know you'll deny everything, call it a flagrant smear campaign. ... Perhaps you'll write it off as a right-wing provocation and the work of organised crime. But the overwhelming majority of what is being described here will be preserved - for years to come - in the recollections of several dozen people and (alas for you) in surviving documents.

Rosta

Találkozunk 2016-ban!

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