Atlatszo.hu won FOIA lawsuit in E.On case

The bill intended to limit the transparency of the state budget, which was submitted on 28 April 2013 and was passed on 30 April 2013 by the governing Fidesz party, could not influence this court decision yet. Atlatszo.hu won a FOIA lawsuit again.

As we previously reported, atlatszo.hu filed a lawsuit against the Hungarian National Asset Management (MNV) for public information; in order to reveal the governmental considerations behind the nationalization of E.On, the gas distributor, storage and service provider company. We asked for the proposal in a FOIA request back in February, based on which the MNV voted for the acquisition as an owner at the general meeting of the Hungarian Electricity Ltd. held on 31 January 2013.

The purchase of the E.On gas distributor company and its gas storage facilities stirred quite a storm: gossips were saying that the state-owned Hungarian Electricity Ltd. (MVM) was going to purchase these companies for multiple times the market price stated in the asset evaluation. The management was first authorised to sign the contract at the MVM general meeting of 31 January 2013. As the MVM is almost 100% state-owned, a mandate for this general meeting decision was given out by the directors’ board of the Hungarian National Asset Management. We wished to know what mandate was given out by the MNV, and why ‒ and especially if  there was an asset evaluation providing the basis for a deal requiring a sizable state expenditure of up to 350 billion Hungarian forints. Therefore we submitted a FOIA request to the Asset Management through the Kimittud public freedom of information request system, asking for the draft containing the mandate for the general meeting, and its supplements.

MNV denied complying with this request (Hungarian, PDF), as according to it these were data used in the decision-making process, and not to be made public for ten years. As the general meeting has already taken place, in our opinion the MNV can’t keep secret the reasons behind the decision regarding 350 billion forints. In the interest of responsible management of public funds, these informations cannot be kept from the public, therefore we turned to the Court.

We were curious as to the pros and cons the asset manager has weighed in relation to this transaction, and we were also interested in the financial evaluation that has formed the basis of setting the considerable purchase price. Once the MNV has declared that these data were the basis of decision-making, and should not be published for ten years, we have decided to file a lawsuit. The first court proceeding took place in April, we have been authorized for learning the results of the voting in the general meeting, however, the defendant began to refer to trade secrets in their argument.

The first degree verdict of the Budapest Metropolitan Court sustained our claims and ordered the release of the requested public information. According to the decision, despite the decision-making aspect, the defendant must explain the risks of the release. Furthermore, trade secret violation cannot be claimed since the purchase was made a month ago.

This lawsuit demonstrates an excellent example of how dangerous the recently passed amendment of the Freedom of Information Act is; almost certainly the MNV would have referred to the amendment, arguing that in this depth (proposal and all it’s addendums) only the Government Control Office (KEHI) or the State Audit Office (ÁSZ) can investigate.

Read the original article here in Hungarian.

Translation by atlatszo.hu volunteers.