Egyéb wins first round in court battle against Hungary’s secretive central bank

When approached the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) to make public the records of its directorial decisions, a stream of accusation of obstruction, interference and outright illegal activity were thrown our way by the central bank. The latest ruling in what grew into a court case may pave the way for the public to finally find out the details about the strange practices of the central bank and why it acts like an eccentric billionaire, with its interest in setting up foundations and buying real estate.

The National Bank of Hungary has a unique interpretation of the existing freedom of information laws. Hence it chooses not to make public the records of decisions taken by its executive, even though the body is crucially important in the operation of the country’s top monetary institution.

As such, filed a formal inquiry in April, 2014 for the publication of the records, starting with the term of current MNB governor György Matolcsy in the spring of 2013. Matolcsy is a former minister of the economy and a close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In fact he was effectively Orbán’s “right hand” before he was appointed to lead the central bank.

Matolcsy’s term so far has introduced several new practices, well in line with the “unorthodox” policies he pursued when he was a minister. The central bank spent a fortune setting up a several  foundations aimed at “educating” up-and-coming economists about the successes of the ‘out-of-the-box’ economic thinking in Hungary, at the same as going on a series of shopping sprees, buying up prime real estate.


To nobody’s surprise, the MNB has been very reluctant to comply with any calls to make its operations transparent to the public. When we took the MNB to court after it refused our request for information, the central bank challenged us on the following grounds:

a)  We had no legitimacy to sue, since the MNB earlier asked for a further specification of our inquiries that went unanswered. The court found that our queries was specific in the first instance.

b)  We had no right to view the information since that would have necessitated a comprehensive screening of a state body, a demand that had no authority to make. The court found that asking for the documents wasn’t even close to an institutional vetting procedure.

c)   The enquiry was submitted with a deliberate obstructionist intent, placing an immense administrative task on the MNB that would prevent it from performing its duties because of giving its staff extensive additional tasks. The court noted that this is not an argument that any state institution responsible to the public can make. It is also highly unlikely that the MNB staff would have that much trouble going through their own records.

d)  The MNB also objected to the fact that our filing was limited to Matolcsy’s term as governor and not before, assuming some malignant intent. The court decided that exercising fundamental freedom of information rights includes the liberty of choosing our own timeframe.

Most importantly, the court highlighted the core of the matter: the MNB has failed to provide any proof of its claims against us.


The original article in Hungarian was published on 23rd February 2015.