Authorities fail to convict defendants of high-profile BKV corruption case

Years of investigations and courtroom hearings should easily have led to prison sentences in what is widely recognised as one of the most blatant cases of corruption in the Budapest public transport company, BKV. However, what was an open-and-shut case ended with a dismissal.  The authorities failed to properly prosecute the defendants, even though there was plenty of evidence as well as testimonies to go on. It almost seems like they weren’t even trying.

When the current right-wing Fidesz party claimed a sweeping election victory in 2010 it was in no small part because of the numerous corruption scandals that smeared the reputation of the governing left-wing party, which to this day has not been able to restore its reputation. One of the most emblematic affairs was the bribery that went on at the Budapest public transport company, BKV. The deputy mayor of Budapest Miklos Hagyo was charged with white collar crimes, the allegations famously saying he received cash for favors hidden in a Nokia box, something that has since become a part of everyday Hungarian conversation as a synonym for bribery.  

Fidesz, which was fully committed to publicly crucifying any of its political opponents, had everything it needed to achieve its goals. The authorities had a compelling case on the BKV matter and public opinion was fully against the defendants.

Given this starting point, it was to a big surprise that the entire case was dismissed – the judge cited a lack of evidence. We reviewed the happenings only to find that the prosecution made glaring errors, even though there were plenty of opportunities to get the culprits.

The story was controversial to start with, since Hagyo was apprehended after his political allies suffered a crushing defeat. The fact that the 50-thousand page prosecuting documentation was seen as political pamphlet rather than a collection of evidence already allowed his advocates to claim that he was only a victim of a political vendetta rather than a criminal.

The evidence was already thin, there were originally dozens of charges, but the prosecution only went ahead with three of them where it saw it had a genuine chance.

The way the case was built was strange and rather amateurish. The prosecution based its case almost entirely on the testimonies of others involved in the matter. When they later decided to retract their previous statements claiming they made their testimony under coercion, the case effectively fell apart.

Two years later, in 2012, the authorities embarked on an additional investigation. This proved to be a complete failure. It showed that there had been no covert police operation aimed at collecting phone records or emails, or in fact anything that could serve as actual evidence. Since years have elapsed, there was no way of recovering them at this point. There is a legally required timespan for providers to store certain records for potential criminal investigations, but the window had closed.

The testimonies and the interviews that the public is aware of from the late 2000s clearly portray BKV as a money-syphoning channel, where coercion and bribery were everyday events.

Now, thanks to the poor performance of the prosecuting authorities, the people involved will likely have a binding court verdict saying that this was not the case.

Original article in Hungarian.