Local hunting society linked with illegal land deals

A hunting society in northern Hungary keeps popping up relation to changes in the ownership of local farmland, raising suspicions of foul play. One member of the society has even been accused of theft. The police, who are often also society members, failed to find anything wrong and dropped the investigations.

Atlatszo.hu has found several strange cases in northern Hungary’s Nograd county, many of which can be traced back to members of a local hunting society.

Members of the group are in the ranks of a neighboring town’s police force, and there are often conflicting views about whether they have the jurisdiction to investigate or whether their proximity to the cases marks a conflict of interests. However, these positions lack consistency and give rise to suspicions that other vested interests are involved.

For many years, foreigners, specifically Austrians, sought to acquire pieces of valuable farmland in Hungary. As there were rules in place which favored domestic farmers, they often resorted to commissioning strawmen to sign what in Hungarian are called “pocket contracts” which effectively gave ownership and the related profits to the foreign buyers, although they formally belonging to local individuals.

This seems to have been a common practice in the area. An elderly forest ranger received a personal loan of HUF 240 million from an Austrian individual where land was used as collateral, another one of his remote family members was gifted some 82 parcels of land. None of the transactions made any sense, and there was also no reliable record of where the money came from. These and similar cases already raised suspicions that pocket contracts were involved, but the investigators found no proof. Furthermore, the locals we asked also said it was best to leave the matter alone – they seemed pretty wary of the hunters and their dealings.

We tried to take a look at detailed records of the society’s membership. This proved to be impossible as the data is not on the public record, but, among the members we did identify there were several interesting figures. There are mayors of nearby localities as well as business people who are all known to have friendly relations with the governing Fidesz party. The idea that they would be involved in such dealings is all the more interesting given that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one of the most ardent opponents of pocket contracts and foreigners using such channels to acquire control of Hungarian land.

The latest matter culminated in a criminal filing when a local individual accused a prominent member of the society of theft. The farmer found that his crop was damaged one night by wildlife, making the hunting society liable for compensation. Instead, the hunter decided to harvest the entire the crop for himself saying the farmer would be compensated, even though the owner did not give approval. Although the matter was largely resolved after the financial compensation arrived, it is clear from the investigation records obtained by Atlatszo.hu that the process was overseen by experts who had a conflict of interest based on their professional reputations. Not to mention the fact that the police decided to reduce the official status of the incident, making it into a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Original article in Hungarian.