Atlatszo.hu sued government for withholding corruption investigation records
Hungary’s government is happy to rely on a recently completed OLAF report exposing the questionable practices in the construction of the M4, Budapest’s fourth metro line. Since the objections raised are mainly targeted at the political sides preceding the current power in office, the state started leaking portions of the document to friendly media. However, when we filed a request for the release of the entire document we were rejected. Atlatszo.hu has consequently sued the Prime Minster’s Office, we are hopeful that the result will pave the way for the general public’s access to OLAF studies. After we filed our lawsuit, the government suddenly released the full document.
Hungary’s government recently announced it is pressing criminal charges in response to a report compiled by OLAF, the European Commission’s anti-fraud office. According to the contents of the document, there were several anomalies related to the construction of the M4 metro line in Budapest, which was built way longer and for way more than originally planned, until it was finally put into operation a few years ago.
The Prime Minister’s Office, which received the document stated that it handed the records over to the Budapest municipality, but has only made parts of the study public by leaking it to friendly media. According to the documentation, Hungary may have to reimburse nearly HUF 60 billion in European Union funds because of faulty or fraudulent implementation.
Given that the project is closely linked to the left-liberal political parties then governing but currently in opposition, the reigning conservative Fidesz government is more than happy to discuss the findings.
The M4 line was a controversial idea to start with. Eventually, its costs rose to HUF 452.5 billion, around 1.5% of the country’s annual GDP. Since it took as long to build as it did, travel habits changed and as such, there are relatively few people using the metro line, the costs of building will likely not be recouped for up to 40 years. Its construction was lined with a series of scandals, police are conducting multiple investigations.
Yet, the Prime Minster’s Office, which received the OLAF report was reluctant to release the entirety of the materials. Atlatszo.hu like others, filed a freedom of information request. When we were denied, we took the matter to court.
The handling of the study was peculiar. A Hungarian official stated that OLAF reports are protected documents under EU rules, and that Hungary has already requested lifting the restriction. In contrast, OLAF previously stated that the recipient of the report, in this case the Hungarian state can freely decide whether it wants to publish the findings or not.
Accordingly, there was no lawful grounds to deny releasing the report, which is why we took the matter to court. Since then, the OLAF report has been released. We are nonetheless hopeful that the legal pressure we applied in the case will serve as a future incentive for the wider public to get the chance to access OLAF documents.
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