Freedom of Information

State-owned lottery company gives €219,000 to NGO favored by the government

The state-owned lottery company gave 70 million Hungarian forints (approximately €219,000 at today’s exchange rate) to pro-government NGO called CÖF/CÖKA. This is the NGO that organizes the pro-Orban mass demonstrations called ‘Peace Marches.’

Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF) is the NGO that organizes the so-called Peace Marches (Békemenet), the pro-Fidesz mass demonstrations held since 2012, usually in Budapest. Behind CÖF is the foundation called Civil Összefogás Közhasznú Alapítvány (CÖKA) that organizes many other events for its members.

One of its regular events is a series of presentations called Civil Akadémia (Civilian Academy), where pro-government people are talking about current policy issues. These talks are not open to the press, only CÖKA members are invited and can register for the events.

Since March 2019 there is a new logo to be found on these invitations: that of the national, state-owned lottery company, Szerencsejáték Zrt.

On March 4, members got an invitation for the next Civil Akadémia event, titled ‘Lies on top of lies’ (‘Hazugság hazugság hátán’). The even featured pro-government ‘celebrities’: CÖF head László Csizmadia, CÖF lawyer Zoltán Lomnici jr. and political analyst Levente Bánk Boros. The topic: the European Union. According to the invitation, the chat was generally EU-sceptic.

At the beginning of March, members were also invited to the statutory meeting of the CÖF Klub based in the Western town of Győr. During that event László Csizmadia and Eszter Dunst, head of the CÖF Klub Győr both spoke. Their speeches were followed by the TV show Sajtóklub (‘press club’) on Echo TV – this is a political debate show on the pro-government channel with well-known pro-Orban pundits and journalists: Zsolt Bayer, Gergely Huth, László Zöldi Szentesi and András Bencsik.

Three days later members received another invitation, this time to celebrate the March 15 national holiday at the Bem statue in Budapest with the 600 Polish guests.

All three invitations featured the logo of Szerencsejáték Zrt.

This is the first time that the state-owned Szerencsejáték Zrt. is funding the NGO. It is not completely surprising, though: state-owned energy giant MVM Zrt. gave CÖF 508 million forints in 2016 (approximately €1.6 million) for the ‘improvement of public thinking’. Part of that money was also used for propaganda against the European Union.

State-owned Hungarian energy group gave €1,7 million to NGO favored by Orban to ‘improve public thinking’

The state-owned Hungarian energy giant, MVM donated a huge sum to an NGO favored by the prime minister in 2016. Atlatszo has been fighting for the documents of the agreement between the two entities for almost a year.

To find out why the logo is on the invitations, we filed a freedom of information request with Szerencsejáték Zrt. and it’s subsidiary company Szerencsejáték Service Nonprofit Kft.

The company did not reply to our request but in the meantime Szerencsejáték Zrt. published the list of its subsidies awarded in the last months of 2018 and the first months of 2019 on its website.

According to the documents, the state-owned lottery company signed a contract worth 70 million forints (approximately €219 000) with CÖKA, the foundation behind CÖF.

We immediately filed another freedom of information request with Szerencsejáték Zrt. and requested to see the contract between Szerencsejáték Service Nonprofit Kft. and CÖKA. As soon as we receive a reply, we will publish what the money was intended for.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi

English version by Lili Rutai. You can read the original, Hungarian language story here.

Cover image: CÖF president László Csizmadia speaking on March 15, 2019, on Bem square in front of CÖF members and their Polish supporters. Photo by MTI / Lajos Soós Lajos