Prosecutor’s office terminates investigation into camera drone recordings taken at oligarchs estate
The police investigation into the case about the filming of Lőrinc Mészáros’ Bicske estate involving Magyar Hang weekly and Atlatszo.hu has been closed. We have been officially informed that the proceedings initiated for the crime of illicit data acquisition were terminated by the Central Investigation Prosecutor’s Office on 14 January 2021, as the act was deemed not to be a crime. During the investigation two journalist were interrogated as witnesses last October.
After Magyar Hang published the photos which Ákos Hadházy, independent MP took from a small aircraft, Atlatszo.hu’s crew recorded a drone video of the combat vehicles stationed on the huge Bicske estate owned by the company of Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s childhood friend and by now the richest person in Hungary thanks to numerous public contracts.
Two armoured vehicles were photographed recently on one the estates owned by one of Lőrinc Mészáros’s companies, Búzakalász 66 Kft., in Bicske, a town 30 kilometres away from Budapest.
Months after the publication, the journalists at Magyar Hang and at Atlatszo.hu who signed the articles were summoned as witnesses by the Economy Protection Department of the Fejér County Police Headquarters. The hearing revealed that the crime of illegal data acquisition, which is punishable by up to three years in prison, was being prosecuted against an unknown perpetrator. Then we were asked about the stories we published about Mészáros’s combat vehicles stationed at his estate in Bicske.
As Atlatszo.hu’s journalist stated during the police witness interview, the aim of making and publishing the video was to inform readers in more detail, to find out what kind of fighting vehicles are stationed on Mészáros’s Bicske estate.
Illicit data acquisition is a criminal offence punishable by up to 3 years’ imprisonment under the Hungarian Penal Code, which may be committed by anyone who secretly searches another person’s home or property for the purpose of obtaining personal data, private or trade secrets, and observes or records what happens there, or if someone opens or gets hold of someone else’s document sent by post, or accesses data stored or transmitted on electronic communications network.
Atlatszo reporter Gabriella Horn was asked by the police about the circumstances under which she wrote the story and about what its news value was. Our colleague was also asked about who had made the drone recording and who authorised its publication on Atlatszo.
According to Atlatszo.hu’s legal director the crime of illicit data acquisition is out of the question in connection with our drone recording. Dr Balázs Tóth justified this on the grounds that the Criminal Code defines secret methods and means as criminal conduct. Law enforcement authorities may only use secret data collection, secret information collection in their legal proceedings with the permission of a judge or the minister responsible for justice. In addition, according to a decision by the Supreme Court (Curia), observation by technical equipment means the long-term observation of movement, behaviour, verbal manifestations of persons, or the absence of these.
In addition, the recording was not made for the purpose of unauthorized acquaintance with private secrets, but we wanted to ascertain whether actual combat vehicles were parked on the estate of Lőrinc Mészáros.
In recent years, we have taken and published drone videos of the estates and houses of many politicians and well connected businessmen enriched using public funds, thoroughly annoying those involved.
As we reported in December, a new law – in force from 1 january 2021 – was passed by Parliament on 16 December. It also included an amendment of the Infringement Act and the Penal Code (Criminal Code). According to this law taking a video or sound recording of someone’s property without the owner’s permission is an infringement on grounds of invasion of privacy. Interestingly, the forbidden data acquisition section of the Penal Code (based on which the police launched the investigation in connection with Atlatszo’s article on Mr Mészáros’s combat vehicles) was also amended. The new version of this states that
- The person who takes a drone recording of someone’s property through an unauthorised use of the drone commits an offence and is punishable by detention
- The person who makes the recording available to the general public is punishable by up to 1 year’s imprisonment
- These crimes can only be punished as a result of a private motion (initiated by the right holder)
As a result of the new law, from this year on we could get up to 1 year in prison for a drone video similar to the ones we’ve made in recent years, showing our readers where public money goes. Nevertheless, if the interest of informing the public justifies it, we will not stop making drone recordings in our journalistic work. In January, Atlatszo.hu’s legal director explained in another article why, in his opinion, this does not violate the law, despite the new regulation because as we have not violated anyone’s private sphere so far. He added:
“We expect criminal proceedings, of course, despite the arguments outlined. After all, it did not prevent the authorities from initiating proceedings even when the rules now analysed did not even exist. “
According to Dr Tóth, the stories that included drone recordings were popular among readers because the illustration connected to the textual content said more than a thousand words, and it also authenticated the content. The success of these articles has apparently not won the favour of political power, and therefore the press gets persecuted by a new law if it effectively pulls the veil off the political image covered with bourgeois -conservative – Christian glaze.
“Based on a more thorough analysis and an international legal outlook, we have come to the conclusion that these previous articles would still be published today, along with the drone recordings. If we are prosecuted under criminal law, then we will defend ourselves in court. ” – said Atlatszo.hu’s legal director.
In any case, the precedent has yet to be awaited, because when we inquired in January about the state of the investigation into the Bicske drone survey, the Fejér County Police Headquarters informed us that “the said case has been referred to the Central Investigation Prosecutor’s Office. If you have any questions, please contact the Central Investigation Prosecutor General ”. Their spokesman replied to our inquiry that:
“Upon your request, I would like to inform you that the proceedings initiated for the crime of illicit data acquisition were terminated by the Central Investigation Prosecutor’s Office on January 14, 2021, as the act is not a crime.”
A few days ago, Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny unveiled to the public in a video the 17,691-square-meter palace of Russian President Vladimir Putin by the Black Sea.
Written and translated by Gabriella Horn. Cover photo: Dániel Németh.