EU funds

Deputy mayor dismissed and sued for criticizing how the city spends EU funds

A former deputy mayor tried to obtain documents from his own municipality, related to EU development worth more than two billion forints. József Dénes is now only a local councillor in Csepreg, and says he was recalled from his position precisely because he wanted to know how and what the town had spent the EU money. He said his information requests had been blocked for years by the mayor and the notary of the municipality, so he had only been able to access a fraction of the contracts and other documents of nearly 30 EU grants, some of which he found suspicious. He was also charged with defamation, but was acquitted at first and second instance.

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József Dénes contacted Átlátszó after reading our article in July about the former mayor of Rákóczifalva in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, who described the operation of the local Fidesz-run “money pump”.

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Csepreg’s former deputy mayor believes that speaking out publicly about local issues that he finds objectionable can help his own municipality. In a letter to Átlátszó.hu, he put it this way:

“I have been persistently trying to clarify the use of more than 3 billion HUF of grant money in the city. A lot of it was spent on overpriced contracts and given to cronies.”

When we interviewed the former deputy mayor, he said he had clashed with the city administration because he complained that they were not complying with the law on the disclosure of public information. József Dénes claims that there is information that he requested in 2019, but has not received from the municipality since then. This way he is unable to keep his promise to the citizens of the town that he would provide transparent and understandable information about everything that money was and is spent on in Csepreg.

The former deputy mayor wanted to see the documents of nearly 30 tenders, but he was only given substantive details about two of these, and when he asked for accounts from the notary, he “repeatedly stated that he refused to answer the deputy mayor’s questions.”

József Dénes asked for information about the grants because he felt that, based on the visible results of many projects, it was not clear what the millions had been spent on. In the 100 million HUF renovation of the so called Malomkert, known as the “Green Heart of Csepreg”, the former mayor complained that it was not completed in accordance with the original plans. As he said, “no one understands how you could spend so much money on a small landscaping project, the paving of a formerly asphalt sports field, the renovation of a few chandeliers and a music pavilion not much bigger than a garden pergola”.

Leváltották és feljelentették a csepregi alpolgármestert, mert kíváncsi volt, hogyan költi a város az uniós százmilliókat from on Vimeo.

The municipality was also audited by the State Treasury, but according to József Dénes, the notary made this report available on the internal repository of the municipal office after a month’s delay. In the end, József Dénes was formally recalled from his position as deputy mayor by the mayor and three members of the seven-member body on the grounds that he had exceeded his powers.

We would have liked to hear the views of the town’s mayor, Zoltán Horváth, and the notary, László Balogh, on József Dénes’ allegations. Our request for an interview was turned down, and we did not receive any answers to our detailed written questions, so we were only able to learn about Csepreg’s affairs from the former deputy mayor’s report and the documents available online.

József Dénes, who was recalled from his position as deputy mayor in the summer of 2020, is currently a local government representative who continues to hold the city’s leadership accountable for the issues he has previously criticised at the council meetings. He cannot accept the fact that the local government has for years failed to publish the data and contracts that the law requires it to publish, despite the fact that the State Treasury has also obliged the municipal authorities to do so by the deadline of 31 August 2021.

The council meetings are not broadcast online and some of them are held in closed session anyway. For this reason, József Dénes informs local residents on his own blog about what he considers to be objectionable issues and decisions. Among other things, he says that the municipality has “permanent winners” who regularly win contracts for the municipality, while other companies that only formally bid for contracts assist them.

Last year, the mayor and the notary of Csepreg denounced József Dénes for defamation. At first instance, the Kőszeg District Court found the charges to be unfounded. The notary appealed against the first instance verdict, but on 12 October the former deputy mayor was acquitted of the charges by the second instance verdict of the Szombathely Court.

Written and translated by Gabriella Horn, video by Dániel Németh. The longer Hungarian version of this story with documents is available here.

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