Freedom of Information

We filed a lawsuit against the Prime Minister’s Office for not publishing the Tungsram study

The study that Tungsram Operations Ltd. was assigned with in May 2021, investigates where and under what conditions a nuclear fuel plant could be built in Hungary. According to the contract between the Prime Minister’s Office and Tungsram, which was leaked to Átlátszó, the study was to be completed by June 2021. As it was paid from public sources, it is considered to be of public interest under the law, therefore the Prime Minister’s Office was obliged to hand over the document. But it did not, so we have filed a lawsuit because we were curious about the conclusions of the study.

As we reported in April, the contract obtained by Átlátszó was signed by Jörg Bauer, Managing Director of Tungsram Operations Ltd. and Márk Ádám Janó, State Secretary for Public Administration. The technical counter signatory was Pál Kovács, State Secretary responsible for the maintenance of performance of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. The study on the assessment of a suitable site for a nuclear fuel rod production plant was, according to the explanatory memorandum, indispensable for the Secretary of State to be able to carry out his statutory duties.

According to the contract, Tungsram had 30 days after signature to prepare the study, including a detailed analysis of the infrastructure requirements of four possible sites, other aspects of the plant’s location, the advantages and disadvantages of the sites and the arguments in favour of the most preferred site, in a minimum of 50 pages. The somewhat tight deadline expired at the end of June 2021, which means that in theory the study has been finalized, still we have not yet been received it.

The government comissioned a study from Tungsram about where a nuclear fuel plant could be built in Hungary

The European Parliament resolution of 7 April 2022 on the sanctions against Russia calls for an immediate full embargo on Russian imports of nuclear fuel and urges the Member States to terminate collaboration with Russian companies on new nuclear projects (such as the planned Paks II NPP).

We requested the study as data of public interest on March 10, 2022, but unfortunately did not receive it: at the end of the 15-day legal deadline, the Prime Minister’s Office informed us that the deadline would be extended to 45 days, because fulfilling the data request would jeopardise the Prime Minister’s Office’s public duties in relation to the current state of emergency (they did not, however, reveal which of their duties exactly were affected by our request). Finally, after 45 days, they wrote they were not in the position to publish the study. However, no reference was made to the facts justifying the refusal or to the precise legal background of the decision.

According to our view, by this, the Prime Minister’s Office has violated the Hungarian law at several points:

  • According to the Fundamental Law of Hungary, all organisations managing public funds are obliged to account for their management of public funds to the public. Any information regarding public funds or national assets is considered of public interest.
  • According to the Act on Freedom of Information, data of public interest is “information or knowledge of any form, which is held by a body or person performing a public function or other public task defined by law and which is related to its activities or in the context of its public function, and which is not considered personal data”.
  • Since the Prime Minister’s Office, according to the relevant legislation, has the status of a ministry, the data it handles are generally considered to be data of public interest (except for personal data) under the Act on Freedom of Information. Furthermore, the law requires the owner or manager of the data to justify the legitimacy of refusing the information request, which in our case the Prime Minister’s Office has not done so far.

Certainly we consider possible that the requested study may contain strategic data for which a publicity restriction can be justified. However, this is not a sufficient or legitimate reason for refusing to release the study in its entirety.

In our lawsuit, we asked the court to oblige the Prime Minister’s Office to send us the document.

A strategic partner of the government has gone bankrupt with tens of billions of public loans

As we reported in April, 118.9 million euros, or nearly 45 billion forints, was registered by the state-owned Eximbank Zrt. in the autumn of 2021 at Tungsram Operations Kft. The company, which recently announced that it would shed 1,600 workers and seek state aid, and which filed for bankruptcy protection in May. The government’s strategic partner has made a loss of 21.7 billion forints since it was founded in 2018.

There are more suspicious nuclear contracts at the Prime Minister’s Office

The Tungsram study is not the only contract concluded at the Prime Minister’s Office regarding Paks II: as we reported earlier, János Süli, the minister without portfolio responsible for the Paks expansion, prepared a contract worth €8.425 million with the international consultancy Rothschild in 2018 for “strategic advice on energy policy and special infrastructure projects”.

Hungary offered Rothschild & Co 8.4 million EUR for consultancy during EU approval of a Russian nuclear power plant

According to an official document obtained by Átlátszó, János Süli, the Hungarian minister responsible for the Paks NPP expansion, prepared a contract worth €8.425 million in 2018 with the international consultancy firm Rothschild & Co for “strategic advice on energy policy and special infrastructure projects”.

According to another Prime Minister’s Office memo obtained by Átlátszó, on 30 August 2021, János Süli applied for more than one billion, exactly 1 153 447 148 HUF, from the Deputy State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office to a publicly held company, PIP Kft. for the purchase of the real estate of the southern part of the Danube River in Paks, from the state Economic Protection Fund. According to the succinct justification, “the purchase of real estate in the area is necessary for the replenishment of the Danube bank of the city of Paks and for the disposal of the land extracted from the Paks II investment area”.

The local government would sell and demolish the Danube bank for the sake of the Paks NPP expansion

“I don’t understand all this fuss, what the hell is wrong with nearly a billion forints and a floodplain”, a Fidesz-KDNP member of the municipal council in Paks said when opposition members asked why the municipality wanted to sell a 12-hectare area of land on the Danube riverbank of Paks to a state company, and what would be built there.

Written and translated by Orsolya Fülöp, the Hungarian version of this story is available here. Cover photo: A staff member holds samples used to simulate the fuel rods of the Paks nuclear power plant at the Centre for Energy Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 16 January 2013 (source: János Marjai/MTI)