Atlatszo obtained the contract that allows Viktor Orban to use military aircraft for private purposes
Viktor Orbán and his family interrupted their holiday in Croatia last summer to attend a political event in Rome. The Prime Minister and his family was flown by a Dassault Falcon 7X luxury aircraft of the Hungarian Defence Forces from the island of Brac to the Italian capital and back to Zadar. In order to find out the cost of the trip, watchdog nonprofit K-monitor sued the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was supposed to be responsible for the travel, but the ministry argued in court that it was not the data controller for the cost of the trip – but it was not revealed who was. According to a framework agreement obtained by Átlátszó, the Prime Minister’s Office agreed with the Ministry of Defence last year on the transport of the Prime Minister’s Office delegations. The document stresses that the details of the flights will be kept secret for 30 years “for reasons of defence and national security”.
At the end of August last year, Viktor Orbán attended a meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network (ICLN), where he met with Italian opposition politician Georgia Meloni, together with Katalin Novák and other politicians from the Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz-KDNP. 24.hu reported that Orbán and his family was probably picked up by a Falcon of the Hungarian Defence Forces, registration number 607, on the island of Brac during their holiday, and were dropped off in Zadar after the event in Rome.
In connection with the Rome trip, K-Monitor submitted a FOI request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for the government’s travel abroad. The anti-corruption NGO wanted to know who the members of the delegation travelling with Viktor Orbán to Rome were, how much they spent on travel, accommodation and the daily allowance, and how much Orbán paid so that his family members (his wife and son) could travel with him.
K-Monitor received no asnwer, thus, they sued the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and recently obtained a judgment at first instance. According to this ruling, the Ministry must disclose how much did the PM pay, but the total cost of the trip is not known.
Framework agreement between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Defence
A framework agreement concluded between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Defence at the beginning of July 2021, barely a month and a half before the Orbán family’s trip to Rome, has been leaked to Átlátszó. The agreement does not refer to specific trips, but sets out how the Prime Minister’s Office will order and pay for a trip by a military plane in the case of an official delegation from the Prime Minister’s Office.
According to the contract, the Prime Minister’s Office sends the Ministry of Defence a so-called “Travel Invitation Letter” prior to the planned trip, which contains at least the following 5 items:
- the intended airport of take-off and landing,
- the planned departure and arrival times,
- the number of delegations to be transported,
- the on-board catering requirements of the delegation,
- the expected size and quantity of baggage and personal effects to be carried.
If the Ministry of Defence has spare capacity to fulfil the request, the MoD will send a price offer for the trip. If this is accepted, the flight planning begins.
This includes, for example, sending the details of non-military personnel – i.e. politicians and their families, plus their staff and others, effectively the entire delegation – to the Prime Minister’s Office 8 days before the trip, because special permission is required for civilians to travel on military aircraft.
The Prime Minister’s Office sends its seating proposal to the Ministry of Defence along with the passenger list, but the final seating arrangement is decided by the commander of the aircraft based on centre of gravity calculations and parameters, as well as safety considerations.
The costs are settled annually
The agreement, obtained by Átlátszó, also includes that the costs related to military flights of the Prime Minister’s Office will be settled annually. According to the document, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister’s Office will conclude a budget agreement for this purpose every year and settle the costs of the previous year by 30 June at the latest.
However, the Ministry of Defence sends the Prime Minister’s Office not only once a year, but after each trip ordered and carried out, a detailed summary of the costs, which includes:
- the cost of the aircraft according to the fuel standard,
- daily allowance of the crew and subsistence costs
- in the case of a multi-day trip, the cost of the crew’s stay abroad,
- the cost of on-board catering for the delegation,
- airspace charges,
- airport service charges,
- in-flight Internet charges,
- other unplanned expenditure.
The contract specifically mentions the high cost of using the Internet in the air, which is why the cost of Internet use is displayed on the aircraft for information purposes. However, as the (unnamed) Internet Service Provider will invoice the previous year’s amount from 1 January 2021 onwards, the the settlement will also be made at that time. In other words, the costs of last year’s flying internet use by the Prime Minister’s Office delegations will be calculated and paid by the Ministry of Defence this year, and this year’s will be paid next year.
Secret for 30 years, but routes can be tracked online
In February 2018, the Hungarian Defence Forces purchased two Airbus A319 aircraft (registration number 604 and 605), officially purchased as military troop carriers. In summer 2018, two Dassault Falcon 7X business jets (registration number 606 and 607), used as private jets by the super-rich, were also purchased, which the Defence Forces describe as “multi-purpose transport and courier aircraft”.
Although the planes purchased by the Hungarian Defence Forces in 2018 were not officially purchased as government aircraft, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been using them regularly. Several articles appeared in the press (including on Atlatszo) about Viktor Orbán travelling with the military planes, they were removed from the well-known aircraft monitoring sites. However, the ADS-B Exchange, which rejects state censorship, continues to publish transponder data collected by volunteers using simple receivers to track aircraft movements.
Based on these, we wrote in December 2019 that defence planes had been to a number of exotic locations since their acquisition, and after our article it was revealed that for “defence and national security reasons”, it had been secret for 30 years where the planes had taken whom and why. This is also contained in the agreement we now have.
Péter Szijjártó and Katalin Novák also used the military aircraft
At the beginning of August this year, Viktor Orbán and his team travelled to the US in the 607th Falcon, where he met former US President Donald Trump and spoke on the stage of the far-right CPAC.
The trip to the US was more of a private excursion than an official programme, as the prime minister was not conducting domestic business with the current US president or other leader, but was meeting with friends and supporters, yet Hungarian taxpayers paid for the trip, which cost around 57 million forints (€141 thousand). In addition, after the trip to the US, the 607 went to Croatia, where the Prime Minister, who was already on holiday, turned up almost immediately. Of course, this could be a coincidence, but given the history, it seems unlikely.
Apart from Orbán, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also flies regularly in planes of the Hungarian Defence Forces, but other members of the government also fly them from time to time. In April this year, for example, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén flew to the island of Madeira for a holy mass, and recently Márton Nagy, the Minister of Economic Development, went to Moscow for talks on board a military aircraft.The President of the Republic, Katalin Novák (appointed this year) also uses the Hungarian Defence Forces aircraft frequently. On her first trip abroad, she and her husband flew to Prague on board an Airbus 604 at the invitation of the Czech President.
In mid-July, she flew to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a 607 Falcon, and recently flew to Bucharest in one of the Defence Forces aircraft. In addition to official trips, at the end of August, Novák and his entourage were taken to the Vatican for a private audience with the Pope by one of the military aircraft, the 605 Airbus.
As the details of the trips of the military aircraft have been classified by the government for 30 years, it will only be known around 2050 which aircraft took whom, when, where and why. However, based on the agreement in our possession, we are asking for the cost summary documents to see if they can at least tell us how much each flight cost the public.
As we have written many times before, it is common practice in other countries to transport state leaders in government aircraft operated by the armed forces. However, in our country, on the one hand, the use of these planes for protocol purposes is not officially recognised, on the other hand, no information is provided on the costs, and there are strong suspicions that politicians do not use the air force planes only for official trips. Such private use could be Viktor Orbán’s trips to Croatia and the US, or Katalin Novak’s visit to the Vatican, which she herself admits was not an official programme as President of the Republic.
Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this article was written by Katalin Erdélyi and can be found here.