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Our story about the Hungarian Army’s Turkish purchases won Transparency’s Investigative Mentoring Programme

In June this year, Transparency International launched its 10th Investigative Mentoring Programme, supported by the British, Finnish, French, Norwegian and Swedish Embassies. At the end of November, the results were announced at the closing ceremony: Katalin Erdélyi, deputy editor-in-chief of Átlátszó, and her mentee, Gábor Billay were the winners. The best story proved that the Hungarian Army’s Turkish military purchases are profiting oligarchs close to the government in both countries.

Other participants in the mentoring programme were Róbert Báthory, journalist of Szabad Európa, and his mentee, Fruzsina Kovács; Tamás Bod, journalist of Magyar Narancs, and his mentee, Tamás Molnár; József Szilágyi, journalist of Nyugat.hu, and his mentee, Mihály Fűzfa Balázs; and Blanka Zöldi, editor-in-chief of Lakmusz and her mentee, Máté Mohos.

Transprency International (TI) Hungary’s 10th Investigative Mentoring Programme was launched on 15 June with a ceremony at the Embassy of Finland. The main aim of the programme is to build successful professional cooperation between experienced investigative journalists as mentors and young people interested in journalism but without experience as mentees.

József Péter Martin, CEO of TI Hungary, and representatives of the supporting embassies (Finnish Ambassador Markku Virri, British Ambassador Paul Fox, Swedish Ambassador Dag Hartelius, French Deputy Ambassador Julie Thisse, and Håvard Austad, Deputy Ambassador of Norway) highlighted the importance of press freedom and the independence of journalism, which they said is a cornerstone of a free democracy based on the rule of law, as an independent branch of power and one of the most important instruments of control over public power.

This year’s mentoring programme participants were:

  • Róbert Báthory, journalist of Szabad Európa and Fruzsina Kovács
  • Tamás Bod, journalist of Magyar Narancs and Tamás Molnár
  • Katalin Erdélyi, deputy editor-in-chief of Átlátszó and Gábor Billay
  • József Szilágyi, journalist of Nyugat.hu and co-author of the winning article of the 9th Investigative Mentoring Programme, and Balázs Mihály Fűzfa
  • Blanka Zöldi, editor-in-chief of Lakmusz and Máté Mohos

The closing ceremony of the programme took place on 24 November at the Embassy of Finland. The event was attended by József Péter Martin, director of TI Hungary, and representatives of the embassies supporting this year’s investigative mentoring programme.

The speakers (Finnish Ambassador Pertti Anttinen, French Ambassador to Budapest Claire Legras, Swedish Ambassador Dag Hartelius, Norwegian Deputy Ambassador Herman Baskår, Leslie Hayler Councillor on behalf of UK Embassy to Budapest and Martin József Péter) gave opening speeches to highlight the importance of free and independent journalism.

In their speeches, the speakers underlined that in the shadow of the war against Ukraine launched by Russia in February this year and the international economic difficulties, it is particularly important to protect press freedom and the pillars of independent journalism.

Finnish Ambassador Pertti Anttinen and Martin József Péter – Photo: Képszerkesztőség/Zoltán Tuba

Following the welcoming speeches, Dénes Marcell Jávor, Communications Manager of TI Hungary, discussed this year’s 10th Investigative Mentoring Programme with the participants.

Róbert Báthory, a journalist of Szabad Európa and his mentee, Fruzsina Kovács revealed in their joint article that a small village in the Homokhátság region (which is a very dry area in Hungary) has been built a stormwater reservoir with state and EU funding, and that after the project was completed, the Hungarian Tax Authority (NAV) launched an investigation for suspected fraud and misuse of false documents. In addition to financial irregularities, the reservoir is positioned higher than the connecting canal, so it is not even able to fulfil its function of collecting rainfall.

In a story published in the Magyar Narancs weekly and on its online website, journalist Tamás Bod and his mentee, Tamás Molnár investigated the planned thermal water aqua park in Pécs, which has not been built since its announcement in 2015. The formerly Fidesz-led city government spent HUF 350 million on preparing the project. The new, opposition-led municipality has not given up on the project, which has grown to a total cost of HUF 51 billion.

Katalin Erdélyi, deputy editor-in-chief of atlatszo.hu and her mentee Gábor Billay, in their story published in Hungarian and English on Atlatszo, described in detail how the Hungarian Defence Forces purchases military equipment from Turkey. The authors revealed that an intermediary company owned by a Hungarian and a Turkish oligarch close to the government is profiting from the purchases.

Friends of Orbán and Erdogan behind the Turkish purchases of the Hungarian Army

In his 2013 speech in Tusványos, PM Viktor Orbán mentioned Turkey as an example of an illiberal democracy. Since then, Hungary has not only moved closer to Ankara in ideological terms, but trade between the two countries has also increased significantly.

József Szilágyi, journalist of Nyugat.hu and his mentee, Balázs Mihály Fűzfa detailed in their story how Fidesz and/or members of the government have taken over the biggest football teams. Through the story of the Haladás football team from Szombathely, it was shown how football is influenced by politics and the notorious TAO tax allowance, which has poured billions of taxpayers forints into sport, including football.

Blanka Zöldi, editor-in-chief of Lakmusz, and her mentee Máté Mohos, in their story published both on Lakmusz and RTL.hu, collected the actual amounts of money that came from the EU to help the Hungarian state to provide for Ukrainian refugees fleeing from the Russian-Ukraine war. According to their research, more than HUF 15.5 billion in total came to Hungary from the redistribution of funds already granted and from the newly granted EU funds. However, it is far from clear how and exactly on what tasks the Hungarian state spent these funds.

Mentors and mentees at the closing ceremony at the Finnish Embassy – Photo: Képszerkesztőség/Zoltán Tuba

Following the presentation of articles from TI Hungary’s 10th Investigative Mentoring Programme, the certificates of the mentor-mentee couples were presented by the director of TI Hungary to this year’s participants. At the same time, József Péter Martin announced the best mentor-mentee pair of this year’s investigative programme: the first place was awarded to Katalin Erdélyi, deputy editor-in-chief of Átlátszó and her mentee Gábor Billay, according to the jury’s decision.

The members of the jury were András Lőke, founder and editor-in-chief of Ittlakunk.hu, József Péter Martin, managing director of TI Hungary, András Stumpf, publicist and founder of Válasz Online, and Ágnes Urbán, associate professor and head of the Department of Infocommunication at Corvinus University of Budapest.

TI Hungary’s 10th Investigator Mentor Programme 2022 was supported by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Budapest, the Embassy of France in Budapest, the Embassy of Norway in Budapest and the Embassy of Sweden in Budapest.