TI Hungary filed official complaint to the Integrity Authority over the “partly unforested canopy trails” financed by the EU
Transparency International Hungary has sent a formal notification to the Integrity Authority requesting an investigation into the “partly unforested canopy trails”. In their submission, referring to our story, they write that the cases that have come to light suggest that “systemic errors occur” in the selection of certain projects using EU funds. Ákos Hadházy MP and Anna Donáth MEP have submitted a similar complaint to the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF.
“It was not a condition of the investment that there should be a forest around the canopy trail”, defended Mihály Filemon, mayor of Nyírmártonfalva, the case of his infamous treetop walkway. He blames Brussels for the felling of the forest, because he submitted his application years ago, but no money came in, “and we had to finance the investment from something, so since the forest was ripe for felling, we cut it down and put the money into this investment”.
The mayor’s statements are now echoed in a submission to the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF, signed by independent Member of Parliament Ákos Hadházy and Member of European Parliament Anna Donáth. In addition to the work of art erected by Mihály Filemon, similar treetop walkways of Sándor Tasi, a Fidesz politician from Nyíradony, and László Tasó, a Fidesz Member of Parliament from the constituency, are mentioned as
“a terrible example of how the Fidesz government and municipalities waste European Union subsidies”
At the end of March, Átlátszó reported that the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva had cut down the forest during the construction of the canopy trail, which was built with EU funding of HUF 60 million (cca. 160 thousand EUR), and that the poorly constructed facility now stands in the middle of a desert.
The forest was cut to the ground during the construction of the EU-funded treetop walkway in Nyírmártonfalva – English
The mayor of Nyírmártonfalva won a gross 64 million HUF (approximately 166 thousand EUR) EU funding for the project aimed at building an 50-metre-long canopy walkway. Unfortunately, the forest was cut to the ground during the construction of the treetop walkway, which now stands in a desert.
In response to our story, Mihály Filemon, the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva, who applied for the grant as a private citizen, demanded an apology and threatened Átlátszó with a lawsuit. We also found out that the local politician, who is a prolific absorber of EU funds, has also received a HUF 50 million (cca 130 thousand EUR) EU grant for a vacant farm building near the treetop walkway. The unforested canopy trail has also given rise to a flurry of Internet folklore, with a number of memes about it appearing on social networks.
Unforested canopy trail: the mayor demands an apology and threatens legal action – English
Nyírmártonfalva mayor Mihály Filemon may boast a treetop walkway in his backyard, but he is still unhappy – if not downright morose. The source of his dejection is an Atlatszo story that reported that the Fidesz mayor has built a treetop walkway with a HUF 60 million (cca 160 thousand EUR) EU grant, but had cut down the forest during the construction, so the poorly constructed facility now stands in the middle of a desert.
Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International Hungary has taken the matter to the newly created official anti-corruption agency, the Integrity Authority, which is supposed to oversee the use of EU funds. In their official statement, referring to the story by Átlátszó, they state:
“From the cases described, it can be concluded that there are systemic errors in the selection of certain projects using EU funds, which result in the allocation of public funding to projects that appear pointless or unnecessary, and which may be linked to persons with a public mandate.”
Transparency International Hungary found several “red flags” in the tenders concerned: for example, László Tasó’s and Sándor Tasi’s projects for the same type of investment in the same small town received EU funding on the same day. In addition, Sándor Tasi is not only a beneficiary of the funding, but also held a leading position as chairman of the South-Nyírség Erdőspuszták Leader Association, which was involved in the preparation and promotion of the local call for proposals of the Rural Development Programme in the area covered by these two applications.
Transparency’s announcement is also interesting because the president of the Integrity Authority, Ferenc Bíró, recently said in a podcast on Átlátszó that the “treetop walkway-gate” is not serious enough for his office to investigate. He also said that the newly created authority is not informed by press stories, and that if someone wants them to take action, they have to make a formal complaint. This has now been done and we will report on developments.
The Hungarian version of this story is available here. Cover image: Bence Bodoky / Atlatszo.