How to waste public funds

Atlatszo wins lawsuit against the PM’s Office for the disclosure of a due diligence report on waste of public money

After the first and second instances, we also won the case at the Supreme Court against the Prime Minister’s Office. We started the lawsuit to see the Antall József Knowledge Centre’s due diligence report in early 2022. Following the Curia’s decision, the PM’s Office has finally sent the document on the basis of which state support for the think-thank has been withdrawn. The report, which was kept secret, includes horrendous travel and accommodation expenses, as well as a contract with the company owned by the wife of the head of the knowledge centre, Péter Antall.

The report, written in September 2021, examined how the organisation had managed the public funds it had received since 2013 and whether the they had used the money correctly. While the Prime Minister’s Office found no irregularities, there were several instances where the principle of “moderate spending as expected and applied in the public sector” was violated. In other words, Péter Antall and his colleagues wasted public money: there was a year in which they spent HUF 60 million (approx. EUR 158.000) on travel.

In May 2021, Direkt36 reported that the government-friendly think-thank organisation, the Antall József Knowledge Centre Foundation (AJKC) had received over HUF 4 billion in public money from the Orbán government over the years, from which the head of the institution, Péter Antall (son of the late Prime Minister József Antall), received a very high salary, and travelled abroad with his colleagues, where they mostly stayed in lavish hotels and also spent on private hospitals and expensive suitcases.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the newspaper’s questions by saying that an investigation would be launched to find out whether the AJKC had used the public money it had received “efficiently and in a way that was appropriate to its purpose”.

Almost half a year later, at the end of September 2021, Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced that the investigation into the AJKC had been finished, which found that “its management met the legal criteria, but also included unjustifiable payments, including some that were incompatible with good morals”. Mr. Gulyás also said that “the state will not continue to support the Antall József Knowledge Centre from public funds”.

After the Minister’s announcement, at the end of October 2021, we requested the due diligence report from the Prime Minister’s Office in a freedom of information request to see the findings. Gergely Gulyás’s ministry first extended the deadline for a response to 45 days, pointing to “the performance of its public duties related to the emergency”, and then refused to release the report, claiming in large part that it was decision-preparatory data. We did not feel that the reason for the refusal was justified, so we sued the PM’s Office for the report.


Péter Antall (left) and Gergely Gulyás (right) at a round table discussion at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2015 (source: Facebook)

We went to court and won

The court of first instance ordered the Prime Minister’s Office to publish the report. According to the judgment, the report was in the public interest and examined the use of public funds previously granted to the Antall József Knowledge Centre. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s Office did not identify a specific decision that was based on the document and a hypothetical future possibility could not be invoked as a ground for refusal.

Gergely Gulyás’s ministry was not satisfied with the first-instance judgment. They filed an appeal, listing the same grounds – decision-supporting document, decision-making free of influence, protection of reporting staff – as in the first instance.

However, the Court of Appeal, acting in the second instance, was not impressed by these arguments and upheld the judgment of the first instance court, ordering the PM’s Office to release the report. Gulyás and his staff still would not publish the document, but appealed to the Supreme Court, Curia. In the request for review, they argued that if the report were released, the staff who had prepared it would be open to attack, and stressed that it was an internal working document containing facts but “at the same time also containing opinions”. The Curia’s decision upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal and highlighted that

“in a democratic society, public access to data of public interest is the general rule”.

After the 2-years-long legal procedure, at the end of November 2023, the PM’s Office finally sent us the due diligence report of Antall József Knowledge Centre (AJKC).

Expensive trips and hotels

According to the released report, there were several instances where the principle of „moderate spending as expected and applied in the public sector” was violated. In other words, the AJKC had wasted public money from the government, spending a lot of it on travel and accommodation.

Specifically, the report says, AJKC spent on travel and accommodation

  • HUF 21 million out of 290 million in 2014,
  • HUF 40.7 million out of 569 million in 2015,
  • HUF 30.8 million out of 600 million in 2016,
  • HUF 13 million out of 600 million in 2017,
  • HUF 60.5 million out of 850 million in 2019.

The latter is confirmed by several Facebook posts: staff members visited Abu Dhabi, Australia, Brussels, and Los Angeles that year.

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Péter Antall, director of AJKC (in the middle) in Australia in November, 2019 (photo: Facebook)

Travel and accommodation expenses from 2018 are not included in the Prime Minister’s Office report, but there are others instead, which “are not prohibited by law, but also raise ethical questions”.

This is “a legal transaction with an entity in which the close relative of the executive officer was a member (owner)” at the time of the transaction. Although the name of the executive concerned was omitted from the report, the name of the company was not, so it was easy to figure out that the person is Veronika Antall-Horváth, the wife of AJKC director Péter Antall, who acted as deputy director at the organisation.

According to the report, based on a receipt dated 19 April 2018

AJKC paid HUF 541,680 to the firm Motive Bt. for professional translations.

At that time, one of the company’s foreign members was Veronika Horváth, who, according to the company database, took Antall’s name in the summer of 2019 (which shows their marriage’s date) and moved to a shared address with him in Budapest in August 2020. The firm called Motive Bt. is the business of her family: her parents and siblings are still its internal and external partners – she left the company in June 2021.

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Veronika Antall-Horváth, deputy director of AJKC in 2018 (source: Facebook)

Because of the high travel and accommodation costs and the contract with the deputy director/wife’s company, the Prime Minister’s Office report concluded its summary by “recommending a reconsideration of the Foundation’s support from public funds”. In other words, they very subtly indicated that perhaps the organisation should not receive any more public money.

This decision was taken quickly: Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, five days after the document was signed, announced that the state would not support the AJKC from public funds in the future.

Written and translated: Katalin Erdélyi. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this story can be found here. Cover photo: Péter Antall and his wife in 2019 at a conference (source: Facebook)