Opposition MPs asked questions in Parliament about cases Atlatszo has uncovered

Independent media outlets often refer to our investigations, which bring to light new information in an otherwise opaque environment. Sometimes, opposition MPs use our revelations in Parliament to ask questions. The advantage? Hypothetically, these questions have to be answered. MPs cannot be ignored the same way journalists are. But the caveat is that no substantive answer must be provided. In response to these questions, MPs generally face endless blathering and circumlocution, Quixotic rants about wokeness and liberal lefties, or denials – in Hungary, after all, everything is fine. Thriving, even.

After some of these questions, Attorney General Péter Polt has stated that they had already launched investigations into the matter at hand. Unfortunately, this offered little comfort. Exhibit A: a protracted and sloppy investigation into the Elios scandal, involving the Prime Minister’s son-in-law István Tiborcz, was closed due to lack of criminality. A handful of other investigations have been ongoing for years, with no conclusions as of yet.

And yet, we continue to investigate and opposition MPs continue to take their questions to Parliament. We present ten reports from last year that inspired action of some sort.

1. The Csokonyavisonta Spa

The dilapidated spa changed hands three times in 2022. We noted in December that, following the tumultuous ownership saga, the facility was finally acquired by a company owned by none other than the mother of Győr Fidesz MP Péter Hajtó.

Following our article, DK MP Ágnes Vadai submitted a written question to Péter Polt, and the Attorney General replied that the Somogy County Police Headquarters is conducting criminal proceedings “on suspicion of the crime of misappropriation of funds in connection with the sale of the spa”.

Unfortunately, neither Polt nor the police provided any details on the status of the investigation.

2. The food parcels for the poor

After lengthy litigation, the Directorate General for Social Affairs and Child Protection (DG SANCO) revealed to us the prices at which the food packages for the poor were fixed back in 2017. We found that the food was shockingly overpriced.

Following one of our articles on this subject in May 2023, Lajos Lőcsei, a Momentum MP, asked the Ministry of the Interior, the body in charge of the SZGYF, whether an internal investigation had been launched into the significant overpricing. The question addressed personally to Sándor Pintér, Minister of the Interior, was answered by Bence Rétvári, State Secretary of the Interior. Rétvári said that all was fine with the parcels.

3. Hospital waitlists

Last year, we ran a series of articles on hospital waitlists, where we found patients facing serious obstacles to getting surgeries. Referring to our article, MP Ágnes Vadai asked Interior Minister Sándor Pintér about the alleged secret registers where patients wait for months before being put on the official waitlist.

On behalf of the Minister, State Secretary Bence Rétvári has answered Vadai’s question in an unusually long answer – two pages. Rétvári first mentioned – criticized, lambasted, pilloried – the left, before he launched into an ode about the Fidesz government’s accomplishments in reducing waitlists over the last 12 years.

He said that hospitals could not keep two waitlists – but he did not deny the existence of secret registers.

4. The Catholic education quarter

In mid-August last year, we reported that a Catholic education quarter could be built in Tamasi, Tolna County – provided that state funding is made available – based on documents uploaded to the public procurement notice. The new educational quarter would include a kindergarten, a primary and a secondary school, and a dormitory.

Following the publication of our article, MP Ágnes Vadai (DK) wrote to ask: “How much public money is the state planning to spend on the Catholic educational quarter to be built in Tamasi, Tolna County?” The reply from Bence Rétvári (Fidesz-KDNP), Minister of State for the Interior – the accusation that her “question is anti-religious”.

5. Péter Szijjártó’s in-flight menu

Last February, we reported on the cost of military flights ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President of the Republic based on figures from the Ministry of Defense.

The total cost came out to HUF 644 million – not including, for reasons unknown, fuel. The use of on-board internet cost HUF 106.3 million and on-board catering for delegations cost HUF 36.4 million. The on-board catering for the delegation on Péter Szijjártó’s February 2022 Cairo-Mana’a trip was the most expensive, coming in at HUF 5.5 million.

MSZP MP Imre Komjáthi wrote to the Foreign Ministry to ask what was on the menu on this flight, but he only received vague replies. Mr Komjáthi turned to Minister of Defence Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky with the same question, but he was told that “the Ministry of Defence is not the data controller” in the case.

6. The Göd battery factory

Last September, we revealed that the Göd battery factory has no environmental permit. After our article, Ágnes Vadai MP (DK) submitted a written question to Gergely Gulyás, the Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, on the matter.

On behalf of Minister Csaba Lantos, State Secretary of the Ministry of Energy Dr. Zsófia Koncz provided a written response to the question in early October. After some introductory drivel about the factory’s unauthorized operation, the State Secretary said that “a full environmental procedure was initiated on 5 September 2023 and is currently ongoing on the basis of the documentation submitted by Samsung SDI Zrt.” In other words, the factory has indeed been operating without an environmental permit for five years. Worry not, because as punishment, they received a permit at the end of the year for the next ten years.

7. Nébih and Facebook

At the beginning of August last year, our press inquiry to the National Food Chain Safety Office (Nébih) was answered in a Facebook post. A few weeks after the publication of our article, Ágnes Vadai MP (DK) wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, where she quoted the Átlátszó article in detail and then asked the question: “Why is the Nébih communicating with the press in a Facebook post instead of through the official channel?”

In his reply, the minister informed the DK MEP that the Nébih operates a number of platforms to provide information – be it a website, a video-sharing platform, a social media platform, messenger pigeons, fire signals, fruit baskets – all of which are considered official communication channels.

8. The dysfunctional Gidrán factory

At the end of August last year, we wrote that the Gidrán factory in Kaposvár – touted by the government loudly and proudly – wasn’t operational. In fact, the entire project disappeared from the HT Division Zrt website, a company co-owned by Hungarian and Turkish oligarchs and yacht buddies László Szíjj and Suat Karakus that had been involved in the procurement of the Turkish combat vehicles.

Neither the company involved in the secret 30-year purchase of the Gidrans nor the Ministry of Defense answered any of our questions. A few days after our article, DK MP Ágnes Vadai wrote to the Minister of Defense, but she was not given any concrete information either. The Deputy Minister of Defense sent her a one-sentence response: “HT Division Zrt. is a privately owned company, and its business policy and investment decisions are made independently of the state.”

9. The PMO’s unlawful tender

Last August, we reported that the Prime Minister’s Office had reopened an illegal tender procedure for the selection of public procurement consultants, withdrawn previously at the end of June. In a turn to the absurd, it was the very experts who would have examined the regularity of the public procurement that were being procured. The Integrity Authority, among others, had appealed to the Public Procurement Arbitration Committee about the tender, but to no avail.

Following the publication of our article on the matter, DK MEP Ágnes Vadai followed up on the validity of the tender with question to Péter Polt. In response, the Prosecutor General took the question as an accusation, and he forwarded it to the Budapest Police Headquarters. No major investigation is expected – the case has no criminal relevance. It is only – only, because at this point our standards have dropped so low – a suspicion of a public procurement infringement, which is punishable by a fine.

10. The Zsadány bike path

At the beginning of December, following K-Monitor’s analysis, we found that the municipality of Zsadány in Békés County had launched a tender in April 2023 for the “completion of the bike path”. More than 30 companies applied for the job, including livestock breeders, IT specialists, and tax consultants: their aim was to obtain EU funding set aside for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises that had not previously bid for public contracts. Most of the bidders in the Zsadány tender won this HUF 600,000 grant, drawing a total of HUF 17.4 million from EU funds, otherwise used to fight corruption.

The cycle path itself cost only HUF15 million, less than the grant awarded to the bidders. After our article, independent MEP Ákos Hadházy submitted a written question to Prosecutor General Péter Polt, asking whether he suspected fraud in the case. The Prosecutor General assessed Hadházy’s question as an accusation and forwarded it to the investigating authorities. Polt replied that in mid-December, the National Tax and Customs Office’s (NAV) Criminal Directorate of the Southern Great Plain opened an investigation into budget fraud. The investigation is still ongoing.

Translated by Vanda Mayer. The original, Hungarian version of this story can be found here.Cover photo:The building of the Parliament, source: Átlátszó/Szakál Szebáld.