When public money goes to friends. This time through Jobbik

Forrás: Direkt36 - Németh Gyula

Tamás Matyóka works as a car mechanic in the tiny Hungarian village Csomád. His father has worked on diesel engines since 1991, and the now 39-year-old Tamás joined the family business after graduating from school, according to an interview with them published last year in the car magazine Totalcar. In the interview they mostly talked about the proper maintenance of diesel engines while posing in front of a nude calendar.

A few months before, Tamás Matyóka had been fairly busy with something completely different than diesel engines. His finance company M-Akta, founded in 2012, had a one-month deadline to meet. Matyóka’s firm was preparing an HUF 5.8m (€18,000) study for Jobbik on the political support of the radical party in comparison with other Hungarian parties.

Matyóka is one of those people who were contracted by Jobbik to prepare studies for the party despite their apparent lack of experience in politics. The party also hired, for example, an accountant’s firm to analyse home and foreign affairs in Hungary in 2011 for 3m HUF (€9,000). The company of the accountant’s brother, an IT system administrator by profession, received 2m HUF (€6,500) to research the privatization of the aluminium industry in Hungary.

What is common in these people is that they are all friends or acquaintances of Richárd Forrai, a prominent figure linked to Jobbik. Forrai acknowledged to Direkt36 that these companies were contracted by Jobbik at least partly because he knew the owners personally.

The companies of these people received public money as almost all of Jobbik’s revenues come from the Hungarian state, according to their latest reports. In Hungary, parties can receive public funds directly, or indirectly via their party foundations. According to Jobbik’s financial reports, total revenues of the party added up to HUF 1.11bn (€3.55m) in 2014 of which 95 percent originated from public funds. The rest came from private donations. The income of Jobbik’s party foundation, Gyarapodó Magyarország, was solely their HUF 329m (€765,000) annual state subsidy.

As shown by the first part of our series on Jobbik, Forrai has played an important role in developing Jobbik to a professional political party with a base of experts and loyal media organizations. However, Forrai is not only a leading party operator, but also plays a key role in the use of Jobbik’s funds.

Based on Direkt36’s calculations, Jobbik and its party foundation have spent almost HUF 2bn (€6.5m) since 2010 of which HUF 520m (€1.6m), 28 percent of all revenues has been received by companies currently owned by Forrai. In addition to Forrai’s direct interests, his friends and acquaintances have also received tens of million forints (tens of thousands of euros). The majority of the rest has ended up at organizations and individuals associated with the party.

The story told in 60 seconds:

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Compass to money

Iránytű Intézet, a think tank funded and headed by Richárd Forrai, played an essential role in establishing Jobbik’s economic hinterland. The think tank is prospering, thanks mostly to HUF 330m (€1m) paid by Jobbik. In 2014, its revenues reached HUF 124m (€400,000) with an operating profit of HUF 23.7m (€80,000).

Since the foundation of Iránytű in 2011, many companies previously linked to the party have been acquired by Forrai’s interests. The first was Magyar Hírek Ltd., publisher of the Jobbik-leaning weekly Barikád.

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Barikád was founded in 2009 by Magyar Hírek, which belonged at the time to Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona and then vice-president Csanád Szegedi. However, after fallout between Szegedi and Jobbik in 2012, the publication of Barikád came under threat as sales were decreasing. “I thought it would be a good idea to run the company. I spoke with chairman [Gábor Vona] who said that the threat was real and agreed to sell it,” said Forrai. Thus Iránytű Intézet bought the publisher from Szegedi and from Krisztina Vona-Szabó, wife of Vona, who had become a co-owner in the meantime.

“If Forrai hadn’t bought it, Barikád would have gone bankrupt. I did not really know any entrepreneur from the private sector who could rationalize its operation costs that effectively,” said party director Gábor Szabó. Forrai rationalized Barikád’s operations to save the weekly. Moreover, its HUF 84m (€270.000) revenue in 2012 had risen to HUF 121m (€391.000) while the profit of the magazine, which hardly consists of any adverts, reached HUF 17m (€55.000). The publisher has received almost HUF 97m (€307.000) in total from Jobbik’s party foundation since 2011. In November 2015, Judit Szabó, Forrai’s assistant at Iránytű and Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona’s sister-in-law, has become the manager of Magyar Hírek along with Forrai.

The next acquisition of Iránytű was another company which had already received several orders from Jobbik. Kreatív Frakció was owned by Edina Laboncz and her sister with a portfolio of graphics, public relations design, and other related art activities. Among other works, the company designed the graphics of Barikád and campaign leaflets for Jobbik.

Forrai said that he does not want to share the details how his companies function with the public. He explained, however, that he wanted to expand his portfolio with an event organizer company so he acquired the firm LKG Stars thus in the summer of 2014 through Iránytű Intézet.

By that time, LKG Stars had already received various orders from Jobbik. It was established by Mihály Gulicska in September 2010 who has been one of Vona’s bodyguards since 2009 and a “friend” of the entire Jobbik’s parliamentary group, according to the website of the Jobbik MP György Szilágyi. Forrai claimed that he got to know Gulicska in 2010 and later they became friends. LKG Stars organized exclusive events, for example Jobbik team buildings or parliamentary group dinners. All its revenues come from Jobbik, a total of almost HUF 57m (€200.000). In November 2015, Judit Szabó, Vona’s sister-in-law, also became a manager at LKG Stars in addition to Forrai.

Studies from crony companies

Forrai’s firms frequently received orders from Jobbik to prepare various studies. Iránytű was hired, for example, to write a 20-page-long piece on the ‘Current questions of the British EU-membership’ for HUF 5m (€16,000). This means Jobbik paid almost a thousand euros for each page. Iránytű also prepared similar studies on criticisms of capitalism and on hybrid warfare.

Other companies also received orders from Jobbik to write studies, even though apparently they had nothing to do with politics or political science. Their owners, however, are Forrai’s friends and acquaintances.

Forrai’s explanation for this is that when in 2010 he took part in organizing the whole network of advisers around Jobbik, trust, experience, and fair prices were essential in allocating the assignments “as we did not want to dismiss our reliable and faithful advisors after getting into parliament.” Forrai said that this could have been the reason why his friends and acquaintances were hired. He added that these companies prepared only such studies that were deemed necessary by the leadership of the parliamentary group, which confirmed this in a written response to Direkt36.

“Obviously this is a sensitive thing. You give the order to whom you trust in performing the task properly and to whom you can cooperate well with,” said Forrai to Direkt36. “We had to be quick so we turned to those people who are intelligent and experienced and who used to work for us in their spare time mostly for free,” explained Forrai why he sought his friends’ help. Jobbik’s parliamentary group also said that this played a part in the companies’ selection.

This explanation is remarkable because Jobbik MPs regularly criticize whenever public funds are allocated to friends by other political organizations. For example, János Volner, vice-president of Jobbik, criticized the governing party Fidesz in October, arguing that the state allocates public funds to those “who maintain fruitful relationships with politicians.”

Forrai said that he knows car mechanic Tamás Matyóka well but he does not clearly remember why Matyóka’s company was contracted to study Jobbik’s political support. Forrai said it is not unlikely that Matyóka received the order because of their relationship. The study, seen by Direkt36, analysed the responses about Jobbik in a poll database of 32,000 respondents, bought from Forrai’s Iránytű Intézet. While the study cost HUF 5.8m (€18,000), the paper did not credit anyone as its author.

Matyóka told Direkt36 that it was Richárd Forrai who approached his company but said “we would better ask him” why Forrai chose M-Akta to prepare the study. According to Matyóka, his company, which offers financial advisory services, is fully managed by a man named Zoltán Debreczeni so he is the one who can talk about the study made for Jobbik. Matyóka claimed that even though he established the company – as he had some money to invest – he does not take part in its daily operations. He works as a car mechanic and runs a food kiosk in Csomád, he added.

Direkt36 approached Zoltán Debreczeni but he said he was too busy to reply to any questions. Jobbik’s parliamentary group said that they commission companies not based on what activities they registered but on their competence.

A childhood friend

Debreczeni, whom Forrai described as his friend, was also involved in the preparations of other studies for Jobbik. A company of Debreczeni received multiple contracts to conduct studies for Jobbik. Debreczeni’s firm, FDNT, also used Iránytű’s database of 32,000 respondents in its analysis of voters’ political preferences in the autumn of 2013. Each page of the 68-page-long paper, which cost HUF 3 million (€10,000), contained 1 or 2 charts with a written explanation on the political parties’ support based on various indicators. The author of this study also remained anonymous.

Debreczeni and Forrai have known each other since their childhood. Forrai’s first company was registered in the house of Debreczeni’s parents.

Later on, they established two companies together. One of them, DeFo Leasing s.r.o., was registered in Slovakia and deals with car leasing and fleet management. Its activity played a part in why there are so many cars with Slovakian license plates on the roads of Hungary. According to its website, DeFo Leasing buys cars in Hungary but sells them in Slovakia, thus lowering the registration fees and maintenance costs for the owner as they can bypass the registration tax and the expensive VAT on automobiles in Hungary. In general, the company takes advantage of the “simpler, more advantageous tax environment” compared to Hungary.

According to Forrai, he co-founded the company because he was fed up with the economic environment in Hungary, and the final push was when then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány famously said that ‘everyone is free to leave the country’. “Well, so let’s take a look around the economic opportunities abroad, I thought. My friend [Zoltán Debreczeni] had relatives in Slovakia so we went there to explore business opportunities,” Forrai recalled.

However, something is wrong with his explanation as Gyurcsány made this statement in June 2006 while Forrai and Debreczeni had already established the company in March. Forrai explained later in an e-mail that Gyurcsány’s statement only gave a boost to actually operate the company, but not for its foundation.

Although Forrai later sold his shares in the companies co-owned with Debreczeni, the two remained friends. Debreczeni’s firm, FDNT, was hired by Jobbik to write studies, despite its main activity was renting out cars. Debreczeni became the owner of FDNT in September 2011, and two months later Jobbik ordered three political studies from them for HUF 8m (€25,000).

One of the papers evaluated Hungarian home and foreign affairs in 2011, another covered the European debt crisis, and the third assessed the performance of the Hungarian economy in 2011. We wanted to have a look into the latter, but Jobbik refused our request, claiming that the study was used in preparation of decision-making and therefore cannot be made public. Jobbik paid almost HUF 3m (€10,000) for the 30-page study. Altogether, FDNT prepared five analyses for Jobbik for HUF 18m (€60,000). Zoltán Debreczeni did not want to make any comments regarding these studies, citing his limited time.

Zoltán Debreczeni’s brother, Tamás, received even more orders from Jobbik trough his company, 3 Tech Bt. At that time, its main activity covered ‘other IT services’ and prepared six studies for Jobbik for HUF 8m (€25,000). Tamás Debreczeni’s company prepared studies on labour unions and the privatization of the aluminium industry. Forrai claimed that Tamás Debreczeni was an IT system administrator, but later he added in an email that “the services he offers do not only include IT and business advisory activities, but also the development and maintenance of IT systems.”

We were given a chance to look at the paper analysing the welfare system of Hungary. It characterizes the welfare system in 14 pages, summarizes the current social benefits in another three pages, then presents relevant legislation with a short introduction in the final 14 pages. The study’s author is unknown and the document, which cost HUF 1.3m (€4,000) for Jobbik, did not list any sources on which it was based.

Only the output is essential

When we asked Forrai why he ordered studies for Jobbik on social and economic issues from an IT company, Forrai said that Tamás Debreczeni probably involved a subcontractor. “According to the contract, either you wrote the analysis or an expert – if one is needed to be involved due to the lack of your know-how – who you involve and you’re responsible for him. The most important thing is that the output must be of good quality,” said Forrai.

Debreczeni’s partner in the company at the time was Tímea Polgár whom we asked about the firm’s role in preparing the studies, but she said she could not tell that and did not want to answer any other questions. When we called Tamás Debreczeni, he said that he would not have time to answer our questions until January.

Not only the brother of Zoltán Debreczeni, but also his brother-in-law received orders from Jobbik. The then 20-year-old Róbert Pataky established White Heaven Kft. in 2010 and it prepared two studies for Jobbik in 2012 for HUF 4.4m (€14,000). According to Forrai, he ‘hasn’t seen Robi for 2-3 years’, and even though he did not remember clearly, he ‘could imagine’ that Jobbik contracted White Heaven through him.

At the time of the contracts, White Heaven had three activities according to the company register: transporting goods, courier mail, and renting ‘other assets’. The two study topics are not related to any of these categories. One of them was about the crisis management in Iceland, the other is about the ‘radical trend’ is Europe. The latter cost HUF 3.3m (€10,000), containing 24 pages, mainly introducing 16 parties in Europe each in around one page.

Neither sources, nor the name of the author were shown in the document. We wanted to reach Róbert Pataky, but he has not replied to our emails.

For information on companies, we used the databases of Ceginfo and Opten.