High costs covered car rental on Lázár’s visit in Zurich

Forrás: kormany.hu

New details have been disclosed about the „material expenses” of more than 800 thousand forints (2600 euros) that were paid during two 2013 trips of János Lázár, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The 280 thousand forints (930 euros) spent on a two-day-long visit in Zurich was paid for car rental, said the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday in a response to Direkt36’s questions. During another two-day-long visit to Milan 1548 euros was spent on the accomodation of Lázár’s driver and costs of „restaurant services”, according to the office.

At a Thursday press conference, Lázár told Direkt36’s reporter that he did not remember what car they used in Zurich. „It did not impress me too much”, said the minister.

When reminded by our reporter that he was known to be fond of good cars, he said that „I gave up loving cars.” He suggested that this happened because of the criticism he had received for using expensive cars in the past.

Of the car rental, he also said that as far as he remembers they used the hotel’s driver service.

Of the travel expenses in Milan, he said that „I think the driver slept in the same hotel where I stayed and in the restaurant there were several other people”.

Lázár reiterated that he would not disclose the identity of those he met during the two visits and the subject of their meetings. He does not want to reveal the names of the hotels either, arguing that the names would help indentify his meeting partners.

It was in early 2014 when Direkt36’s journalist – then a reporter with Origo – started asking questions about some of János Lázár’s foreign trips that had much higher hotel bills than other officials’ travels did. When the Prime Minister’s Office failed to provide meaningful answers about the trips, the journalist launched a public information lawsuit with the assistance of Transparency International.

Lázár was accompanied by one person on each trip and the original travel database provided by the government showed only the total value of their hotel bills. The data did not reveal the specific cost of Lázár’s rooms.

The Prime Minister’s Office, however, disclosed some of these details in their answers to a recently submitted, new list of questions by Direkt36. In the case of the trip to Milan, exactly half of the 598 thousand forint hotel bill was spent on Lázár’s room, the office said. This sum included the procurement fee as well, which amounted to 14 thousand forints (44 euros at current rate), records show.

In the case of another trip, the Prime Minister’s Office modified its originally disclosed details. They had said earlier that when Lázár spent one night in Zürich, Switzerland in March 2013, the hotel for him and his aide cost 481 thousand forints (1536 euros). Now the office claims that in fact the bill was only 189 thousand (603 euros), of which 103 thousand (329 euros) was spent on Lázár’s room.

Lázár had a third trip with unusually high hotel bills. This was a mission in London, November 2012, where the cost of two nights’ accommodation for Lázár and his aide was as high as 920 thousand forints (2956 euros). The Prime Minister’s Office said that it is not possible to disclose the specific price of Lázár’s hotel room, as the “accommodation expenses of the delegation were recognised jointly”.

The Prime Minister’s Office provided few details on what Lázár did during these trips, arguing that revealing such details would hurt national interests. During the lawsuit they acknowledged, however, that only the details of the England trip are classified while the Swiss and Italian visits do not have similar protection.

According to a recent court decision, the Prime Minister’s Office has to disclose the details of the meetings (the names of the officials Lázár met and the subjects they discussed) on these two trips. The court ruling is not legally binding yet as the Prime Minister’s Office appealed.

Lázár himself stated that he is determined to prevent the disclosure of details. “The court cannot verify whether what I say is true, because I can say that I do not remember, or I can say something that is not true about with whom I was in the hotel”, said Lázár on a press conference when asked about the court decision, according to Index.

  • András Pethő

    András is a co-founder, editor and executive director of Direkt36. Previously, he was a senior editor for leading Hungarian news site Origo before it had been transformed into the government’s propaganda outlet. He also worked for the BBC World Service in London and was a reporter at the investigative unit of The Washington Post. He has contributed to several international reporting projects, including The Panama Papers. He twice won the Soma Prize, the prestigious annual award dedicated to investigative journalism in Hungary. He was a World Press Institute fellow in 2008, a Humphrey fellow at the University of Maryland in 2012/13, and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University in 2019/20. András has taught journalism courses at Hungarian universities.