Panama Papers expose new details in major corruption case

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The so-called Eclipse scandal was one of the biggest corruption cases of the last two decades in Hungary. The scandal was named after Eclipse Informatikai Zrt., a company with links to politics and the intelligence services.

The firm got several high-value contracts in the mid-2000s, some of them from an agency under the Ministry of Interior. Later, the company’s executives were charged in a major tax fraud case.

Even though the events cast a shadow mostly over the former socialist government, some players had ties to Sándor Pintér, the current interior minister as well.

Now, thanks to the new and old Panama Papers files, a massive cache of offshore leaks, previously unreported details emerged about the rather complex Eclipse story.

According to the leaked documents, Eclipse, at the beginning of its spectacular rise, got close to an offshore company that had political links. Eclipse signed a consultancy contract with a Seychelles company called Lemmonleaf, which was owned by Péter Béres. He was not only a member of Eclipse’s supervisory board at the time but also had extensive connections to the government. He had worked in the Ministry of Interior and held positions in state-owned companies.

Béres confirmed to Direkt36 that Lemmonleaf had a contract with Eclipse but he claims that in the end Lemmonleaf did not provide any services for Eclipse and did not receive payment either. He said the reason for the contract’s cancellation was that he returned to the public sector and Lemmonleaf’s contract posed a conflict of interest for him.

Despite his long-time connections to the socialists, Béres also held positions at state-owned companies under the current government run by Viktor Orbán. He told Direkt36 that now he’s active in the area of development policies but declined to reveal where exactly he’s working.

The law firm that created Lemmonleaf was Mossack Fonseca, which has been at the centre of the Panama Papers controversy. In April 2016, a global investigative project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published hundreds of stories based on millions of internal documents that had leaked from Mossack Fonseca.

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As the result of a new major leak, Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained another massive cache of internal Mossack Fonseca documents. The files, which are dated from early 2016 through the end of 2017, together with the previous leak, offer new insights into Mossack Fonseca’s operations, including ones with connections to Hungary.

From Hungary, Direkt36 was the only journalism organization participating in the previous and the current investigative project, which made it possible to unearth files concerning the Hungarian golden visa program.

A company with good connections

Eclipse, founded in 2003, had come under scrutiny after receiving lucrative IT contracts from state actors. In most cases, the company won the contracts in closed tenders. The government agencies argued that national security concerns did not allow open competition.

Media reports and the Hungarian Competition Authority questioned the regularity and the usefulness of Eclipse’s contracts, and various articles were written about the company’s connections to the political elite. It was revealed that one of the company’s founders, Endre Deák, had been the business partner of a former leader of Hungary’s Special Service for National Security. Hungarian newspapers also reported that the daughter of Sándor Pintér, Hungary’s former and current interior minister, was an employee of Eclipse, which rented its office from a company owned by Pintér.

The offshore connection

Articles about Eclipse also pointed out that between 2005 and 2006, one of the members of the company’s Supervisory Board was Péter Béres, who had close ties to the government in power at that time.

Mónika Lamperth, a prominent member of the Hungarian Socialist Party for years, told Direkt36 that, as she recalls, Béres worked as an expert for the parliamentary section of the socialists already between 1998 and 2002, when they were in opposition. After the election victory of the socialists in 2002, Béres got a position in the Interior Ministry led by Lamperth. Lamperth did not remember how long Béres worked in the ministry, but Béres claims that he was only employed until December 2004. He claimed that he held no government position when he became a member of Eclipse’s Supervisory Board on 10 November 2005.

Shortly after that, on 5 December 2005, the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca created the Seychelles-based company called Lemmonleaf, whose beneficial owner was Péter Béres. This company signed a consultancy contract with Eclipse Ltd, but Béres claimed that it was eventually not fulfilled. Béres said that in August 2006 he began a new job, which was incompatible “with this activity”. He said that the new job was a position in the public sector, but he did not disclose the name of the institution that employed him.

Béres was a member of Eclipse’s Supervisory Board until the end of September 2006. Later he held position in state-owned companies, also under the current Orbán-government. In recent years, among others, he held position in various state-companies related to transportation.

Although the first arrests in the Eclipse case had taken place already in 2010, the final court judgement was only passed last year.

Eight of the 12 accused were sentenced to jail and four were acquitted. Béres said that he was not involved in the procedure. “During the investigation into the Eclipse case, I was not contacted by the authorities in any ways, so the trial did not affect me either,” he said, adding that “I learned about the company’s issues when the scandal broke.”

Blanka Zöldi contributed to this article.

For the Hungarian company data we used the services of Opten.

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