„It is indeed true that every MP and member of the government must file a wealth declaration, and it must comply with reality. It is a crime not to do so,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán this April in the Hungarian Parliament.
His statement was a bit hyperbolic in the light of the past two decades. Since the wealth declaration system was established, several politicians have been caught submitting misleading or incomplete declarations but none of them has been sanctioned for it.
However, if Orbán takes his own statement seriously, a member of his government may have to face serious consequences. Direkt36 uncovered that Minister of State László Tasó’s annual wealth declarations do not fully comply with reality.
Although Tasó is responsible for transport development policies and oversees the spending of billions of euros, he keeps a low profile. He has been an MP for 12 years and spent most of his political career as the mayor of the Eastern Hungarian town of Nyíradony. During this time, he acquired a number of local properties.
He had bought some lands in the area that were later selected as the venue for the future industrial park of Nyíradony. This raised the properties’ value similarly to when their status in the land registry was changed: they officially belong to the built-up area since then (as if located within the city limits). Their classification changed during 2006 and 2015, on the last occasion at the request of Tasó himself.
Some of these properties were entirely left out of his declarations of wealth for years, and another one has been falsely declared.
There is at least one more misleading part in his declarations. As a landowner, Tasó was entitled to agricultural subsidies. He failed to declare about 3 million HUF (almost 10,000 euros).
At the end of May, Tasó answered some of our questions regarding his lands. He explained, for example, how he bought them. However, later, when we contacted him with further questions, he did not answer, calling our inquiries “paid provocation.”
The wealth declarations in their current state are barely suitable to demonstrate the assets of politicians in a transparent way. Therefore, Direkt36, 444 and Transparency International have partnered to develop a database, in which anyone can search for the declarations of MPs. Our new site, Vagyonkereső (meaning ‘Asset Finder in Hungarian) aims to help hold the politicians accountable. The database makes it easier to analyse data and detect previously hidden inconsistencies in the declarations. At the same time, it can put pressure on politicians to comply with the rules of the wealth declaration system.
Tasó has been the most influential politician of Nyíradony for decades. Ha was the mayor of the town for twenty years (between 1994 and 2014), during which he was re-elected every four years without having to campaign intensely as he had no serious challengers. In the meantime, he has been active in the national politics as well, serving as an MP since 2004.
In 2014 the new election law forced him to choose between the parliament and the municipal office of Nyíradony. He picked national politics and this appeared to pay off for him. Besides keeping his seat in the parliament, he was appointed a Minister of State responsible for transport development policies.
Still, he did not forget his hometown. He gives speeches at every important local ceremony, has his own office at the town hall, and was honoured last year for “showing the path” for the local youth and “shaping the vision of the city’s future.”
Tasó managed to channel a vast amount of EU money to the Eastern Hungarian region. Of all the local municipalities, relative to their size, Nyíradony got the most.
EU money spent in the villages and cities of the region, 2004-2015. Source: Direkt36
Since he left the municipality, Tasó has been rarely seen at the sessions of the town council. Last year, he attended only one session in March, according to the records. First he gave some advice to the council members and then wished them good work. However, later it became clear that he was not there to encourage the council but to pave the way for his own business.
He asked the representatives to change the classification of one of his lands, located outside the city limits: attach them to the built-up area.
The new mayor, Kondásné Erdei Mária, also from the governing Fidesz party, advised the representatives to support the request and the draft resolution about it. The vote was unanimous. Everyone voted yes, no one asked a question.
The property in question, however, cannot be found in Tasó’s declarations of wealth. According to the land register, the land is an “industrial estate,” which Tasó bought on the 13th of July 2014. One and a half year later, on the 14th of December in 2015, he assigned its ownership to his wife.
He did the same with two adjacent lands (1349 and 627 square metres). Tasó had owned these properties since 2002, but he left them out of his declarations of wealth for eight years. He also has a 2-hectare property very close. All three were given to Tasó’s wife as a “gift” last December, according to the land register.
These properties, together 23.356 square metres, just outside the town’s border, look like this:
The lands in question look nothing special: flat, weedy, triangle-shaped properties just outside Nyíradony, next to the main road towards Debrecen, behind the “Welcome to Nyíradony!” sign. It looks like this:
Yet highly important and expensive investments will take place in the area in the very near future.
One is the reconstruction of the main road next to Tasó’s lands, costing 5.5 billion HUF (about 17.2 million euro). One of the agencies in charge is the Ministry of National Development, where László Tasó is the Minister of State, responsible, among others, for the development of the country’s road-system. This March, Tasó proudly gave a speech at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the new road. The contractors must finish the work in 500 days, he said, because a new industry park will be established very soon in Nyíradony.
Tasó’s lands lie at the heart of this proposed investment. The official land-use plan of Nyíradony classifies them partly as “industrial-economic construction zone” and partly as “commercial services construction zone.” The area’s so-called “intervention points,” where the biggest developments are planned, actually surround Tasó’s properties.
Based on the land-use plan and other available documents it is not entirely clear what exactly will be built there. However, the fact that Tasó’s properties belong to the “industrial-economic construction zone” makes them the potential site of future development. Owners of such properties can develop industrial settlements there, or sell them to developers. It is also possible that the owner is entitled for some compensation if the city decides to expropriate the land in order to build something there, the Department of Urban Planning and Design of the Budapest University of Technology (BME) explained to Direkt36. Being officially part of the built-in area can make Tasó’s properties even more valuable.
We have asked for detailed plans of the future industry park, but the Municipality of Nyíradony claimed they are not public yet. The town has just applied for EU funds to build a “Science and Technology Park,” they said, adding that the documents are confidential until the application process is finished.
We also asked Tasó whether he planned to build something on his lands. He said no, adding that he might lease or sell them.
It is not only the properties that Tasó failed to declare accurately in his declarations. He failed to provide truthful information on the subsidies he got as a landowner.
Potentially every landowner is entitled to agricultural subsidies, paid by the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency (MVH). Tasó has arable lands and forests, too, in total almost 90 hectares. Tasó has been paid subsidies 13 times since 2011 (according to the database of the MVH) but declared only 5 of these (paid in 2014 and 2015). The subsidies from 2011, 2012 and 2013 were entirely left out of his declarations of wealth. These add up to 3.2 million HUF in total (around 10,000 euros).
The subsidy for “forest facilities” (more than 30 million HUF, 10.000 euros) was given for the construction of a forest look-out tower. It was built in Tasó’s forest near Nyíradony.
This 12-hectare land is, however, declared falsely in the politician’s declaration of wealth. According to the land register, for a long time Tasó was the only owner of the land, yet he claimed in his declaration that he only partially owned it. He made this claim for more than 10 years, but gave away half of the ownership only half a year ago. Last December, he passed it to his wife.
László Tasó is not the only politician to declare wrong or incomplete data about his assets. Misleading the public while seemingly fulfilling their obligations of transparency is quite common among politicians. You may find more details about the controversies encoded in the system here.