One man is an entrepreneur, the other is a public official. One went to a vocational school, the other has a law degree. One is sporty and elegant, the other looks older than his age.
The two men seemingly do not have anything in common, still they have had a very close relationship for years. They say that they spoke by phone on a daily basis and had lunch or coffee once a week. One even gave advice to the other on buying suits.
What might explain their close connection despite the differences in character is one thing: District 5 of Budapest, one of the richest and most important municipalities in the capital. János Borzován, the entrepreneur, was active in the district through his construction company, getting several valuable contracts from the municipality while the lawyer named László Rónaszéki was serving as the district’s notary.
Now there is one more thing that links the two. Both of them are defendants in the corruption trial that started at the Court of Budapest on Thursday. Borzován is charged of asking money for influencing official procedures of the municipality. According to the prosecutors, he was cooperating in this with Rónaszéki. The third defendant, a restaurant owner, is charged of giving money to Borzován so that he help him obtaining a licence from the municipality.
All three men are denying the charges.
Zizi Bar’s licence
The prosecutor’s office claims that Borzován and Rónaszéki committed crimes regarding two separate legal procedures. Direkt36 covered extensively the one that was revolving around obtaining a restaurant licence. According to the prosecutors, Borzován asked 1.5 million HUF (4800 euros) from a then co-owner of a place called Zizi Bar in return for arranging a license needed for longer opening hours.
According to the charges, a few days after the phone conversation with the restaurant owner, Borzován indeed spoke with Rónaszéki about the license application. Another couple of days later, a colleague of the restaurant owner took the money to the place previously agreed upon, a downtown hotel that, according to the prosecutors, belongs to Borzován’s business interests. The next day, the local government acknowledged the license application and registered the restaurant’s late-night opening hours.
The prosecutor’s case is based partly on secretly tapped phone conversations. Borzován claims, however, that the prosecutors misinterpreted what happened. He acknowledged that he got 1.5 million forints from the restaurant owner but he claims that this money was in return for a construction work he arranged for Zizi Bar. He added that no invoice was issued because they had an informal agreement with the restaurant owner and that is why the work is not included in neither company’s books.
Borzován acknowledged that he had known about the pending licence of Zizi Bar. He also admitted that he talked about it with Rónaszéki but he claimed that the money from the restaurant owner had nothing to do with it.
The importance of Borzován’s image
The rest of the charges involve a real estate deal. Prosecutor Zoltán Andréka said that a company sold a property in District 5 in July 2012 but the new owner could not be registered in the land records as long as the municipality did not waive its right to buy the property. Due to the summer break, the municipality made this decision only in September but those involved in the real estate deal had to wait even longer. They needed an official copy of the resolution in order to proceed with the land records registration.
It was then that one of the intermediaries involved in the real estate deal contacted Borzován and, according to the charges, asked him to help them get the resolution. The prosecutor said that Borzován agreed to do this and turned to Rónaszéki. According to the charges, Borzován wanted to make sure that it would be clear for the intermediary that it was he who arranged the resolution’s issuance. The prosecutor said that this was important for Borzován because he wanted to cultivate the image that he is a person who can arrange official matters at the municipality.
According to the charges, Borzován asked 500 thousand HUF (1.600 euros) from the intermediary but he refused to pay. The resolution was eventually issued in the middle of October, a month after the decision was made.
At the hearing, Borzován claimed that he prosecutors’ charges are baseless in this case, too. He said that he was in contact with the intermediary, a real estate dealer, because he wanted to sell one of his properties. He acknowledged that he became familiar with the matter of the resolution. He also said that he discussed it with Rónaszéki but he did it only to selflessly help the real estate dealer.
“We spoke often and on various topics. I may have asked him about this too,” said Borzován, who was described by the prosecutor as someone with a wide network of contacts in District 5.
“Don’t chill out too much”
For years, Borzován was a major player in the district’s construction business. Between 2000 and 2010, Borzován’s company, BAU Holding 2000 Ltd., received contracts from the 5th district – often as member of consortia – totalling 6.5 billion HUF (20.6 million euros), procurement records show. Data analysis provided by the CEU Microdata research group shows that no other company won more from the local government in this period.
After 2011, the total revenues of János Borzován’s companies started to fall, and they also received less work from the 5th District. At the same time, a new company, EU-Line, came to be a close partner of the municipality in construction works. Direkt36 showed in a previous article that there are several indirect links between EU-Line and János Borzován but he claims that he had nothing to do with the company’s operations.
The corruption trial made it clear that Borzován’s business activity might have faded in District 5 but his connection with the notary remained strong. Apart from talking on a daily basis, Borzován also did favors for Rónaszéki. He arranged, for example, that the apartment of Rónaszéki’s daughter got renovated at a discount price. Rónaszéki did not remember clearly when this happened but he said that it must have been sometime in 2013.
Borzován also helped Rónaszéki when the notary needed new suits. He connected Rónaszéki with one of his friends, who was selling suits imported from abroad. Borzován said that Rónaszéki paid for what he bought he only helped with connecting the two people.
The tapped phone conversations suggest that Borzován and Rónaszéki had a very informal relationship. In a call cited at the trial, Borzován told Rónaszéki that “he shouldn’t chill out too much.” Borzován later told the investigators that he does not remember why he said this but added that he had a very good relationship with the notary so “we could afford to say things like this.”
The notary remembers differently
Thursday’s hearing revealed, in addition to the close relationship between Borzován and Rónaszéki, some new details regarding the municipality as well.
Antal Rogán, the district’s former mayor and now a government minister, earlier said that Rónaszéki was forced out of his job in 2013 because of lack of trust. In a 2015 interview with Index, Rogán also suggested that he initiated Rónaszéki’s dismissal. However, in a confession read out at the hearing, Rónaszéki claimed that it was his decision to leave and formally he left under mutual agreement. He also revealed that his connection with the municipality did not end with his departure. He kept working for the district as a consultant at a company owned by the municipality.
„What should be known about this is that there was an interim period when my experience and advice was needed for the ongoing matters,” said Rónaszéki. He added that he worked for the municipality company for a few months.
Currently, Rónaszéki works for another municipality in Budapest, the mayoral office of District 7. He is responsible for ethnic issues there and earns a monthly net salary of 270 thousand HUF (870 euros), Rónaszéki said in response to the judge’s questions.