Lázár lost another legal battle, hotel names have to be disclosed

The Prime Minister’s Office failed in its last legal battle to prevent the disclosure of the hotel’s names where its head, János Lázár, stayed on two 2013 trips. On Wednesday, Curia, the highest court in Hungary, upheld the previous verdict that forced the office to reveal the names of the hotels where Lázár slept in Milan and Zürich. Both trips drew attention because of unusually high hotel bills.

That ruling was issued in March by the Budapest Court of Appeal. The Prime Minister’s Office turned to the Curia with a request for legal review but the Curia rejected their arguments to overturn the previous verdict.

The Curia said that the freedom of information law clearly defines public records as any information concerning activities of public officials. Only private information are excluded from this category but, the Curia argued, it cannot be considered private information where Mr. Lázár stayed on his official trips.

The Curia’s ruling cannot be appealed. The Prime Minister’s Office has to disclose the hotel names after receiving the written ruling. The whole process could take another few months.

The public information lawsuit was launched by András Pethő, a co-founder of Direkt36, last year when he was still working for newsportal Origo. Transparency International (TI) provided legal assistance for Pethő, who was represented in the Budapest Court of Appeal by Daniel Karsai, an attorney co-operating with TI.

The lawsuit started after the Prime Minister’s Office had refused to answer questions about some of Mr. Lázár’s trips that resulted in unusually high hotel bills. On a 2012 November three-day trip to England the hotel stay cost more than 3000 euros for Lázár and an official accompanying him. On a 2013 July trip to Milan the hotel cost more than 1920 euros per night for Lázár and his aide. On a 2013 March trip to Zurich the hotel expense was 603 euros for one night. Earlier, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the Zurich hotel room cost more than 1500 euros but later they revised the number, citing an accounting error.

The Prime Minister’s Office argued that the trips’ details can not be released for national security reasons. They said that the trips were related to Mr. Lázár’s duties as the supervisor of the Information Agency, the government’s intelligence office.

The latest ruling does not cover Mr. Lázár’s visit to England. The Prime Minister’s Office disclosed during the initial trial in the lower court that there was a confidential document pertaining to that trip. The court ruled that the hotel name should be disclosed as that information has not been classified. Lázár’s office appealed against the decision.

Lázár suggested that he might not follow the court’s legally binding decision. “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.