Resignations follow our exposé of lavish spending at a pro-government think tank

Közpénzből járja a világ luxushoteleit Antall József fia, az Orbán-rendszer nagy nyertese

Four members of the management of Antall József Knowledge Center (AJKC) have resigned, including all three members of the supervisory board and the chairman of the board of trustees, György Nógrádi, a security policy analyst known for his frequent appearances in pro-government media.

All have confirmed their resignation to Direkt36 but refused to comment in detail. Some, however, indicated that their decision was at least partly due to the findings of Direkt36. Our investigation has revealed how the management of the government-backed think tank spent public money on luxurious trips, the director’s ever-rising income, expensive items, and PR stories. Some of the former officials found it important to stress that they were no longer in contact with AJKC Director Péter Antall (the son of the late Prime Minister József Antall, after whom the think tank was named).

In our article published in May, Direkt36 uncovered the irregularities of spending at AJKC, which has so far been supported by the Orbán government with almost five bn HUF (14.3 mn EUR) from taxpayers’ money. Based on internal documents, financial reports, and information from sources familiar with AJKC’s affairs, we concluded, among other things, that the institution’s management made 15 to 20 foreign business trips a year and usually stayed in luxury hotels.

At times, they also spent public money on private trips, private hospital services, professional cameras, and branded suitcases. The institution also functions like a family business: Péter Antall’s wife is the deputy director, and the wife’s twin sister also works there. Last year, Péter Antall’s earnings reached a monthly average of HUF 6.9 mn (19,700 EUR). We also found out that while AJKC received hundreds of millions from the government each year, it still became heavily indebted. So much so that in the end, taxpayer’s money had to be spent once again to help it out of the debt trap.

The first one to leave was Pál Antall, a relative of AJKC director Péter Antall, who resigned from the chair of the supervisory board back in April, before our article was published. At that time, Direkt36 was already investigating the story and had sent several questions to the institution, but, according to Pál Antall, his resignation was partly due to personal reasons, and he says he was not aware of our investigation at the time. However, he noted that he had regularly drawn the management’s attention to the importance of “prudent operation” in internal forums in the past. He added that he has not been in touch with either AJKC or Péter Antall since his resignation.

The next member of the supervisory board, lawyer Péter Kállay left in June, after our investigation was published. He stressed that he followed the chairman Pál Antall with his decision to resign. He refused to answer further questions but stated that “the problems arisen” need to be investigated, thus welcoming the Prime Minister’s Office’s decision to look into the financial matters of AJKC. (The Prime Minister’s Office, the main donor of the think tank, decided to launch an internal investigation in response to our revelations back in May. However, their investigation has not been concluded so far. AJKC is now also under a tax audit.)

After Kállay, the third member of the supervisory board resigned as well. Egyptologist Zoltán Bartos was also reluctant to answer questions, saying that his decision was not coordinated with the other members. He said that his resignation happened partly because of media articles, and partly because how AJKC handled the scandal following the publications.

Bartos did not wish to explain what his problem was exactly with AJKC’s reactions. The institution published a statement after Direkt36’s article, stating, among other things, that “the foundation considers the publication of articles that deliberately defame the AJKC to be an unfortunate side effect of the upcoming election campaign,” but no correction was requested for the specific claims in our article and no lawsuit was filed.

György Nógrádi, the chairman of the board of trustees has also resigned. Although Péter Antall is the operational leader of AJKC as a director, formally and legally the most powerful official is the chairman of the board of trustees. The chairman is responsible for signing official documents like grant agreements and yearly financial reports. For example, AJKC’s latest annual report for 2020, published in June, is signed by Nógrádi.

Nógrádi resigned on the 23rd of June, he confirmed to Direkt36. He did not know whether his successor has already been chosen. He added that he resigned writing a formal letter to Péter Antall, citing his reasons, but refused to share them publicly.

György Nógrádi is a frequent guest in pro-government media as a security policy expert. He has been a member of the board of trustees of AJTK since 2014 and became its chairman when the previous president Zsolt Becsey was dismissed in April 2017. Becsey had to leave after he had reviewed AJKC’s financial records and signaled his concerns to the main donor, the Prime Minister’s Office. According to several sources familiar with the affairs of the institution and Nógrádi himself, he and Péter Antall maintain a friendly relationship.

Nógrádi emphasized that during his years as a chairman, he never received a penny for his work. However, internal documents previously obtained by Direkt36 show that Nógrád did benefit from his years spent at AJKC. He attended some of the work trips (for example, they made a Scandinavian tour with Péter Antall in 2016), and some of his conference-related accommodation expenses were also paid for. Besides, the security policy analyst’s own NGO, the Blue Shield Hungary Foundation, registered in 2019, operated at AJKC’s headquarters until this February, and Péter Antall was a member of its board of trustees. According to Nógrádi, this is not important because Blue Shield never cost money for AJKC.

Antall József Knowledge Center did not react to our questions concerning the resignation of its officials.

  • Zsuzsanna Wirth

    Zsuzsanna started her journalistic carreer at Origo, where she spent ten years at the news desk, covering and investigating various political and social issues as well as corruption and organized crime. She worked for the Hungarian editions of Forbes and Marie Claire. She has been workign at Direkt36 as a journalist since 2016, and as an editor since 2022. In 2022, she studied OSINT techniques as an OCCRP Research Fellow. She was awarded the Prize for Quality Journalism three times. In 2023, she received the László Szente-Prize, and together with Kamilla Marton she also won the Transparency-Soma award for her series of articles exposing the hidden situation of hospital-acquired infections. She teaches journalism at ELTE’s media department.