People close to Viktor Orbán began to take over his fallen enemy’s empire

József Vörös, a lawyer linked to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Lőrinc Mészáros, a close friend of the PM’s, has recently bought Mezort Zrt., an agriculture company formerly owned by Lajos Simicska, a once powerful businessman who waged an unsuccessful campaign against Orbán before the last parliamentary election.

Company records show that Vörös acquired the company on 25 October. Sources familiar with the deal said that other former Simicska assets will also end up in the hands of people close to Orbán and Mészáros.

Vörös’s law firm and Mezort Zrt. did not respond to Direkt36’s questions.

This deal marks the end of Simicska’s long reign as one of Hungary’s most influential businessmen. Simicska and Orbán became friends in high school, later went to the same law school, and spent most of their adult life building up Fidesz, the party now governing the country. Orbán was fighting on the frontline of politics while Simicska was working behind the scenes to provide a solid financial background.

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Simicska built an empire which depended mostly on state contracts while maintaining a powerful media conglomerate that had been supporting Fidesz for years.

The friendship ended years ago, after Orbán won reelection in 2014 by another landslide and took steps to marginalize his former friend. The first signals of the deteriorating relationship came when people linked personally to Simicska started to lose their positions in the government. In early 2015, the conflict erupted publicly when Simicska told several news outlets that “Orbán is a spunk.”

In the following years Simicska’s media businesses became openly critical with the government and the businessmen made it clear in several interviews that he would like to see Orbán falling out of power. His efforts were not successful as Orbán won the 2018 elections comfortably again.

After the vote, Simicska shut down two of his news organizations, the daily Magyar Nemzet and a radio station called Lánchíd Rádió. Then, in July his companies’ spokesperson issued a statement saying that all of Simicska’s companies would be bought by Zsolt Nyerges, one of his longtime business partners who broke with Simicska over his war with Orbán. News site G7 reported at the time that Nyerges would be just an intermediary and Simicska’s assets will eventually be taken over by the circle of Lőrinc Mészáros, the former mayor of Orbán’s hometown, who became the prime minister’s closest business ally in the past few years.

József Vörös, the lawyer who bought Mezort Zrt., has ties to both Orbán and Mészáros. He represented Mészáros at a land auction in 2016 and works as a legal advisor at a football foundation created by Viktor Orbán, which is run by Mészáros. Vörös is a board member of the sports club of Felcsút, Orbán’s hometown. The board’s chairman is Orbán, and Mészáros is also a member.

The cover photo shows Lőrinc Mészáros. The picture was taken by Tamás Botos/444.

  • 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.