A message from Orbán’s son-in-law and an investigation into phantom offices

Forrás: 7/24 Hírműsor

I have covered the businesses of István Tiborcz, the son-in-law of the Hungarian Prime Minister, for years. Last year I didn’t write that much about him, since he retreated to the background in business as he sold his shares in the notorious company, Elios Ltd. in 2015. However, I got the biggest surprise of the year from him. He always tried to avoid media attention and never answered journalists’ questions. He surely did not answer mine, although I tried to contact him every time I wrote about his businesses: I texted him, I sent emails to his companies, tried to call him and sent him messages on Facebook, without any success.

He neither gave an interview or any comments to other papers, therefore it made quite a stir last October when a government-friendly news portal, Origo made an interview with him. I was working at the news desk of RTL, the biggest Hungarian private TV channel when the article was published, and while every political reporter started to read it immediately, I wanted to finish something first. A few minutes later one of my colleagues exclaimed in the room: “He mentioned you by name!”

I was very curious why it was important for him to mention me by name, so I started to read the article straight away. Although I wrote a lot of articles about his businesses, and I also contacted him twice in person, I was surprised by the fact that he knows my name. I just got more confused when I realised that he highlighted me as a good example among journalists.

I always wanted to be fair with him, just as with everybody else, since this is a principal professional rule for me. I was surprised that for him it was worth mentioning. I am still confused by this story, since being quoted as good example by the people I am writing about is not among my main journalistic goals.

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I prefer to remember the most entertaining story of the year, the one in which we investigated the offices of MPs paid by the Office of the National Assembly. This story started just like most of other stories: we studied boring lists and documents to find the reason why a lot of MPs rent several, in some cases 5-6 offices around the country. Since these offices are paid from public money by the Office of the National Assembly, we wanted to know how and for what the MPs use these offices, and how the offices look like. This is something I could not find out sitting at my desk and only looking at the dataset given by the Office of the National Assembly. I made a list of the places that looked interesting, I took my camera and set off to visit the offices in person. I had a very surprising experience in Szarvas, a small town in the middle of the Great Hungarian Plain. I have never visited the city before, but I imagined it as a slow and silent and – as it is common in the countryside – a not too rich town, therefore it was hard to believe that the rental prices are so high that an office for an MP could cost 362 thousand HUF (around 1200 euros) for a month. What is pushing up the prices of the real estate market of Szarvas? In this case, Internet wasn’t a big help to find the answer, since not even a single office was offered for rent in the whole city.

Béla Dankó, MP of the ruling Fidesz party, rents an office in the city centre of Szarvas. I got confused when I had arrived at the given address, because at first sight all I found was a carpet shop. But then I realised that the next door, without any sign or door-plate on it, belongs to the office of Dankó. In the office, it became clear to me that it is not a simple and small office, but the MP rented out a whole former bank office in order to have enough space to meet with his voters. The whole place was empty, I only found one woman at the front desk. I asked her whether that place really was the office of Béla Dankó, and after she confirmed, I also asked if I could look around in the office, which was over 100-square-meter big, but totally empty. “You can’t, because some work is being carried out here” – she said, and when she saw my doubting face she added that I needed a permission from the MP to look around in the office. I suggested to call the MP and ask him straight away, but she wasn’t open to the idea, so we agreed that I would call the MP and if I got his permission I would be able to visit the big empty space that cost 362 thousand HUF per month to the Hungarian taxpayers.

My other favourite story in the office investigation was from Dunaújváros, my hometown, where two MPs rent offices. Both of the offices are located in an office block built in an authentic style socialist realism. Both offices are on the first floor, their doors open from the same dimly lit corridor. At first sight, they seem very similar, but there is a huge difference: the office of a Jobbik MP is 52 square meters and costs 25.400 HUF a month, while the other, which belongs to a Fidesz MP, is only 35 square meters, yet costs 213.000 HUF.

As a former local citizen, to me the first price seemed to be closer to reality. Since I found the offices closed, and I failed to contact the Fidesz MP by phone, I went to the Parliament on a Monday during the parliamentary session to ask him in person. While video journalists are banned to work on the corridors and around the chamber where the sessions are held, me, without a camera, could even ask a Parliament usher to take a short message from me to the MP in the chamber. I asked him to give me five minutes to ask some short questions about his office in Dunaújváros any time during the day. He sent the usher back with a rejection, arguing that he had no time for my questions.

I knew that around lunch-time there will be a break in the session, so I was hoping to get a chance at the self-service restaurant of the Parliament to catch him. To kill the time, I went there to have a lunch too, since the restaurant in the Parliament is quite good and one of the cheapest in downtown Budapest. When I finished my lunch, I realised that Mr Galambos was waiting in the queue, so I decided to wait by the door of the restaurant for him to finish his lunch. But I did not expect that even after lunch he would become that nimble-footed just after I introduced myself. I could hardly follow him through the basement corridors of the Parliament, and I got lucky only because he had to stop at the elevator. He tried to use his colleague as a human shield, but he could not avoid my question. “No, no, no. I’d rather not say anything, alright?” – this was all he kept saying.

Later the Office of the National Assembly and the company that rents Galambos’s office tried to explain the huge difference between the very similar offices. Among other reasons, they stated the Galambos also got furniture with the office. Since then, I have been trying to imagine how a 35-square-meter office with 50 chairs could look like.