Szilárd Benkő is an old friend of Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Having played football together for the Dunakeszi Kinizsi futsal team, Benkő accompanied Szijjártó throughout his political career and was his closest colleague for many years. Until spring 2015, when he left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying he wanted to continue his career in the private sector.
Although Benkő has indeed been active in business in recent years, photos published by 444.hu show that in 2020 Benkő was on the yacht Lady MRD, where the Foreign Minister was on holiday with his family incognito. But in the meantime, according to Direkt36’s research, his relationship with the state, and specifically with the foreign ministry headed by Szijjártó, has not been severed.
In 2020, one of his companies, EUTEK Építő Kft., received nearly 300 million HUF in non-refundable state funding from a back office of Szijjártó’s ministry. Companies in difficulty due to the coronavirus pandemic could apply for this money to avoid having to fire their employees. In return for the support, EUTEK guaranteed to save 4 jobs and invest 560 million HUF. It is not clear what kind of investment was carried out, but the company ended the year with a profit of almost 260 million. A year later, the company decided to pay a dividend of 750 million HUF.
In 2022 Benkő also became a 95 per cent owner of a construction company with billions in revenues through a company. VER-BAU Ltd. is a company that has been operating for decades and has won large government contracts in recent years, including a 2 billion HUF hospital construction project in 2020.
This summer, he also bought a property management company from pro-government investors who previously operated the Buddha Bar Hotel. Benkő thus became the owner of two properties on the elegant Budapest street, Andrássy Avenue.
We sent questions to Szilárd Benkő about the purchase price of VER-BAU and the subsidy granted to EUTEK, but he declined to answer. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFA), the aid programme, which Benkő’s company benefited from, was a great success and created 12,600 jobs. However, MFA did not answer specific questions about Szilárd Benkő.
Team-mate for twenty years
Szilárd Benkő, born in 1978, has the original qualification of an instrument maker. He has been preparing for a career in music since childhood, graduating from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest with a degree in instrument making. In the early 2000s, he taught knowledge of stringed instruments at a college in Győr, and as a master instrument maker, he has spoken about his award-winning violins.
In the meantime, he was also interested in politics, and in 2002 he was elected as the leader of Fidelitas, the political youth organization of Fidesz, in Győr. Shortly afterwards, he became press secretary to Péter Szijjártó, who also started his career from Fidelitas Győr.
Later Benkő worked for the Győr municipality and in 2007 became a senior advisor to the Fidesz mayor Zsolt Borkai. His position in the local elite was reflected in his appointment to the board of the city handball team.
It was at this time that Benkő began to be attacked by the local opposition over a consultancy contract. Benkő’s company, Component-99 Ltd., had contracted to provide consultancy services to the Fidesz-led Győr municipality, however at the time of the contract Benkő was a member of a city council committee, and was also Péter Szijjártó’s campaign manager.
After the change of government, Benkő was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2011, where, according to a document uploaded on Kormány.hu, he became a leading member of Szijjártó’s staff, with a monthly salary of 885 thousand HUF. In the same year, he also became a player for Dunakeszi Kinizsi. According to a video posted on the team’s YouTube channel, Benkő – nicknamed Sziszi – is one of the founders of the club. Szijjártó also started to play in the team at the same time, he was given the jersey number 30, while Benkő played with jersey number 31.
In 2012, Szijjártó was appointed for State Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, while Szilárd Benkő was appointed Chief of Cabinet. Benkő also accompanied his boss on his professional trips abroad, and a TV report was made about their trip to Vietnam in 2012. In the report, Szijjártó talks about the advantages of opening up to the East and his appointment as state secretary, but the cameras also accompany him to the gym, where he and Benkő train together in the red jerseys of the Dunakeszi team.
Several people from Dunakeszi Kinizsi and its surroundings have found positions in the Prime Minister’s Office and later in the MFA, close to Szijjártó. In addition to the players, the club’s former managing director became a protocol officer at the Prime Minister’s Office and then head of protocol at the MFA. In 2014, the MFA said in response to HVG’s question about futsal player officials that they never took into account or had any say in what hobby their staff members pursued in their free time.
When Szijjártó moved up the ranks again in 2014, replacing Tibor Navracsics as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Benkő remained unchanged in his position as Chief of Cabinet. As Vs.hu’s investigation at the time revealed, Benkő did not have sufficient qualifications to hold the position of Chief of Cabinet, so he officially worked as the coordinator of the Cabinet’s operations.
MFA admitted at that time that Benkő did not have the right qualifications for the position, but argued that the law allowed him to be employed under certain conditions.
Vs.hu revealed that Benkő’s salary in this status was close to 900 thousand HUF, and that he used a Mercedes SUV as a company car, which’s new version costed more than 17 million HUF. The MFA’s reaction to all this was that the car was not new and had already ran hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
Szilárd Benkő left the state administration in spring 2015 to pursue a career in the private sector, according to a statement from the MFA at the time. However, the good relationship with Szijjártó was not broken: after the publication of this article[A1] , photos published by 444.hu show that Szilárd Benkő was on holiday with Szijjártó in 2020 on the yacht Lady MRD (we contacted both Benkő and the MFA about this, but have not yet received a reply). The famous yachting photos were all over the press at that time, and the minister was forced to explain them. Read more about the story here.
Private sector, with public passes
Benkő’s departure from the MFA in 2015 did not completely break the link with resources and opportunities offered by the state. Just a few months before his leaving from the MFA, in March 2015, a decision in favor of Benkő’s interests was made at a meeting of the Committee for Urban Management and Finance of the then Fidesz-led 8th District Municipality of Budapest.
The municipality put up for sale two properties in a prominent location on Rákóczi Road, and the winner was Violin-Music Ltd., which at the time belonged to Zsuzsanna Benkőné Sárvári, and later became the property of Szilárd Benkő. At that time, both of them lived in the same house in Fertőd. Direkt36 asked Szilárd Benkő about his relationship with Zsuzsanna Benkőné Sárvári, but he did not want to respond.
The municipality asked 38.3 million HUF for the approximately 300 square meter properties, but they were not to be paid immediately: 20 percent was asked for when the contract was signed, and the remaining 30 million HUF was to be collected over the following five years. According to the data sent to Direkt36 by Ingatlan.com, at that time in that part of the district each of the municipal properties could have been worth more than 38 million HUF.
One of the properties is an instrument shop now, run by a company formerly also owned by Szilárd Benkő. The company is now owned by a woman with the same surname as Benkő – but the shop employee could not say who owns the shop, and the manager refused to answer Direkt36’s questions.
After 2015, Benkő acquired stakes in a series of companies: not only a musical instrument retailer, but also an IT and catering company, and from 2018 he became owner of a construction company, Eutek Construction Ltd.
The construction industry was hit hard by the coronavirus in 2020, but Benkő’s business was helped out by the state. Eutek received a large amount of state funding in 2020 as non-repayable grant. This nearly 300 million HUF came from the ministry of Péter Szijjártó. The National Investment Promotion Agency, which is part of the MFA, set up a fund called the Competitiveness Increasing Support Program, to provide funds to companies that had been hit by the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic but were prepared to invest in new projects while retaining their employees.
From this fund, Eutek won 280 million HUF as state aid, which was provided in one sum. In return, it has committed to retaining four jobs and investing a total of 560 million HUF. At the exchange rate at that time, Eutek received almost the maximum amount of aid available.
Among the other winning applicants, there was a company that pledged to keep 286 jobs for a similar amount of aid, and most of the companies applied with a pledge multiple times higher than the commitment of Eutek. All these information are from a 2021 document uploaded to Kormány.hu, but the ministry also released a list of winning applicants in October this year in response to a data request from Átlátszó, which also included Eutek.
The period of the coronavirus did not cause a drop in the company’s revenues, they earned 490 million HUF profit in 2021. After that year, the management decided to pay a dividend of 750 million HUF, well above the profit. About half of this could go to Benkő based on his ownership stake. We also asked Szilárd Benkő about this, but he did not answer our questions. He has been the sole owner of Eutek since the beginning of 2022.
Direkt36 has sent a number of questions to the MFA about the support for Eutek and Szilárd Benkő. The ministry sent a brief reply, in which they describe the success of the Competitiveness Increasing Support Program, which they say has helped to save 270,000 jobs and create 12,600 new ones. However, they did not respond to our specific questions about Szilárd Benkő.
However, the most profitable of Benkő’s companies is not Eutek, which has a turnover of billions and a profit of hundreds of millions of forints. In September 2022, through a newly acquired company, he became a 95 percent owner of Ver-Bau Ltd., a construction company in Kecskemét, which has been operating since 1995. The annual revenue of this company has been around 5 billion HUF in the last years, and in 2021 it increased to 10.8 billion HUF.
The company’s revenues are also significantly boosted by public funds, and in recent years – before Benkő acquired the company – they received public procurement contracts worth hundreds of millions of forints.
For example, in the framework of a hospital construction project, the State Health Care Centre contracted Ver-Bau for nearly 2 billion HUF, but they also received a parking lot construction contract from the municipality of Kecskemét and an industrial land development contract from the municipality of Kerekegyháza. The company has also won several EU tenders, with almost 100 million HUF awarded in 2020.
Direkt36 asked Benkő how much it cost him to acquire a 95 percent stake in Ver-Bau Ltd., as he did not previously own a company of this size, so it is not clear from what source and how he got it. However, Benkő declined to respond to this question.
The businessman has also recently entered the real estate market, in the summer of 2022 he became owner of a company called BP5 Ingatlan, through one of his companies. BP5 is a real estate marketing company with assets of nearly 500 million HUF. The company owns at least two properties – both located in one of the busiest parts of Andrássy Avenue, near the Opera – with mortgages worth hundreds of millions of forints, according to the property papers.
The real estate company was previously part of the Mellow Mood group, which is owned by Sameer Hamdan and Zuhair Awad, wealthy businessmen with interests in the Hungarian hotel industry. The two Palestinian-Jordanian businessmen were awarded the Golden Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary by the Fidesz government in 2012. Their interests also included the Buddha Bar Hotel, which was inaugurated by Viktor Orbán himself in 2012, and the renovated luxury hotel in the Párisi Udvar, which was inaugurated by Péter Szijjártó in 2019. The Mellow Mood group did not respond to our enquiries about the sale of the Andrássy Avenue properties and Szilárd Benkő.