In February 2021, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó held a press conference with the Hungarian head of HILTI, a multinational engineering company with a presence in Hungary. At the event, it was announced that the company will build a new factory in Kecskemét as part of a HUF 7.2 billion (EUR 19.5 million) investment, and the minister also said that the state will provide HUF 1.1 billion (EUR 2.9 million) in non-refundable subsidies for this project.
Construction started a year and a half later, in August 2022, and VER-BAU Ltd. boasted in a Facebook post in December that they were the general contractor for the project. But something else happened between the two events. In the meantime, VER-BAU had a new owner: Szilárd Benkő, a former futsal teammate and close former colleague of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Benkő has thus acquired a company that has access to state funding and from whose last year’s profits he was able to take a dividend of HUF 1.3 billion (EUR 3,5 million).
Direkt36 has revealed that HILTI won the HUF 1.1 billion grant through the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), which is supervised by the Szijjártó-led Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As we have previously revealed, during the coronavirus pandemic, one of Szilárd Benkő’s companies received 280 million forints in state aid, which also came from the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency. This was in the same year when the minister famously spent his vacation in Croatia on the luxury yacht Lady MRD together with Benkő.
HIPA’s presidential adviser is currently Levente Szikora, who was previously a teammate of Benkő and Szijjártó in the Dunakeszi Kinizsi futsal team. As Direkt36 previously reported, Szikora and Szilárd Benkő were both members of the team that helped Fidesz in the 2018 election campaign by destroying campaign posters of a rival party.
We contacted Szilárd Benkő with questions before the publication of this article, but did not receive a reply. We also sent questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, headed by Péter Szijjártó, but they did not respond either. HILTI’s Hungarian subsidiary told Direkt36 that the contractor was selected following the company’s corporate compliance principles and that VER-BAU “had to be qualified for the project”.
From state salary to state aid
Szilárd Benkő, who has worked for Szijjártó for a long time and is also a professional instrument maker, started working in the construction industry five years ago.
In 2018, he became the owner of Eutek Építő Ltd., a construction company that not only multiplied its revenues, but also received the mentioned 280 million grant from a back office of Péter Szijjártó’s ministry. In 2020, the company received the grant in non-refundable state subsidy from the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, which is part of Szijjártó’s ministry.
The funding came through the Versenyképesség Növelő Támogatási Program (translated as Support Programme for Increasing Competitiveness), which was open to companies that had been hit hard by the pandemic and had committed to making new investments while retaining their employees. Eutek received almost 100 percent of the available funding in exchange for the retention of 4 jobs and an investment of HUF 560 million.
Benkő later expanded further in the sector. In 2022 he acquired VER-BAU Ltd. in Kecskemét. The company, founded in 1995 had been steadily generating revenues of over HUF 5 billion (EUR 13.5 million) in the years before Benkő’s arrival, and in 2021 it exceeded HUF 10 billion (EUR 27 million). VER-BAU’s revenues had also been boosted by government contracts in the past, with the State Health Care Centre, for example, contracting a hospital construction project for nearly HUF 2 billion (EUR 5.4 million). So by the autumn of 2022, when Benkő bought the company, VER-BAU was a well-known and respected company in the construction sector with significant revenues.
We have asked Benkő before and now again about the amount of money he paid for the company and about the source of it but he did not respond to our request.
Public money second-hand
HILTI is a Liechtenstein-based multinational company with a presence in more than 120 countries, mainly active in the manufacture of machine tools and software. When Szilárd Benkő became the owner of VER-BAU through a company in September 2022, the construction works of HILTI’s new factory in Hungary were already underway, but it was not yet public who the multinational had contracted to carry out the construction.
In October, however, work was already underway behind the banners with the green and black VER-BAU logo on Szent István Boulevard in Kecskemét. In December, the company posted on its Facebook page that it had been given a “gigantic” contract. They did not say in the post how much the contract was worth, nor whether it involved public funds.
This, however, could be inferred from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó’s press conference in February 2021. At that time, Szijjártó announced that the total value of the Kecskemét factory investment would reach HUF 7.2 billion, and also said that HUF 1.1 billion of this amount would be paid by the Hungarian state in the form of non-refundable cash subsidies. Although it was not revealed at the press conference, Hilti said in response to a question from Direkt36 that the aid was granted to the company based on the aid package submitted to the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency.
Since the factory is being built for HILTI by the general contractor VER-BAU, the company, which is owned by Benkő, has indeed received a large contract and thus indirectly benefits from public money. We asked Szilárd Benkő exactly how much, but we had not received a reply by the time this article was published.
The acquisition of VER-BAU Kft. was not only a good deal for Benkő because of the factory construction in Kecskemét: according to its recently published balance sheet, the company closed 2022 with a turnover of more than HUF 13 billion (EUR 35 million) and a profit of over HUF 2 billion (EUR 5.4 million). The owner already took out HUF 1.3 billion (EUR 3.5 million) in dividends.
We also asked Szilárd Benkő and HILTI about the exact amount of money VER-BAU received for the general construction. In response to this question, HILTI said that they do not comment on the specific details of their contracts, Benkő did not reply.
We used the Opten service to obtain company registration data.