Last year, Péter Antall, director of the publicly funded Antall József Knowledge Center (AJKC), a pro-government think tank, earned a gross monthly average of 6.9 million forints (about 19 180 euros) – 48 per cent more than the year before, according to the foundation’s latest financial report. In 2020, the organization spent a total of 82.8 million forints (230 200 euros) on the benefits of the son of former Prime Minister József Antall. This amount, besides Antall’s salary, includes the honorarium for the management of AJKC’s Brussels office and an anniversary bonus.
In the meantime, there is an ongoing tax audit at AJKC, and several AJKC employees were summoned by the authority to attend a hearing. The National Tax and Customs Administration has initially launched an investigation into the 2019 finances of the foundation but is also focusing on a new online database that gathers the Knowledge Centre’s publications together. While many documents are freely available, some of the content is put behind a paywall, despite the fact that they were created from public funding.
In May, Direkt36 uncovered irregularities in AJKC’s spending, which has so far been awarded almost 5 billion forints (13.13 million euros) from taxpayers’ money by the Orbán government. Based on internal documents, financial reports, and information from sources familiar with the Foundation’s affairs, we revealed that AJKC’s management made 15 to 20 foreign business trips a year and usually stayed in luxury hotels. Occasionally, the foundation’s money was spent on private trips, private hospitals, professional cameras, and branded suitcases. AJKC also resembles a family business: Antall’s wife is the deputy director and the wife’s twin sister also works at the organization. The wife’s two businesses are contractors of the foundation.
AJKC issued a statement in response to 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.
According to AJKC, Péter Antall’s salary is “adjusted to the salaries of state secretaries working in the public administration,” which is currently a monthly gross of 1.75 million forints (4 900 euros). However, the term ’salary’ is not the same as ’benefits’ which is indicated in the organization’s 2020 financial statement. Benefits include not only the salary, but also, for example, bonuses and taxes. Answering the queries of Direkt36, AJKC said that, in addition to his monthly salary, Péter Antall also receives a honorarium for running their office in Brussels. Plus, in 2020, he was awarded a one-time jubilee bonus on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the foundation and the 5th anniversary of its Brussels office. The foundation did not disclose the exact amount of said honorarium and bonus, nor the net amount of Antall’s monthly earnings.
AJTK had an average of 40 employees last year, but 19.7 percent of the money spent on all personnel expenses was spent on the director’s benefits. A year earlier, with an average of 42 employees, the same proportion was 11.3 percent. The director’s benefit had risen sharply before: in 2013, he had received only a monthly average of 719 000 forints (2 000 euros), by 2019, it was 4.6 million forints (12 800 euros).
The improvement of the income situation of Antall is also indicated by the fact that he moved to a new apartment with his wife last year: in the outskirts of Budapest, on the border of a nature reserve, they bought a 225 square meter, panoramic terraced house in a residential park. According to AJKC, the property had been paid from the Antalls’ own savings, partly from inheritance and a bank loan.
Following the publication of Direkt36’s article about the Knowledge Centre in late May, the Prime Minister’s Office, the main supporter of AJKC, launched an investigation to find out whether public funding was spent “with good care.” Gergely Gulyás, the Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, said on 8 July that the investigation was still ongoing. On 21 July, we asked again about the inquiry, but there has been no answer yet.
As we revealed earlier, despite the ever-increasing financial support of the government, AJKC’s often ran out of money. Employees often had to wait weeks or even months to get paid. Although the Prime Minister’s Office awarded the Knowledge Centre 824 million forints (2.3 million euros) last year, and it received millions from two additional ministries, according to the 2020 financial report, their balance turned negative again. The foundation made a loss of 26.6 million forints (74 100 euros) despite the fact that for most of last year, it was not possible to organise in-person conferences nor travels abroad due to the epidemic.
According to the financial report, “the balance sheet shows a loss due to the loss of value of inventories.” According to AJKC, this is related to their book publishing activity because “the reason for the loss of value is that the cost of publishing our books is higher than what they are sold for.” Work trips were indeed delayed last year due to the epidemic, they added, but conferences were held online. Thus, while venue rents did not count as costs, “there were costs of professional digitization.”
The Knowledge Centre plans to solve their financial problems with a partially paid service, in addition to raising additional funds. According to the 2020 financial report, “the management negotiates with donors to replenish equity in order to raise additional funds. As a summary of the scientific work of recent years, the management has also launched a paid service called the AJKC Digital, which generates additional revenue.”
AJKC Digital has been launched in early 2021. It is an online database which incorporates the think tank’s research material. “AJKC Digital can simultaneously be viewed as a means of legacy preservation and as a platform integrating a library function, thereby young people, university students, and professional audiences can be aided in their studies and work,” reads the website of the database.
Some of the materials – about a yearly number of 100-150 analyses, educational articles, podcasts and records of their events – are now available after a free subscription, but some “premium” research materials are only available for an annual fee of 2 500 forints (7 euros). The latter includes AJKC’s quarterly foreign policy magazine “In Focus” and some scientific publications that, “as extra content, provide a deeper, more detailed analysis of a specific topic,” AJKC wrote in response to Direkt36’s questions.
According to a source familiar with AJKC’s affairs, the platform has not been very popular so far, as it has only a few subscribers, which means no significant revenue from it yet. AJKC did not respond to our question about the specific number of paid subscriptions.
In addition, AJKC Digital has gained the attention of the National Tax and Customs Administration, which launched a tax audit into the 2019 finances of the think tank, but it is also focusing on AJKC Digital despite its later launch. The tax authority is looking into the matter of putting AJKC publications created using public funding behind a paywall. In June, several AJKC employees were summoned by the authority to attend a hearing.
Neither the National Tax and Customs Administration nor AJKC have disclosed information regarding the ongoing tax audit saying that any data concerning taxation is confidential. When asked by Direkt36 whether these rules apply to a public benefit foundation that is publicly funded as well, the tax authority stated that all tax-related data is confidential regardless of who the tax subject is.