"The trial of the year" began: Sukoró

For background I suggest reading a few posts that appeared on this blog in the last couple of years. It would be a good idea to start with "What can happen to investors in Hungary" and continue with "The never ending story of Sukoró." Moreover, I have the feeling that this is not the last time that we will talk about this land swap that the current government thought could be used to convict Ferenc Gyurcsány in a court of law. That attempt failed, as I reported at the end of 2010.

The media on both the left and the right believe that the real target of the prosecutors is not the five men who are accused of a breach of fiduciary responsibility but Ferenc Gyurcsány. Right-wing publications add the name of Gordon Bajnai. Magyar Nemzet and Barikád, Jobbik's weekly and Internet paper, agree that the "big fish" weren't caught and that the wrong defendants are sitting in the courtroom today.

But if the wrong people are being accused, why bother to carry on with this charade? The answer is fairly simple. Fidesz and the right-wing media whipped up such a frenzy over the billions and billions of forints the Hungarian state would have lost if the Sukoró deal had gone through that they couldn't just shamefacedly admit that they don't have a case. I'm convinced that if the prosecution had found enough evidence to move against Gyurcsány the five people sitting in a courtroom in Szolnok wouldn't be in this situation.

But they didn't find anything on Gyurcsány. The prosecution, however, didn't just drop the charge that the former prime minister adversely influenced the staff of Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő (MNV), the office in charge of sales of state properties. They pretty well indicated that they remain convinced that Gyurcsány is guilty but unfortunately can't prove it.

And they persist. In the current indictment one of the points against the accused is that it was Gyurcsány who instructed the employees of MNV to make a deal that favored Joav Blum, the Israeli-Hungarian businessman who made the mistake of wanting to build a huge wellness and casino complex in Hungary.

The very idea that the alleged instigator (Gyurcsány) was not found guilty by the same prosecutors who now in the case against the officials of MNV use his person as proof of abrogation of fiduciary duties is more than bizarre.

I also would like to call attention to the fact that the case is being tried not in Budapest but in Szolnok, allegedly because it is such a complicated case and the Budapest court is overworked. The truth is that Tünde Hagyó, the head of the Judicial Office, seems to move "political" trials to courts where the judges may be sympathetic to the government and rule accordingly. The trial of former deputy-mayor of Budapest Miklós Hagyó was moved to Kecskemét. This trial, which is potentially even more politically important to Fidesz, also had to be moved out of the capital.

In order to show how complicated the case is, the prosecutors collected 40,000 pages of material. However, according to Miklós Tátrai, one of the accused, there are probably only about 3,000 pages that have anything to do with the case. The same testimony is sometimes repeated fifteen or sixteen times. The evidence includes the testimony of 150 people, most of whom have no connection to the case at all. For example, the prosecutors interviewed a neighbor of Joav Blum, who testified that he was a very nice man and took part in the activities of the small community of Sukoró, participating in table tennis competitions. Tátrai even found a recipe for cookies that was on one of the computers that the police confiscated.

Another peculiar aspect of the "investigation" is that the prosecution never bothered to get in touch with Joav Blum, the man who was supposed to be the beneficiary of the officials' breach of fiduciary duty. The prosecution also has no proof that the accused officials ever received any compensation from Blum for their alleged "favor." So, as one of the accused said in a television interview, they must have decided to cause financial damage to the Hungarian state just for the heck of it.

After reading the 30-page indictment, Miklós Tátrai, former head of MNV, testified. His testimony was long. About eight hours. He accused the prosecution of conducting a political witch hunt. He insisted that what's going on in Szolnok is a show trial (koncepciós per; a case based on preconception) which naturally the prosecutor in charge of the case denied. He said that show trials can be conducted only against politicians and that, after all, the accused are simply former government officials. A brilliant retort!