Civil servants axed at Hungarian Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Development

After terminating or “re-assigning” some 200 career diplomats, who were  not perceived as staunchly loyal to the Orbán government, Fidesz has axed 190 civil servants at Hungary’s Ministry of National Development (NFM). In June alone, NFM “lost” 179 employees. An additional 14 mid-career civil servants were removed in July. Despite the fact that after winning the April 6th elections and obtaining a second supermajority, Mr. Orbán promised that the formation of his new cabinet and the transition would be entirely “seamless,” it has been anything but that, starting with the lengthy delays in actually forming a new cabinet.  The new NFM minister’s troubling past is also coming back to bite the government.

The 45 year old Miklós Szeszták rose to the helm of the NFM this past May. Since 2010, he has served as a Fidesz-KDNP member of parliament and is a lawyer by profession. He replaced Mrs. László Németh, who was the previous NFM minister. Mr. Szeszták is among the wealthiest of MP’s in Hungarian, owning five properties and having savings that top 177 million forints. Opposition parties have been vocal in pointing out Mr. Szeszták’s questionable business dealings, including the creation of a long string of companies that ended up becoming dormant, or were shut-down almost immediately after registration and before they could pay any taxes.

Miklós Szeszták

Miklós Szeszták

Most crucially, however, Mr. Szeszták’s business activity has also raised questions at the avowedly pro-Fidesz Magyar Nemzet daily, which is owned by a business circle that is widely seen to be in the hands of pro-government oligarchs. Yet Magyar Nemzet had some piercing words for Szeszták.

Assistant Editor Péter Csermely has called on the new NFM minister to step down, now that it appears that Mr. Szeszták may have been involved with, and have an interest in, off-shore companies. Mr. Csermely suggested that the minister may have attempted to evade Hungarian taxes.

Mr. Szeszták, when interviewed by a parliamentary committee prior to being named minister, claimed that he only ever operated two companies: his law firm and an auto repair business.

Following the Magyar Nemzet article, the Együtt-PM (Together-Dialogue for Hungary) opposition party called on Mr. Orbán to dismiss the NFM minister. According to Együtt-PM co-president Péter Juhász, it has become clear that Mr. Szeszták was involved in a staggering 700 companies, none of which ever paid any taxes and all of which rapidly folded after their registration. In some instances, Mr. Szeszták’s business partners were former colleagues and classmates, who ended up tapping into tens of millions of forints worth of EU-subsidies.

“This story is about nothing more than Mr. Szeszták’s decision to work with a former high school classmate, in order to use European Union funds for his own, personal advantage,” remarked Mr. Juhász.

Magyar Nemzet’s decision to go after Szeszták (who replaced Mrs. Németh, a minister with close connections  to the owners of Magyar Nemzet and key Fidesz oligarchs) can be seen as a continuation of the power struggle between the ruling party’s political leadership and its supporters in the business world.

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