Népszava raises questions about massive public funds transferred to pro-Jobbik company

Hungary’s Népszava daily newspaper has been trying, in vain, to get answers to its questions about how the Jobbik party is spending public funds at its disposal, and precisely what services are being rendered by a company that seems to be uncomfortably close to the party leadership and is the recipient of these funds. An organization called Iránytű Intézet (Compass Institute) was paid more than 50 million forints (C$229,000) by Jobbik in 2016 to provide the party with “documentation on policy matters.” Jobbik hired the services of Iránytű Intézet on 15 different occasions in 2016. Népszava inquired with officials from both Jobbik, as well as the consulting company hoping to obtain more information on precisely what type of policy work or services the firm performed in exchange for public funds. Neither the party, nor the company are willing to return the centre-left daily’s calls.

Yet this story is about much more than “just” 50 million forints paid in 2016. Jobbik has paid the firm over 400 million forints (C$1.8 million) since 2011. The company’s sole owner is Richárd Forrai, one of Jobbik president Gábor Vona’s closest of confidants and the party’s éminence grise. As is common in the Hungarian business world, Mr. Forrai is actually the owner of a large handful of different companies, many of which have received payment from Jobbik for various services rendered. A partial list of these, in addition to Iránytű Intézet, include companies like White Heaven kft., LKG Stars, M-Akta Consulting Kft and Magyar Hírek. The latter firm published Jobbik’s Barikád magazine.

Richard Forrai, Jobbik’s éminence grise. Photo: Direkt36 / István Bielik.

Mr. Forrai has played a critical role in building a pro-Jobbik media presence in Hungary and he is also active behind-the-scenes in the management of the handful of towns in Hungary that now have Jobbik mayors. In the past, Krisztina Szabó-Vona, the party leader’s wife, worked for the company, as did former Jobbik MEP Csanád Szegedi. Our readers will probably remember that the virulently antisemitic Mr. Szegedi, who would show up to the European Parliament dressed in the uniform of the illegal Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), renounced Jobbik once his family’s Jewish heritage surfaced, converted to Orthodox Judaism and has since immigrated to Israel.

The suspicion of possible conflicts of interest around Jobbik’s relationship with the Iránytű Intézet was not first raised by Népszava, but by former Jobbik Vice-President and rival of Gábor Vona, Előd Novák. The undisciplined and often politically extremist Mr. Novák opposed Mr. Vona’s strategy of moving Jobbik away from the far-right. In May 2016, Mr. Vona prohibited Mr. Novák from running for any leadership position in the party, despite the fact that the unapologetic and far-right politician had a clear following in Jobbik. At this time, Mr. Novák had the following to say about the party’s relationship with Mr. Forrai and the Iránytű Intézet:

“The president’s confidant is the sole owner of a firm, the otherwise outstanding Iránytű Intézet, which bought a head office for a hundred million forints, using both funds from Jobbik, as well as a loan. We were going to effectively repay this mortgage from Jobbik funds. But the agreement was cancelled after several of us in the executive expressed our anger at transferring the community’s assets into private ownership.”

In late 2015, the 444.hu website, using a piece of investigative journalism created by Direkt36, had already raised questions about Mr. Forrai, his company and the way in which Jobbik used public funds at its disposal. Between 2010 and 2015, Jobbik and its party foundation had 2 billion forints in operating expenses, and nearly one third of these funds (mostly public in nature, rather than private donations), ended up with companies tied to Mr. Forrai.

Jobbik is certainly not doing itself a favour by simply ignoring calls and requests for clarification from Népszava. These questions will remain, especially as the 2018 elections approach.

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