Fidesz regime gave residency permits to Bashar al-Assad’s financial backers

A joint investigative journalism project by the Direkt36 website and by reports that since 2012, people believed to be stooges for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have received Hungarian residency permits. In at least one of these cases, Hungary welcomed a Syrian man believed to be involved in the trafficking of weapons, drugs and people, as well as money laundering, while in several instances Hungarian authorities allowed leading figures of the Syrian regime, accused of war crimes, to settle in the country.

The story began two months ago, when an anonymous individual dropped off an envelope to the offices of both Direkt36 and 444, including the names of citizens from countries who have bought residency rights in Hungary. Thanks to a new program launched by the Orbán government, but administered on behalf of Hungary by off-shore companies, 250,000 euros can buy non-EU citizens residency bonds in Hungary. An estimated 20,000 foreigners, mostly from the Arab world, China and Russia, have purchased such residency bonds.

The HelloHungary sign in Central Budapest

The journalists of the two media organs spent the last few months confirming that the people disclosed by name on these lists are, indeed, residing in Hungary. They found that many of these people have registered companies in Hungary, others have published photos on social media showing them and their families to be in Hungary, while in some cases sources confirmed their presence in the country.

One of the Syrian citizens who received a residency permit in Hungary is Salmo Bazkka. A leading financial figure with close ties to the Syrian regime, he is accused by authorities in Italy of being a member of an international money laundering, weapons and human trafficking ring. Two of Mr. Bazkka’s stepsons are suspected of the same by Italian authorities. A second Syrian individual with ties to President Assad, Atiya Khoury, is considered by the Americans as being a stooge of the Syrian dictator. It appears that both men, along with their families, have bought residency in Hungary, though Bazkka himself is currently reported to be in Italy. And this is why a residency permit in Hungary is so valuable: it effectively opens the doors to the European Union’s entire Schengen Zone.

Considering that serious accusations have been raised in Italy against one of the men, has Hungary’s Chief Prosecutor, Péter Polt, launched any investigation? Naturally, he has not. Mr.  Polt is a former Fidesz politician. Instead, his Office confirmed that it has cooperated with Italian authorities by handing over to them relevant banking information and telephone records, but has no plans to launch its own investigation in Hungary.

In the case of Atiya Khoury, we are dealing with a high-ranking operative of the Syrian regime who runs Moneta Transfer & Exchange–a financial agency focused on coordinating money transfers and currency exchange. The Americans believe that the system run by Mr. Khoury has helped the Assad regime purchase fuel and the owner of this system received commissions for his work. The Americans note that Mr. Khoury has moved significant amounts of money between Syria and Lebanon, as well as between Syria and Russia.

As it turns out, Hungary is not picky whatsoever when it comes to selling residency to highly questionable people from the Middle East, Russia or Asia. In fact, government officials confirmed that out of more than 20,000 applicants, only 64 people were rejected. In other words, the acceptance rate for foreigners looking to buy their way into Hungary is 99.7%.

Let that sink in: the Orbán regime, which for the past two years has railed incessantly against refugees and foreigners, lets in 99.7% of people who have at least 250,000 euros to deposit with shady off shore companies that are tasked with managing this process for Hungary.


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