In the ongoing public debate on MPs' declaration of assets and the Law on Conflict of Interests, József Torgyán, Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and President of the Party of Independent Smallholders made this statement to the plenary chamber of the Hungarian Parliament on 6 November 2000:
"My house is my castle." I believe that every one of us is familiar with this saying ...
It would seem that not only the British were aware of this, but also my deeply-respected MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) colleagues and the occupants of the SZDSZ (Liberals) benches as well, because this house has not even been built yet and they are starting to bomb and otherwise attack it. This is why I deem the most fitting course of action to be for me to give an account of the reality in front of the country's public opinion, given that the media have presented my statements in accordance with their various personal vantage points. Therefore I will now give a brief sketch of my current assets:
I worked as a lawyer for almost 35 years, including the time spent on probation as a trainee and I must add to this that my wife was a famous prima donna in the opera. During my years as a lawyer we purchased three properties from our joint earnings. One is the property in Sándor Endrődy Street, which was described by the media in 1989-1990 as a mere castle of wonder, the stuff of which fairy-tales are made. Apart from our so-called fairy-tale castle, we bought a summerhouse in Leányfalu, and I bought an owner-occupied flat in Aradi Street in Újpest. The latter was in my son's name; the summerhouse, in my wife's.
Two inherited properties were added to this list, namely: my wife inherited a semi-detached house together with a large carpenter's workshop and warehouse, whilst I, together with my brothers and sisters, fell heir to a detached house, in which I lived. We therefore owned five properties on leaving Újpest.
The media has launched a series of extremely dishonest attacks against my son, who has been working as a lawyer for 13 years, and who lives in a separate family. As far as I can make out, I am under no obligation to account for where he lives or how he lives, but to make sure that everything is crystal clear to everyone, I shall point out that apart from the property mentioned earlier, which was put in my son's name, my son's wife inherited a considerable segment of property in the Castle District.
This is what has been shown in the various media broadcasts, this is what has appeared in photographs in the newspapers. It is an extremely important property, in the same way as the one in Sándor Endrődy Street is, given that images of the latter have graced the newspaper columns in abundant examples as well.
My son's wife, therefore, inherited this property, or, to be more precise, an ownership share in it, and building was begun beside it in Budakeszi.
The building in question is being erected with proceeds from the sale of the flat in Aradi Street, from my earnings as a lawyer and with the help of the family. Quite enough pictures of this, too, have appeared in the newspapers. From this it is apparent that this property is of some considerable value.
Ultimately, a fourth property has replaced three others, but I would like to indicate that the first three are not in my possession any longer. This fourth property is located on a site currently under development, which means that its value will obviously change later on. At the present juncture, it is not worth a huge amount of money, whereas later on, it clearly will be.
As you know, an attempt was made on the lives of myself and my wife on 16 March 1998 in the form of a bombing. As a result, the share owned by my co-proprietors was also damaged. I was encouraged via the media to make myself scarce from Sándor Endrődy Street. On that occasion, the family council got together and decided that I ought not to remain in a residential area where I was blamed for a bombing I was the intended victim of. They informed me that they would give appropriate help to enable us to swap our current property holdings for the new property.
This is the background as to why I would like to replace the property in Endrődy Street with the one in Tállya Street, which was purchased with the help of the rest of the family for HUF 50 million. The estimates of how much it cost printed in the newspapers are therefore false. We are building a two-storey detached house here, and I was able to raise the money to cover the costs by selling off the property in Endrődy Street and... by raising bridging loans.
Please take into account that this is the first time in the history of the Hungarian Parliament that such a statement has been given.
József Torgyán, 6 November 2000
A house made of straw?
The scandal erupting around Torgyán's assets is the umpteenth instance of the politician coming under fire in recent weeks. It now at the point where it is tempting to describe him as monopolising the headlines.
The background to the latest upset is that his wife, Maria Cseh, also a Member of Parliament, was reported to have bought an expensive residence in Buda. Experts (though from the above, Torgyán himself would have a slightly less charitable appraisal of their professional wherewithal) estimate that the total value of the 400 square metre villa kitted out with a lift and swimming pool is worth well over HUF 100 million, leaving the question of on how earth someone who had in 1998 listed a two-thirds share in an 82 square metre flat on the Rózsadomb in the official declaration of assets could possibly afford such a luxurious pile.
In the meantime, a complaint had been lodged against Torgyán at the Metropolitan Public Prosecutor's Office on the grounds that he must have been entangled in tax and national insurance fraud, as the income declared in his tax returns fell far short of the amount that such a construction project required. Torgyán's defence that he had not entered the full extent of his earnings and possessions in the declaration of assets for fear of potential burglars ransacking him appears flimsy in the light of this.
The taint of corruption played a part in the Horn administration's downfall as well, with the former Prime Minister's villa arousing suspicions. Unfortunately for the former leader of the Socialists, the public did not take kindly to the hypocrisy involved in imposing a harsh and unpopular austerity package on Joe Bloggs whilst he was seen to be only too happy to spare no expense in pampering himself.
It was none other than the Party of Independent Smallholders (FKGP), which gloated over Horn's ineptitude in being caught out so obviously whilst they earnestly called for an enquiry into how he could afford the villa. Now the sanctimonious smile on their lips is beginning to fade.
Unless Torgyán and his wife wish to reveal the contents of the declaration voluntarily, the truth will never be known, as the rules—adopted in 1997
The extract of the declaration available to the public only deals with real estate, vehicles and goods of a value in excess of six months' worth of basic salary—leaving out other moveable goods, stocks and shares, bank deposits and sums of money also in excess of six months' worth of basic salary, all of which are, in principle, contained in the complete version.
A good laugh
In his article in HVG, István Nehéz-Posony takes a humorous sideways glance at the glorious fudge of Hungarian legislation:
Lately, the focus of debate has once again centred on the declaration of assets made by Members of Parliament as a result of József Torgyán's purchases of real estate. The same topic was discussed previously when the Tocsik scandal [in which a lawyer, Mária Tocsik, is alleged to have donated the lion's share of the massive fee she charged for winning a case to the Socialist Party, ed] broke, but I could equally well have cited the example of Gyula Horn's house building episode or other affairs involving MPs.
On such occasions, the theme of MPs "transparent pockets" [the original Hungarian, üvegzseb, translates literally as "glass pockets," ed] arises without fail. Since the collapse of Communism, coming up with a feasible solution in the area has proven a quest for the Grail...
The solution is a simple one: instead of entering a Škoda, the declarant in question should declare a Mercedes all-terrain vehicle instead of a weekend-use wooden chalet, a luxury villa on the Svábhegy [the millionaire's retreat par excellence in the Buda hills far from the madding crowds of ordinary citizens, ed]. Then, should someone actually come along to check up on the fortune being made by the individual, he can rightfully proclaim that, yes, I used to own all of this, I declared it all years ago!
If, however, there has been no increase in fortunes, there is no tax base either, is there? If what certain individuals have declared is nowhere to be found, then the inspectors are in a position to maintain with a certain sense of pride—albeit with knitted brows—that the wealth and assets concerned have dwindled in the interests of serving the public.
In this manner the MPs can kill two birds with one stone: their puritan reputation will be proven beyond question whilst any and every set of authorities will be compelled to deem all their ill-gotten goods and chattels as legal (and they will be absolved of paying certain taxes as well).
Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 18 November 2000
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HVG, 4 and 11 November 2000
Népszabadság 30 October 2000
Parliamentary Record of Proceedings