Hungarian prosecutors have launched an investigation into European Union-funded projects run by a company once controlled by the son-in-law of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, weeks after the conclusion of a probe by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF.
OLAF said last month its investigation concerned 35 public lighting projects in Hungary. It had sent a report containing financial recommendations to the European Commission and its judicial recommendations to prosecutors.
Hungary receives billions of euros in EU development funds each year, an important driver of economic growth. The EU is preparing for tough negotiations on its next seven-year spending plan, with some member-states calling for a reduction in funding for the ex-communist east.
Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party, in power since 2010, is tipped to win a third consecutive term in an election due on 8 April. The OLAF investigation has become part of the election campaign, with the strongest opposition, the far-right party Jobbik party, calling on Orbán to resign.
Reuters has been unable to reach Orbán’s son-in-law, Istvan Tiborcz, for comment. The company said media reports of the investigation were politically motivated.
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The Pest-county prosecution said in a reply to Reuters on Thursday that on 22 January it ordered an investigation into projects examined by OLAF based on “excessive budgetary fraud … and other crimes”. She said police were now conducting the investigation.
“The date of completion of the investigation cannot be projected at this stage,” Csilla Gugyi, prosecutor and spokeswoman, said. She did not give further details.
The government spokesman’s office said Hungarian authorities had investigated the projects cited by OLAF, adding: “We support the current investigation as well. The appropriate approach is if Hungarian authorities investigate all OLAF’s recommendations.”
EU anti-fraud office (OLAF) report on Orbán son-in-law businesses raises suspicions of organized crime https://t.co/U3KZpcWdbK
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OLAF said last month its investigation “revealed not only serious irregularities in most of the projects, but also conflict of interest.” The OLAF press office declined to give further details.
The projects, which modernized street lamps in several towns, had been run by a company called Elios Innovativ Zrt from 2011 to 2015. Tiborcz, who married Orbán’s daughter Rahel in 2013, was a member of the Elios board from 2009 to 2014.
He sold his stake in the company in 2015, Tiborcz told website Origo in an interview in October 2017, due to “continuous attacks against me – and thus my family – which were based on presumptions”.
Elios has not replied to questions sent by Reuters.
Gov't Office Chief Lázár claims those who "leaked" results of EU anti-corruption office investigation on Orbán son-in-law businesses "want to influence Hungary's elections" https://t.co/I8urK1nDwD
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The company, in a statement released on television ATV’s website, said: “ELIOS Innovativ Zrt followed legal regulations in all of its projects, and performed at a high professional quality. We cooperated with authorities to a maximum degree in all previous official investigations … and will continue to do so in any possible future proceedings.”
Elios said it did not wish to make further comments on media reports which were “politically motivated.”
“It is unacceptable that we live in a corrupt system that is built on fraud,” Jobbik lawmaker Gyorgy Szilagyi told national news agency MTI late on Wednesday.