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Vol 2, No 20
22 May 2000
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Csardas Stop Press:
Part 4 of our look at the Juszt affair and censorship in Hungary
Gusztáv Kosztolányi

(Click here to read part one ,
here to read part two
and here to read part three)

On 11 April 2000, the Hungarian Parliament voted on the report produced by the Committee of Enquiry concerning the surveillance operations. It was adopted along with the accompanying resolution with 186 votes in favour, 39 against and two abstentions. The Parliament requested the Public Prosecutor to investigate whether a crime had indeed been committed.

The Chairman of the Committee, Mr Dénes Kosztolányi [Fidesz] was interviewed by István Stefka in Magyar Nemzet [29 April, 2000]. Three amendments were tabled on the motion. According to Mr Kosztolányi, the intention lurking behind these amendments was plain:

Their contents were such that we would have trivialised the whole affair, narrowing its scope to comprise only the surveillance operations carried out against Zoltán Pokorni, and the whole line of enquiry concerning Pinpoint Ltd. would have been removed from the report. When it came to the vote, the SZDSZ would have asked for the Committee of Enquiry to conduct a new set of proceedings.

In Mr Kosztolányi's opinion, the reasons for the SZDSZ's tactics were honourable:

I think that in so doing, the SZDSZ wanted to give itself the opportunity to provide genuine assistance in cleaning up public life, and a repeat of the proceedings would have given it a chance to do so in an honest and constructive manner.

Mr Stefka suggested that the results of the enquiry create the impression that only Mr Pokorni was put under observation. Mr Kosztolányi disagreed:

That was not what emerged. The Committee examined the circumstances surrounding the secret and unlawful compilation of data carried out in the term of office of the previous Parliament as well as the facts of the case. It established that it was true that unlawful and secret data-compiling operations took place during the term of office of the previous Parliament and that the circle of individuals placed under surveillance included Fidesz MPs, who were then in the opposition. The Committee also established that the circle of people put under surveillance could have been even wider than that.

In the last four years, during the time when István Nikolits [who, incidentally, tabled two of the amendments] was Secret Service Minister, an organisation disguised as company was being operated. This was Pinpoint Security-Protection Information Brokers Ltd., where public money was used to fund surveillance and other data-collection activities and which was not subject to any control. Given that in the meantime the National Security Act had entered into force in 1996, the existence of this firm was doubly illegal, and it represented a grave threat to the democratic functioning of the political system.

The text of the report only contains matters, which both the opposition and government coalition representatives agreed on as facts. That no Fidesz politicians other than Mr Pokorni are mentioned in the report is due to the simple constraint of only being able to follow one specific case from beginning to end.

When quizzed as to why Tamás Deutsch, for example, did not feature, Mr Kosztolányi replied:

Because, as one MSZP deputy pointed out, on the photograph where Mr Deutsch can be seen in the company of a group - and this photograph was handed over to the surveillance operatives - it is not his head that has a circle drawn round it, but that of an individual standing next to him. The dispassionate thinkers amongst the Committee members said that it was obvious that the individual earmarked for being put under surveillance should not be the one to have a circle drawn round him, but the person with whom the politician maintains a relationship for purposes of compromising the politician. If opposition members showed even the slightest disagreement with a point, it was not included in the report. This is why I consider it unfair that the report is referred to in the left-wing press as the Kosztolányi report and that it is regarded as one-sided and biased. The votes in favour, comprising 82% of the total votes cast, also demonstrate by the way that the Socialists did not think of the report in this way.

Another tough question concerning the atmosphere that prevailed during the Committee's deliberations followed. Was it not true that the tone was lowered because Kosztolányi had broken the Rules of Procedure on a regular basis?

Exactly the opposite happened. The MSZP and SZDSZ sat round the Committee's table with the preconception that they would wipe the floor with the governing coalition's representatives in the space of one or one and a half meetings and that they would prove that there was no backing for the Prime Minister's statement. Perhaps there was something else at play here as well, namely that a relatively unknown Fidesz politician became the Chairman of the Committee and that they, the ones with the experience, would show him what's what. Just think about it: why was it so important for two former ministers linked to the secret service, György Keleti and István Nikolits and then from the SZDSZ Gábor Világosi former secretary of state from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and Mária Kóródi, former Deputy Speaker of the Parliament to be delegated? Now, with hindsight, I assume that they swore a solemn vow within their own groups to rip Kosztolányi and the government to shreds within a day. They balked at nothing. Zoltán Vancsik, a Socialist member, interjected loudly 180 times during the first meeting.

Was this not just part and parcel of democracy?

In a Parliamentary democracy we listen to each other's words right through to the end. The bulk of these interjections was defamatory in nature. If at some stage the minutes are open to public scrutiny, it will become apparent who caused the scandal. At the same time I was amazed to discover that Mária Kóródi was allowed to preside over the Parliament's sittings without being aware of the Rules of Procedure. They simply couldn't stand it that I chaired the meetings in an objective and correct manner in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and the time schedule. They had a vested interest in causing as big a scandal as possible. The Surveillance Committee took decisions on 89 counts, the vast majority of which were voted on unanimously. The work took place behind closed doors and the provocative carry ons at the public meetings were orchestrated by the MSZP and the SZDSZ.

Mr Kosztolányi's sanctimonious, squeaky clean posturing rubbed his interviewer up the wrong way, as the next question attempted to ferret out the truth concerning the stories about Kosztolányi feeding his pet python with mice named after his "favourite" Socialist and SZDSZ fellow Members of Parliament. Was this not resorting to similar methods?

You too are asking this question as if you believed it. Just because the press spreads a barefaced lie at someone's instigation does not make the lie a reality. I knew that I would be the butt of attacks from the very first minute onwards, but I also knew that I am an irreproachable and unassailable person in every respect. This is why I am allowed to be a member of the National Security Committee, amongst others. It is true that we are a family of animal lovers. We have cats, tortoises and I have a magnificent king python, which I received as a gift eight years ago. I am amazed that certain newspapers are giving column-space to this morbid allegation, verging on the horrific and I also think it gives us food for thought that the MSZP members, who are being listed as the victims of this particular feeding exercise have not objected strongly to it.

Had he never spoken about it?

Never and not anywhere. I had to be attacked somehow. There is one main point here and that is as follows: it so incensed the Socialists that they couldn't get any dirt on me that they did not even shrink back even from extreme slander. By now their own group could say dear Mr Keleti, dear Mr Vancsik, has it not yet been proven that the surveillance scandal is nothing but contemptible calumny? I have to point out that the statement made by the Prime Minister a year ago was not directed against a single individual or Party. The MSZP and SZDSZ nevertheless decided to try it on for size.

Mr Kosztolányi discerns a plot behind the scenes:

[...]the attempt at political restoration begun in 1994 did not succeed. When the MSZP came to power in 1994, they began to build up again he organisations, institutions and structures that were typical of the Kádár regime. This attempt got no further than the initial stages because the 1998 elections prevented it from going any further.

Do you think that the surveillance scandal was part of this attempt?

Absolutely. If there is no such thing as a Section Three Service any more then some other kind of service able to compile data and put individuals under surveillance without being subject to controls must replace it. The most delicate part of the whole surveillance affair was the so-called Pinpoint case. What happened during the hearing with Tamás Somogyi, István Nikolits' chef de cabinet, demonstrates this. He appeared before the Committee and would have been willing to give testimony about why he suspended Pinpoint Ltd's activities. When he was about to begin giving testimony, however, Mr Keleti and Mr Nikolits jumped up out of their seats and deprived the Committee of a quorum by leaving the room. This was not enough, however, since Nikolits turned to his one-time subordinate "... I would like to draw your attention to the fact that when the two of us leave the room the Committee loses its quorum and you don't have to say anything".

Did he threaten the witnesses?

He did not threaten them, but the witnesses were being put under pressure all through the proceedings. The political responsibility for Pinpoint Ltd's activities, which operated in the guise of an ordinary company using secret service instruments under secret service protection, is incumbent upon István Nikolits. The written documentation was destroyed by the way. The only remaining trace is the report on the disciplinary proceedings, the initiative for which was taken by Tamás Somogyi [...].

Why was the Committee's work important?

This work was important in terms of ensuring that this type of initiative should never again be allowed to take place in the decades to come of Hungarian democracy. On the other hand, this precedent also demonstrated that it is not possible to undermine the decent conduct of public life using such methods and that it is not worth it to threaten or demoralise the democratic workings of the political system from this side. I expect that the openly professed campaign of scandal-mongering on the part of the MSZP will come to an end with this.

The official report setting out the findings of the Committee of Enquiry makes dry reading compared to what has gone before:

1. Setting up the Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry and the Committee's Tasks

The Parliament decided in Resolution 69/1998 (23 November 1998) to set up a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the unlawful and covert compilation of data concerning politicians and other public figures as well as members of their families during the term of office of the previous Parliament.

The Committee was charged with the task of establishing that data concerning politicians and other public figures as well as members of their families was compiled unlawfully and secretly during the term of office of the previous Parliament, of investigating this, of determining the identity of the individuals and organisations responsible both for carrying out the operations and of requesting them and of uncovering the methods used in compiling the information.

The Committee of Enquiry began its work on 19 March 1999 and, adapting to the rhythm of Parliamentary business, was convened once every three weeks during Committee week. In addition to this, the Committee held a meeting outside the normal schedule of Parliamentary business on 25 June 1999.

The Committee of Enquiry set out its internal operating rules on the basis of subparagraph 1 of Rule 81 of the Parliament's Rules of Procedure, unanimously adopting the order of business detailing this further at its meeting on 9 April 1999.

The Committee did not on that same occasion elaborate its methods for holding the enquiry as the motion to put this on the agenda was rejected with six votes in favour and six against.

The Committee of Enquiry satisfactorily completed its tasks pursuant to the provisions of the Parliament's Rules of Procedure, the order of business and the Parliamentary decree.

In the course of the investigation, the Committee requested and received access to strictly confidential and open documents in order to perform its tasks. The Committee entrusted its Secretariat with the task of dealing with these documents. One expert was consulted in conjunction with discharging the Committee's mandate.

In the course of discharging its duty, the Committee adopted decisions concerning evidence given by and hearings held with individuals called in to take part in the enquiry, which took place in meetings open to the public and in sessions conducted in camera. On 30 April 1999, the Committee of Enquiry held its first hearing with the Prime Minister, Mr Viktor Orbán.

At its following meeting the Committee of Enquiry held hearings with the following individuals: twice with Csaba Bédi, former officer in the Republican Guard; twice with Dr Lajos Faragó, private detective and twice with György Takács, lieutenant colonel of police and appointed expert on judicial and criminal investigatory photography and videos.

The Committee of Enquiry carried out hearings with ensign Miklós Lakatos, former employee of the National Security Service's Special Branch; András Csókás, former employee of the National Security Service's Special Branch; Tamás Somogyi, former Minister without Portfolio, Public Supervisor of the Secret Services and István Nikolits, chef de cabinet.

The Committee of Enquiry conducted hearings with László Földi, manager of Defend Ltd., and with György Méth and Krisztina Ali, managing directors of Pinpoint Ltd.

The Committee of Enquiry held hearings with Dr Imre Szekeres and Sándor Csintalan, Members of Parliament.

In spite of having received invitations delivered to her in keeping with the formalities, Zsuzsa Czégé, managing director of Félix Film Ltd. and President of the Xénia Fever Association did not appear before the Committee to give evidence even at the meeting held following the dispatch of the fifth such invitation.

By 26 November 1999, the Committee had held ten public and 8 in camera meetings.

Apart from organising sessions held in camera, the Chairman of the Committee guaranteed the complete physical anonymity of individuals giving testimony, thereby taking account of the wishes expressed by two such persons. With one exception, each session of the Committee concluded with a decision on the agenda of the following meeting. The meeting held in camera on 5 November 1999 was adjourned due to the absence of a quorum.

Dr László Majtényi, ombudsman for data protection followed the Committee of Enquiry's work closely after 12 July 1999. He examined the way in which the Committee of Enquiry's Secretariat dealt with the documents, paying particular attention to the documents containing state and professional secrets [the reference here is to the workings of the Secret Service] with the assistance of an expert on judicial secrets, appointed by the Department for Combating Organised Crime within the Criminal Investigation Department of the National Police Headquarters, which subsequently approved his findings. The work of the Committee of Enquiry was followed by the media with a keen interest far in excess of the average.

2. The Factual and Legal Findings of the Committee

The Committee ascertained the following as regards the identity of the individuals responsible for carrying out the unlawful and secret information-gathering operations, as well as those responsible for charging them with the task of so doing and as regards the methods employed in compiling the information:

a) Antecedents

In the course of 1996-7, Zoltán Pokorni, Vice-President of the Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party and head of the political group in Parliament, was confronted in several different areas with the Xénia Fever Association and with the Board of the Child and Youth Basic Programme (Gyermek- és Ifjúsági Alapprogram, GYIA), which worked in co-operation with Xénia, primarily in conjunction with data protection abuses, but also because of the detrimental effect they were having on child and youth policy resulting from the network of political and economic connections they maintained.

One of the typical scandals of the previous Parliament's term of office became a major factor in political opposition and struggle at the end of 1996. The political debate surrounding the Xénia Fever Association broadened to such an extent that the Parliament was transformed into the setting for the clash of opposing views and participants in it included leading politicians, Ministers and, in the previous Parliament, even the Prime Minister spoke on the subject.

The President of the Xénia Fever Board, Andor Schmuck and Zsuzsa Czégé, President of the Xénia Fever Association, tried to create the impression that the actions then taken by the data protection ombudsman represented a political attack and they named Zoltán Pokorni as the figure that lay behind it. Schmuck was a member of staff in the Minister of Employment, Péter Kiss' office. Czégé was a member of Felix Film Ltd. inter alia.

b) The Committee of Enquiry established the following facts:

In the Sympathy Club run by Zsuzsa Czégé in Akadémia Street, opportunities were given on numerous occasions to leading politicians, including the Prime Minister Gyula Horn, Dr Zoltán Gál, Speaker of the Parliament and Gábor Kuncze, the Minister of Home Affairs, to make presentations in private and to hold informal conversations. The Republican Guard was responsible for affording protection to public figures and it was in this context that one of the Guard's members, a police captain, struck up a relationship with managing director Zsuzsa Czégé.

In the autumn of 1996, Zsuzsa Czégé entrusted police captain Csaba Bédi with helping to compile information on what kind of economic interests lay behind Mr Pokorni MP, for example whether he was associated with any of her enemies in the media. Apart from establishing the identity of individuals lurking in the background, the request was aimed at gathering information of a compromising nature. The first task was defined as subjecting Zoltán Pokorni to constant surveillance and a further aim besides taking photographs or preparing video recordings in secret was to document an incidence of bribery, whereby the MP would accept money from someone, whether that someone be a single individual or a group.

In order to perform this task, Csaba Bédi made use of the services of Lajos Faragó, private detective. The instructions given to the private detective - alongside an advance of half a million forints - cover the details of the methods to be employed in carrying out the task, possible locations and how to evade any checks that might be carried out by the National Security Office.

At the same time as he handed over the signed contract, the client also gave the private detective part of a roll of film and blown-up photographs of it as well as providing him with a typed list featuring the addresses of several leading Fidesz politicians apart from Pokorni's. Then, in other words at 13.00 hours on the afternoon of 18 December 1996, Bédi and Faragó agreed on the precise, specific details of the task to be completed.

In order to perform the task, Lajos Faragó mobilised a surveillance team, accepted the assignment, invoiced the client and set about work.

Whilst carrying out the assignment, the private detective maintained a continuous, personal and permanent relationship with Csaba Bédi and Zsuzsa Czégé.

In January of 1997, the clients proposed to the private detective that the surveillance operation be extended to include, for example, an individual, whose close circle of acquaintances included Tamás Deutsch MP. They also widened the assignment to include other individuals - whose names are known to the Committee - who do not come into the category of politicians or public figures, and whom the Committee consequently deemed as falling outside the scope of the investigation. To begin with, the private detective made do with voicing his concerns over the change of the assignment, but in April of 1997 he unilaterally discontinued the assignment. Ensuring that he transferred back the money he had hitherto withdrawn, he informed his client that "I have destroyed all the material in my possession".

The Committee of Enquiry dealt with the involvement of Imre Szekeres and Sándor Csintalan MPs - as they were both mentioned in various contexts - and clarified that matter satisfactorily.

The Committee of Enquiry bases this statement of facts on the confessions made by the individuals concerned (Bédi; Faragó; László Földi), on the physical evidence and the opinion of the accredited expert concerning them. The Committee deems the fact that Zsuzsa Czégé failed to appear before the Committee in spite of five invitations, that she did not excuse herself properly, depriving herself of an opportunity to defend her position to be a circumstance of major significance.

c) Summary of the Committee's Conclusions concerning this Aspect of the Case

Information pertaining to Zoltán Pokorni MP was compiled illegally and secretly with the aim of compromising him. The MP was put under surveillance because of his political activities and information was compiled about him.

Without exception, the clients and those responsible for carrying out the assignment continuously acted unlawfully, as the provisions of the law emphatically afford protection to the official activities of figures, who play a role in public life.

The activities of the member of the Republican Guard comes under a more serious category of offence, as staff members of this branch of the Ministry of Home Affairs have the task of protecting politicians. The members of Parliament of the Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party, including their head of group did not belong to the ranks of specifically protected leaders since they belonged to the opposition. At the same time, had the case not been disclosed - in changed political circumstances - it might have been possible for the former surveillance operative to carry out the task of protection as well. The police captain compiled data. He handed over and passed on information for the purposes of carrying out illegal and secret data compilation.

In this matter, the Committee paid particular attention to the fact that the question of accessibility of the databases to the people concerned must be reviewed and the rules on accessibility changed and, if necessary, new legal provisions be proposed.

The activities of the private detective were also unlawful, since the assignment breached government decree 87/1995, paragraph 14, point B, according to which a private detective may not investigate "officials' (Criminal Statute Article 137, Point 1) activities carried out as part of their official functions". The private detective was also guilty of breaching the rules of his profession when he did not register the contract for the assignment in the appropriate register.

Due to the destruction of the written material and the missing testimony, the Committee of Enquiry was not able to determine who belonged to the wider circle of individuals placed under surveillance, but deems it possible for this to be established by having recourse to other procedures.

The Committee of Enquiry concludes that one of the clients used public funds directly in the course of carrying out its activities and that Xénia Fever - given that it enjoyed budgetary support both directly and indirectly - can be presumed to have spent public money.

d) On the basis of the above:

...the Committee of Enquiry would like to make the following proposals in the interests of guaranteeing the democratic functioning of the apparatus of state, the honesty of public life and enhanced protection for participants in public life as well as defending the interests of society, which has an interest in such enhanced protection being afforded:

The Committee of Enquiry calls upon the Public Prosecutor to investigate what crimes were committed and in so doing launch an investigation into the facts established by the Committee on the basis of the proceedings held and the evidence provided.

Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 21 May 2000

In Part Five, the concluding part of the series, we shall examine the remainder of the report; the debate on freedom of the press sparked off by the Juszt affair and assess the current political situation.

Moving on:


Andrew Cave
Finding a Role in an Enlarged EU

Catherine Lovatt
Scandal Rocks Romania

Mel Huang
Estonia's First Census

Jan Čulík
Czech Smear Politics

Oliver Craske
The UK Press and the Pope

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Censorship in Hungary

Brian J Požun
Slovenia's Suicides

Magali Perrault
100 Days of Haider

Slavko Živanov
The Serb Crisis

Václav Bělohradský

Elke de Wit
Oi! Warning

Wojtek Kość
Polish Anti-pulp

Culture Calendar:

Student Essay:
Jiří Brodský
Little Czechs, Big Europe

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?

PR and Extremism

Czech Republic