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Gyurcsány charged: a political or a criminal case?

October 5th, 2011

Commentators are deeply divided over the official charges laid by the public prosecutor against former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány. While left wing Népszabadság believes that PM Viktor Orbán wants to see his political opponent in prison or at least prosecuted, right wing Magyar Nemzet says that Mr Gyurcsány should have tried to clear his name on Monday, instead of making political speeches.

Hungary’s public prosecutor on Monday officially charged former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány with abuse of office in connection with a land-swap deal related to a controversial casino project. The plots were judged to be of unequal value by the authorities after Mr Gyurcsány’s resignation in 2009, while the country was still governed by a left wing parliamentary majority. Authorisation for the land-swap was pushed through by bypassing the usual administrative procedures, and the casino scheme was facilitated by Mr Gyurcsány’s decision to declare it a “project of national importance.” At that time András Schiffer, then a lawyer running a civil rights NGO (now floor-leader of the opposition party LMP), demanded public access to the government decree concerning the casino, and when his request was rejected, he lodged a criminal complaint against Mr Gyurcsány for “abuse of office.” (See BudaPost August 29 ) In mid September Parliament voted to lift the immunity of the former Socialist PM. (See BudaPost September 15).

On Monday, Mr Gyurcsány attended a 45-minute hearing at the Central Prosecutor’s Office in Budapest. Hundreds of his supporters, joined by Socialist politicians demonstrated in front of the office during the hearing. As he left the building, Ferenc Gyurcsány called the case against him a disgraceful show trial.

PM Viktor Orbán wants to see his political adversary arrested or at least attending regular hearings at the public prosecutor’s office – writes Róbert Friss in Népszabadság. The commentator contends that by wanting to imprison its political opponents, the right wing authorities are overturning the only political principle held in common since 1990: that no one can be prosecuted because of his or her political views.

PM Viktor Orbán – he continues –is not content to see his adversaries simply voted out of power, Friss continues. His people “are radically criminalising politics” by blaming Gyurcsány for the sharp increase in the size of Hungary’s debt, as well as for the controversial performance of the police force in the autumn of 2006.

Gyurcsány was a real ham-actor” – writes Magyar Nemzet, in a comment on the former prime minister’s declarations on Monday. What actually happened, the paper contends, was simply an expression of the principle of equality before the law. “It is hard to understand why Gyurcsány should be more privileged, more protected a person than Hagyó, Hunvald or Zuschlag” – writes Matild Torkos, referring to former Socialist politicians now serving prison sentences or under preliminary arrest in corruption cases.

“Yesterday Gyurcsány rushed into the public prosecutor’s office, demanded that the hearing be recorded, behaved arrogantly towards the representatives of state authority, and then refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions” – the Magyar Nemzet commentator writes, adding that all that Mr Gyurcsány should have done instead, was to clear himself of the charges.