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“Socialist Watergate” tape transcripts

April 25th, 2013

Commentators weigh the possible implications of conversations conducted by Hungary’s counter-espionage chief with a prominent mafioso in 2008, on how the latter could be helpful in discrediting right-wing politicians.

The transcripts of the conversations between former counter-espionage chief Sándor Laborc and Tamás Portik, a businessman and well known mafioso have been declassified by and published on government websites. Laborc appeared to encourage Portik (who is currently under arrest and charged with murder) to collect or generate compromising evidence on opposition politicians, prosecutors and judges. Among other suggestions, Portik proposed that he lure the targets to illegal brothels he operates, and later use the evidence in order to “influence decision makers”.

Sándor Laborc himself and his one-time boss, György Szilvásy who served as cabinet minister in charge of the secret services under Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, reject the accusations and claimed that Laborc met with Portik in order to get information about corrupt police officers. They claim that the full, uncernsored version of the original tapes will prove their point. As Népszabadság writes, the published parts do not confirm that Laborc made efforts to collect information on policemen with mafia ties.

Two decades after the fall of the former regime, the Communist shadow network is still alive, László Szentesi Zöld writes in Magyar Hírlap. According to the pro-government columnist the Laborc-Portik tapes prove that there is little difference between the mafia and some politicians on the left. Szentesi Zöldi recalls warnings by North Atlantic security think tanks in 2008 that Laborc’s appointment was a security risk for NATO, since Laborc had good connections to Moscow.

The scandal serves as a timely reminder of the horrible practices of the former Gyurcsány government, Véleményvezér contends. The centrist blogger believes that the incident will remind Hungarians that they should never again vote Gyurcsány and his corrupt friends into power. The scandal, however, also provides the MSZP with the possibility to distance itself from its spotty past and commit itself to democratic principles, Véleményvezér suggests.

Népszabadság in a front page editorial likens the Laborc-Portik transcripts to the tobacco shop concessions. According to the opposition parties, the right to sell tobacco products has been granted by the government mainly to companies with strong ties to Fidesz. The left-wing daily suggests that corruption is present both on the left and the right, and there is little difference between their antics.

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