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Hungarian officials and businessmen banned from entering US

October 20th, 2014

As the US bans a number of unnamed Hungarian state officials and businessmen from entering the US, left-wing and liberal columnists contend that the US wants to teach what they call the corrupt and increasingly pro-Russian Orbán government a lesson. Conservative pundits believe that the US wants to set an example and send the message that it does not tolerate any deviation from its foreign policy line or any violation of its financial interests.

On Friday, Hungarian news outlets reported that the US had banned a number of Hungarian state officials and businessmen suspected of corruption. According to different reports, the list, which has less than ten names on it, includes the head of the Tax Authority. André Goodfriend, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Budapest said that the US has strong indications that the banned individuals were involved in or benefitted from corruption. He added that the names of the involved officials and businessmen cannot be revealed, since the ban on them was decided through the application of anti-corruption Presidential Proclamation 7750 which authorizes the US Foreign Minister to blacklist without legal procedure foreign citizens suspected of corruption that harms US interests. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó summoned Chargé d’Affaires Goodfriend and asked him to provide firm evidence. He suggested that in the absence of such details, “the US creates the impression that it wants to pressurize the Hungarian government”. The National Security Committee of Parliament was summoned in order to discuss what to do next.

Diplomatic disputes between the Hungarian government and the US have reached a new level, Népszabadság writes in a front page editorial. The leading left-wing daily believes that the Orbán government has not taken seriously the highly critical remarks made by President Obama on the state of democracy in Hungary (see BudaPost September 29 and September 26). Népszabadság also suggests that the US wants to set an example through punishing Hungary for its pro-Russian geopolitical path in order to preempt similar developments in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

In Népszava, Péter Somfai is not at all surprised that Hungarian state officials are accused of corruption. The left-wing columnist accuses public agencies, including the Tax Authority of exerting pressure on businesses and forcing them to sell shares to government-allied entrepreneurs who want to purchase ownership in their companies.

The US wants to send a clear message to the Orbán government, Márton Bede claims in 444. The liberal pundit believes that the banning of officials and businessmen who allegedly belong to the Fidesz hinterland is a punishment for the Orbán government’s pro-Russian geopolitics rather than its alleged efforts to weaken democratic checks and balances. The US tolerates non-democratic regimes provided they act as reliable allies, but Hungary has gone too far in cooperating with Russia, Bede believes.

Heti Világgazdaság’s Árpád W. Tóta urges the US to name the banned individuals.  The liberal commentator agrees with Foreign Minister Szijjártó, that the prosecution of corruption is in the common interest of both the US and Hungary, and so the US should help Hungary to fight it by revealing the names.

In Magyar Nemzet, Tamás Pilhál suggests that the US wants to punish the Hungarian government for investigating NGOs for embezzlement (see BudaPost throughout September) and US companies for tax fraud. The first reports on the banning of Hungarian individuals from entering the US claimed that the restriction was provoked by a Tax Authority investigation of US based companies. André Goodfriend, however, said that he was not aware of such investigations. The conservative columnist believes that the US wants to force the Hungarian authorities to turn a blind eye to the offences committed by those businesses and NGOs which serve US interests. Pilhál adds that the US diplomatic action should be interpreted in the framework of recent EU criticism of Hungary. On Thursday, the EU launched legal proceedings against Hungary on the basis that the 2012 ban on foreign ownership of land was illegal. In addition, the European Parliament on Tuesday will hold a debate on the current state of affairs in Hungary. Pilhál holds that these accusations are intended to pressure the Hungarian government into submission to great powers which follow ‘totalitarian neoliberal’ doctrines. Instead of defending their financial interests directly, the US and the European countries use the pretext of human rights and democracy to attack governments which follow their own national interest.

The case fits well into the main narrative frames of both Left and Right, Gábor Balogh remarks in Jobbegyenes. The Left can use the opportunity to again liken the Orbán government to the Mafia. The Right, on the other hand, can claim that the US wants to punish a government which puts the national interest before the profits of foreign investors. The conservative blogger goes on to draw two lessons from the case. The first is that Hungarian oligarchs are not only aggressive and unscrupulous, but at the same time stupid enough to be caught by US authorities. The second lesson is that our ally, the US does not tolerate any deviation from its geopolitical interests, Balogh concludes.

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