Foundations funded by the Central Bank of Hungary (MNB) last week lost their right to keep details of their spending secret. It turned our that public money had been poured into book publishers, researchers and a media company owned by relative of the bank governor György Matolcsy, a long-time ally of the Hungarian PM. But the only casualties of the story so far have been journalists.
The Central Bank of Hungary has started six foundations since 2010. Their stated aim was to promote educational programmes. More detailed questions about their exact purpose were deflected on the grounds that the money was handled by a private foundation instead of a national body.
That was until last week, when the Hungarian Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have restricted financial scrutiny of the foundations, forcing them to publish hundreds of contracts. They didn’t publish everything but they were forced to reveal contracts over 5 million forints (16 000 EUR). The redacted documents reveal the purpose of the spending but still not those benefitting.
How much did they spend?
The foundations altogether have spent around 260 billion HUF public fund which equals approximately 840 million EUR derived from profits booked partly on the re-valuation of foreigh-currency reserves.
Where did the money go?
The monetary authority had been already criticised for splashing out on real estate, artwork and security- investments it insisted are justified because they earn money for the nation.
According to the latest contracts other funds went towards a news website, history books and research trips to east Africa.
Who paid the price?
Only one recipient has so far revealed its links to the central bank cash. New Wave Media, publisher of website vs.hu said it received more that 500 million forints (1,6 million EUR) for multimedia reports. The company’s owner is the cousin of the Governor of the Hungarian National Bank.
Though the website’s objectivity has never been questioned and its reporting is considered impartial, the editor in chief resigned along with at least 10 other journalists who said they hadn’t been aware of the financial arrangement.
András Kósa, one of those who quit, told Euronews: “It was obvious that after this story Vs.hu cannot be a professionaly correct place to work at anymore so there was nothing else to do than resign.”
But that wasn’t the end of the fallout. A number of journalists who decided to follow up the news by asking the government about the issue found themselves banned from parliament, under the pretext that they had tried to pose their questions in an off-limits area.
Klára Kovács, a video journalist for Nol.hu news site told Euronews that she and six other journalists had been punished for pursuing the story.
“I am a journalist, and not only in parts of a building where politicians permit me be a journalist. I am asking what average citizens would like to but have no access…, otherwise I could give back my press card”, she said, adding that the prime minister had refused to answer her questions.
With politicians seemingly protecting themselves from tough questions, the Governor of the Central Bank has insisted that he has done nothing wrong as the foundations that dispersed the money are now separate legal entities that operate independently of the bank.
One of the opposition parties, Együtt has asked prosecutors to investigate mishandling public funds. However, an investigation could be awkward for the chief prosecutor whose wife sits on the supervisory board of two of the foundations.