Thousands protest in Budapest as Orban embroiled in corruption cover up

Former Hungarian government insider Peter Magyar gives a speech next tot Kossut Lajos Square on Tuesdy, in Budapest, Hungary, March 26, 2024.
Former Hungarian government insider Peter Magyar gives a speech next tot Kossut Lajos Square on Tuesdy, in Budapest, Hungary, March 26, 2024. Copyright Denes Erdos/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Authoritarian social conservative Viktor Orbán has already had his power shaken by a sexual abuse scandal.

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Thousands took to the streets of Budapest to protest after a former government insider turned critic released an audio recording embroiling top officials in Hungary in a conspiracy to cover up corruption. 

Peter Magyar, the ex-husband of Justice Minister Judit Varga, has released an audio recording featuring what appears to be Varga's voice describing how other government officials caused evidence to be removed from court records to cover up their roles in corrupt business dealings.

On Tuesday morning, Magyar published a recording on Facebook and YouTube.

"They suggested to the prosecutors what should be removed," Varga says in the recording, which Magyar says he made during a conversation in the former couple's apartment.

He has given the tape to the Public Prosecutor's Office in Budapest to be used as evidence.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Varga confirmed the voice on the recording is hers, but accused Magyar of violence toward her during their marriage and claimed she had made the statements under duress.

"I said what he wanted to hear so I could get away as soon as possible," she wrote. "In a situation like this, any person can say things they don't mean in a state of intimidation."

Magyar subsequently denied her claims in a Facebook post of his own.

The country's largest protests in years erupted in early February after it was revealed that the president had issued a pardon to a man imprisoned for covering up incidents of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the director of a state-run orphanage.

Close Orbán allies, including the president and Justice Minister Judit Varga, were forced to resign in the face of public outrage.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gives a speech on the steps of the National Museum in Budapest.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gives a speech on the steps of the National Museum in Budapest.Denes Erdos/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Switching sides

Once a senior but little-known member of Orbán's political circle, Magyar shot to prominence when he gave an interview in February to popular YouTube channel Partizan, where he accused Orbán's government of widespread corruption and using smear campaigns to discredit its opponents.

On March 15, he addressed a crowd of tens of thousands in Budapest, where he announced plans to form a new political party to challenge Fidesz's 14-year grip on power as an alternative to Hungary's fragmented opposition.

Péter Magyar, the former husband of one-time justice minister and Orbán ally Judit Varga holds a smoke-candle after his speech on Hungary's National Day in Budapest.
Péter Magyar, the former husband of one-time justice minister and Orbán ally Judit Varga holds a smoke-candle after his speech on Hungary's National Day in Budapest.Denes Erdos/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

The scandal caused an unprecedented political crisis within Orbán's government, which has led Hungary since 2010. Magyar's followers hope his position as a former insider can help to disrupt Hungary's political system, which many see as a deeply entrenched autocracy.

The government has dismissed him as an opportunist seeking to forge a new career after his divorce from Varga and his loss of positions in several state companies. Nonetheless, Magyar's rise has seriously exacerbated what were already major political headaches.

Magyar has railed against official corruption, accusing Orbán of overseeing a nepotistic system of oligarchs that enrich themselves through unfairly awarded government contracts.

He has particularly targeted Antal Rogan, a close Orbán ally who is responsible for the government's communications as well as the country's secret services. The recording released Tuesday purports to show that Rogan led the effort to alter evidence.

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