Embattled Hungarian oligarch hands over control of FHB Bank

By bne IntelliNews October 16, 2016

The chairman of FHB, Hungary’s second-largest listed bank has resigned and sold almost all of his stakes in the leading bank, local press reported on October 14.

Zoltan Speder, who has fallen from favour after years of working closely with the Fidesz government, leaves the bank following a sudden and coordinated attack on him during the summer. His exit illustrates the reliance of Hungarian business on good relations with the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Speder quit as the chairman of FHB after selling the bulk of his stake in the lender. The transaction, which took place outside the Budapest Stock Exchange (BSE) on which FHB is listed, saw savings and loans groups Fokusz Takarekszovetkezet and B3 Takarekszovetkezet buy 15.57mn shares at HUF480 (€1.57) each.

FHB was trading at HUF499 on the BSE as it closed on October 14. Speder retains 100,000 shares. His voting rights in FHB have decreased to 0.017%, the bank said in a market filing.

The banking mogul came under heavy fire at the beginning of this summer. Fines were levvied on FHB, as well as Takarekbank - the savings and loans network controlled by FHB. Police raids targetted the offices of FHB and other business interests of the banker.

While the reasons for Fidesz’ unexpected turn against Speder remain unclear, the campaign eased when local press suggested the oligarch might have voice records that could discredit leading Fidesz politicians, including Prime Minister Viktor Orban. There were also claims that the pressure was sparked by the critical tone expressed by some of his media interests.

Speder has gradually sold many other interests during the summer. His allies have also been excluded from control of Hungarian Post and Takarekbank.

The businessman also reportedly lost his influence in Mediaworks in recent months, the publisher of Nepszabadsag, the left-wing paper that was unexpectedly shut down earlier this month, provoking claims that the government had demanded it be shuttered due to reports probing corruption scandals. The publisher is said likely to being sold to allies of Orban in the near future.

Speder remains, however, the owner of CEMP Zrt., which is the publisher of well known platforms Index.hu and Portfolio.hu. Analysts suggested earlier to bne Intellinews that the aim of the attack on Speder was to force him to sell his media portfolio. Speculation arose in August that close allies of Orban had already signed an option agreement for the acquisition of the CEMP group.

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