Hungary halts probe into corruption case connected to US visa bans

By bne IntelliNews June 9, 2016

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Budapest has called a halt to its investigation into a corruption scandal that led two years ago to a ban on travel to the US for six Hungarian officials, local press reported on June 9.

The office says it has done all it can to probe the case, which centres on demands for bribes from US food company Bunge, despite fingering just one middleman. Critics claim a lack of independence at the prosecutor’s office, and note that five of the Hungarian officials banned from the US have still not been named.

The US government imposed entry bans on the officials in 2014 due to evidence of corruption. The names of the officials were not released, but former tax authority chief Ildiko Vida admitted she was one of those banned.

After more than a year-long investigation, the prosecutor’s office accused Viktor Andras T. of soliciting HUF2bn (€6.42mn) from Bunge – an American food company based in Hungary - in return for using his influence to lower the VAT on cooking oil from 27% to 5%. The suspect referred to his ties with Peter Heim, head of pro-government market research firm Szazadveg.

While the municipal court handed a two-year suspended prison sentence to the suspect on June 7, it also stated that the man only acted as an intermediary, and the true leader of the bribery scheme is yet to be discovered.

The prosecutor’s office, however, told local Magyar Nemzet on June 9 that it would not continue the investigation, as it had already done everything it could in order to find the leader of the bribery scheme. The investigators admitted that it had not tapped the phone calls of the suspect, which is a standard practice in bribery cases.

On June 7, small opposition party Egyutt filed a complaint against persons unknown connected to the Bunge scandal, while the far-right Jobbik called on ruling party Fidesz and Szazadveg to provide a clarification.

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