Budapest (MTI) – Opposition parties on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to resign and claim some of the responsibility for troubles at the Quaestor brokerage firm.
Szijjarto is up to his neck in Questor case
Orban said at a press conference in Sopron, northwest Hungary, that it was on his instruction that government ministries had withdrawn funds from Quaestor prior to its bankruptcy. He said he had ordered that the money should be taken out after learning about the scandal at the brokerage Buda-Cash at suggestions that it could start a domino effect at other independent Hungarian brokerages.
The prime minister responded to reports which considered it odd that the ministry had withdrawn the money before Quaestor’s bankruptcy.
Quaestor, too, earlier blamed the Buda-Cash scandal for a run by panicked investors trying to cash in their Quaestor bonds.
The foreign ministry on Tuesday denied allegations of insider dealing in connection with the withdrawal of funds. It said it had an investment account at Quaestor which contained non-traded (golden) shares intended to be used for raising capital at Eximbank and they were issued legally. It added that the ministry-affiliated Hungarian National Trading House (MNKH), like many other entities and individuals, withdrew its funds from Quaestor in response to market events.
The Socialist opposition called on Orban to resign for “leaving Hungarian people in the lurch” as his remarks were an “admission” that the ministries had acted on his command. Zoltan Lukacs, the party’s deputy leader, told a press conference that the foreign ministry had lied about the case, insisting “still a few hours ago” that the withdrawal was on advice from ministry analysts. In view of this, foreign minister Peter Szijjarto should also resign, he said. He added that the Socialists repeat their earlier demand for the ministry or Orban to give access to ministry assessments prepared on bankruptcies at the brokerages.
Opposition LMP said suspicions of insider dealing in this case were valid, as ministries could gain this kind of information through their connections. Laszlo Heltai, the party’s economic spokesman, said he would urge investigators to look into such connections, for instance that between Szijjarto and Quaestor chief Csaba Tarsoly. He agreed there was discrepancy between the ministry’s statement that the decision to withdraw funds from Quaestor was made in response to market events while Orban claimed it was on his instruction. “The foreign ministry had withdrawn 20 billion forints and this could have played a role in the collapse of the brokerage,” Heltai said, adding that it was also “odd” that the government claims Fidesz had had information about bad finances at Quaestor while they told the public “everything was all right”. He said questions remained as to the kind of transactions that had taken place as well as what a brokerage was doing handling public funds instead of the State Treasury.
Liberal leader Gabor Fodor said he would turn to Orban in a written question over his role in withdrawing the money as well as the ministry depositing it to Quaestor in the first place.
The leftist opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) said Orban should not evade responsibility over the Quaestor affair and that he must be held to account, even against his personal assets. Zsolt Greczy, the party’s spokesman, said while the investments of “simple people” had gone astray the government had “snuck out” its billions.
The radical nationalist Jobbik party said it would file a complaint over suspicions of insider dealing and demanded a list of individuals and companies which had withdrawn money from Quaestor before it collapsed. Janos Volner, the deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary group, said he would call a meeting of parliament’s business development committee and have Szijjarto answer questions on the scandal.
Timea Szabo, lawmaker for opposition Dialogue for Hungary (PM), said Orban’s remarks were unacceptable and PM would also file a report for insider dealing. The prime minister has “cheated, lied and misled voters,” she said, adding that her party would seek legal steps based on records of the meeting where Orban had given instructions for the withdrawal of funds, which she would try to procure.
The opposition Egyutt called for an investigation to reveal “how the government had handled public funds” and insisted that Orban is “personally responsible”.