Budapest (MTI) – Six Hungarians are affected by the entry ban to the United States on suspicion of corruption. All six people are government employees or affiliated with the government, André Goodfriend, the charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Budapest said.
The diplomat told a roundtable organised by the embassy on Monday that they had first contacted the foreign ministry on this matter on Oct. 6. He confirmed that he had not shared any names with state secretary Levente Magyar at the time, and said the people involved would be contacted directly.
Goodfriend said this matter mainly concerned the affected parties and the US government, but they notified the ministry, too, so that it would not be surprised by the news. He said he later conveyed the same information to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto.
He added that the United States never releases the names of people it bans from entry, but it notifies them of the ban so that they know about it before they try to enter the country. He said the list of banned people contained six names, but this could change. He did not comment on any companies potentially involved in the corruption allegations.
The cabinet chief said earlier on Monday that the Hungarian government trusted the US would deal with this matter in a constructive way, treating Hungary as a strategic partner and friend. Janos Lazar said only the US could explain who has been blacklisted and why.
“The Hungarian government has no information on the matter,” he said, adding that “not a single government official has been informed about a ban against them entering the United States.”
The government gives Hungarian-US relations special treatment and although there have been disputes at various depths in the past, these were resolved with a view to maintaining friendly relations, Lazar said.
He said the government was at a loss to understand the background of the US steps, although it does not question their legality. He added, however, that if no further information is provided, this could “poison or destroy the Hungarian-US friendship”.
Lazar said he agreed there was a need for an investigation, but it was not clear who should be targeted. The economy ministry is not aware of any wrongdoing at the tax authority NAV. Although the NAV’s head has been implicated, he said, there is no authentic information about any tax officials being involved, he added. Lazar noted that US law also allows people to be banned from entering their country without any justification.
After the committee session, Lazar told journalists that any suspicion that members of the government, state secretaries or deputy state secretaries were affected by the ban could be ruled out. He added that it was inconceivable that someone would be banned with “political reasons mixed in”.
Chairman of the committee, Zsolt Molnar, of the opposition Socialists, suggested the government had ways of examining the involvement of public and state officials.
The Socialists asked government ministers to indicate if any of their subordinates have been affected by the United States’ recent entry ban.
Socialist MP Attila Mesterhazy addressed the following written request to all cabinet members, asking if: “any government official in your ministry or in any agency of your ministry has been notified by the US embassy in Budapest about entry restrictions”.
Mesterhazy insisted that as long as the actual names are not revealed, “the entire government will bear the stain of corruption”. Clarifying who is actually impacted by the ban is of national interest, he said.
Bernadett Szel, a committee member delegated by the LMP, insisted that this was not the first time NAV “has been mired in a corruption scandal”. She added that if NAV head Ildiko Vida remained silent on this matter this could represent a risk to national security.
Adam Mirkoczki, for the radical nationalist Jobbik party, suggested there may be a link between the blacklist and a previous US wiretapping scandal.
Zsuzsanna Szelenyi, of the E-PM party, who is not member of the committee, said she urged the public prosecutor to request information on the case in his own right, which could shed light on the matter.