STA, 28 February 2020 - The Slovenian web portal Oštro published on Friday along with two more investigative journalism groups in the region a report alleging that a Slovenia-based company was used to launder illegal Hungarian government money and finance media propaganda in North Macedonia.
The story - coming after reports showing entrepreneurs close to Hungarian PM Viktor Orban helped fund Slovenian media with ties to the Democrats (SDS) and Macedonian media associated with the country's VMRO-DPMNE party - is based on an investigation that had been started by Macedonian financial police in 2018.
The file of the Macedonian police, which allegedly acted after receiving a hint from Slovenian colleagues, is also said to contain documents obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and shared with its local centres in Slovenia (Oštro), North Macedonia (Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia, IRL) and Hungary (Direkt36).
The centrepiece of the investigation is a EUR 2.94 million advertising campaign contract signed in 2017 by Hungarian entrepreneur Peter Shatz both on behalf the contracting party, his Slovenian publishing company R-POST-R, and the contractor, Macedonian company Target Media.
Screenshot ostro.si. You can see the story referred to here
Shatz, who has also been heavily engaged in dealings around Slovenian media associated with the SDS, used Target Media to buy the Macedonian Alfa TV and establish the Macedonian web portal ripostmk.com, both of which were publishing the ads stemming from the dubious EUR 2.94 million contract that ran from August 2017 to February 2019.
According to the findings of the Macedonian financial police, the marketing involved products by two small Hungarian companies - one of them purporting to sell olive oil from Croatia's Dalmatia region - that "do not exist on the Macedonian market" and whose import into Macedonia was not recorded before or after the ads were ran.
Moreover, indicating that the value of the contract was overblown, IRL quotes a Macedonian marketing expert as pointing out that the biggest client of a marketing agency in Skopje pays less than half a million euro annually for prime time ads at six TV and radio stations and web portals.
Macedonian police is said to suspect that the funds originated from illegal sources and that the aim had been to "legalise" them through Macedonian companies, meaning that money laundering is suspected.
The investigation is led by the director of the Macedonian financial police Arafat Muaremi, who suspects the money came from the Hungarian state budget.
Muaremi told IRL the police had informed the Macedonian prosecution of its findings in August 2019 but that no indictment had been filed. The prosecution said it was acquainted with the case but failed to explain why no action had been taken.
Muaremi added the investigation was started on the basis of a hint from Slovenian colleagues, who also "informed us that the money came from Hungary". According to Muaremi, Hungarian authorities have "not been willing to talk or cooperate with us in any way".
Slovenian police have not commented, but they did repeat that they had been conducting since March 2018 an investigation "of a suspected criminal offence whose perpetrator is prosecuted ex officio".
The Slovenian web portal necenzurirano.si has reported that this investigation pertains to the contentions EUR 450,000 loan taken out by the SDS in 2017 with Bosnian citizen Dijana Đuđić.
All our stories about Hungary and Slovenia are here
STA, 26 February 2020 - Three local communities in the north-eastern region of Prekmurje are upset after a cable operator announced it was expanding its TV package in the area with programmes catering for the Hungarian minority, which does not in fact live in the three municipalities. The development comes amid concerns about Hungary's expanding influence in the region.
Telemach said it would include five Hungarian programmes in its package in Lendava, Odranci, Velika Polana and Črenšovci, in response to the wishes of the Hungarian community in the area. The latter three communities are not bothered by the new programmes, but rather by the reason given for the move.
Jožef Horvat, the head of the parliamentary faction of the conservative party New Slovenia (NSi), has alerted the government in a letter that Hungary's influence in the municipalities with exclusively Slovenian population is expanding through the programmes.
"We are not bothered by the programme scheme and business decisions of a private subject even when it comes to bilingual programmes, but it does bother us that in its official release the company stated that this was in accordance with the wishes of our municipalities' residents and labelled them as bilingual, which they aren't," Velika Polana Mayor Damijan Jaklin said.
In his letter, MP Horvat said that it was commendable that the Pomurje Hungarian community was aspiring for Hungarian programmes, but that it was unacceptable that in public explanations Črenšovci, Velika Polana and Odranci were listed as mixed ethnicity areas populated by a sizeable Hungarian minority. "This is simply not true and it is common deceit."
Horvat, whose party has just agreed to be part of a new government formed by Janez Janša, the leader of the Democrats (SDS), accused the outgoing government of silently watching developments in Prekmurje, asking what it was planning to do to protect the majority nation and language in the region.
Črenšovci Mayor Vera Markoja says that Telemach has apologised to the community for declaring it is home to a Hungarian minority. The company told the STA its purpose was not to cause discord or "declare ethnically mixed areas", but rather to offer a choice of quality content to all viewers across the country.
Telemach said that as part of its switch to the digital programme scheme new Hungarian programmes would be available throughout the country. The company has one TV signal for Lendava, Odranci, Velika Polana and Črenšovci, which means separating the programme scheme by municipalities impossible.
Prekmurje has in recent time seen extensive Hungarian state and private investment, which has sparked considerable attention. While some see the investment as welcome aid benefiting the entire population of the underdeveloped region, others see it as Hungary expanding its influence in a region what used to be part of the Hungarian empire.
Hungarian investments in the region include the acquisition of the spa Terme Lendava, unofficially at the cost of EUR 9 million, EUR 6 million investment in the Lendava football academy as well grants distributed to individuals and entrepreneurs commanding Hungarian language.
Opinions on the Hungarian aid are also divided within the Hungarian ethnic community in the region with some arguing that the investments do not generate economic effects and questioning the motives behind them, suggesting that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was trying to assert his ways also in Slovenia.
Hungarian MP Ferenc Horvath believes that the aid is welcome. "Slovenia too should give as much here. Aid is welcome in the region. These are public funds, we know where they are destined, and they are also a contribution to Slovenia because money is spent here and taxes are paid here as well."
A similar view was taken by the SDS, which is facing allegations that media with ties to the party have received funds from Hungary.
The SDS believes that the Slovenian government is neglecting Prekmurje as well as the Slovenian minority in Hungary, "which is why the Hungarians help both". "If our investment was sufficient, the Hungarians would have nowhere to invest".
All our stories on Hungary are here
STA, 19 February 2020 - Tensions are running high as the police and the Democrats (SDS) clashed over the jurisdiction of the parliamentary Commission for Intelligence and Security Services Oversight (KNOVS), which wanted to investigate on Tuesday allegations that police had been spying on coalition party heads on behalf of outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.
Three KNOVS members made an unannounced visit to the police headquarters yesterday, investigating the suspicion that Šarec and his state secretary Damir Črnčec abused the police to gain information to extort party leaders in coalition-building talks with the SDS.
Šarec and Črnčec - the latter ran both national intelligence agencies under Janša's rule - both denied the allegations, with Šarec saying that the media "close to the SDS...are obviously describing their own methods".
He believes the SDS, whose MP Žan Mahnič led Tuesday's visit by KNOVS, is abusing the commission for political purposes.
"Independent institutions are investigating Hungarian funds which are flowing we all know where and attention has to be diverted," he said in reference to alleged by-bass funding of the SDS or the media associated with the party through circles close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Črnčec denied the allegation through his lawyer, and posted a lengthy post on Facebook this morning, criticising Janša. He also wondered why and for how much Janša had "sold Slovenia's national interests to Hungary".
He said in a post that Janša's and him parted ways parted when he had realised that "the SDS apparatus operates on the principles of a mafia business, where all paths lead to its leader and his inner circle".
Meanwhile, the police force also issued a determined response, underlining it is not "a dislocated unit of any politician or of any political organisation."
Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar said in a statement that the three members of KNOVS had tried to gain access to information that were beyond the scope of their legal powers.
The police said they wanted the names of police officers who potentially accessed records of certain MPs and information about ongoing investigations, including in cases without covert methods, the latter being in the domain of KNOVS.
Bobnar said the police would not give in to pressure from anybody and called for an election campaign built on arguments and not made-up stories at the expense of the police force and threats to its leadership. She vowed that the police would do everything in its power to prevent the spread of fake news within the force.
She also noted KNOVS deputy chair Žan Mahnič warned her she might want to think about her future because she would face criminal charges if the commission finds out that she was covering up political abuse of the police force. The statement interpreted as a threat was witnessed by Bobnar's deputy, as well as the boss of the criminal police departments.
Mahnič later tried to downplay this, announcing that a different parliamentary commission that is already looking into alleged politically-motivated prosecution would look into the spying allegations and demand the material that was denied to KNOVS.
The commission demands that the police provide within 10 days a list of all interventions into police records for any of the 90 MPs, all the cabinet ministers and the outgoing prime minister.
The General Police Administration said that the police had started checking the allegations and that the state prosecution would be kept informed.
Most parliamentary parties have expressed concern over the allegations. They believe that the matter should be investigated and all suspicions clarified.
According to reports by news portal Požareport, the alleged mission by Črnčec and Šarec targeted friends of Zdravko Počivalšek, the outgoing minister of economy and the head of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) and MPs of the SMC, as well as MPs of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB).
Meanwhile, the Left's MP Miha Kordiš labelled the developments as usual political scandaling, and took aim at the SDS.
The party and Janša have abused state institutions many times, he said, adding that Črnčec also belonged to that school of thought. It would not be surprising if the prime minister "has developed this bad habit too", he said.
STA, 18 February 2020 - The Culture Ministry joined on Tuesday the condemnation of different forms of attacks on journalists reporting about alleged funding from circles around Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of media with ties to the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).
Echoing last week's reaction by the Journalists' Association (DNS), the ministry wrote that the recent outburst of public stigmatisation and even street assaults on journalists is a worrying indication that pressure is escalating.
Undermining the independence of media and attacks on journalists present a serious challenge for democracy, as nobody can perform their work at the highest possible level if they are not safe.
"Violence, harassment and bullying targeting journalists and often also their families does not only cause fear among them but also mistrust and uncertainty in society at large," the ministry wrote, noting undermined freedom of speech leads to poorly informed voters.
It pointed out that reports on the safety of journalists have been included by the European Commission in the regular monitoring of the state of the rule of law in member states, with rising pressure on journalists also appearing in countries with long democratic traditions.
Verbal attacks and bullying, especially when coming from public figures, are often only one step away from physical forms of violence, the ministry said, pointing to reports of international organisations about this becoming a trend in many countries especially before elections.
The ministry said it would continue to push for comprehensive efforts to secure a safe environment for journalists, including with the currently shelved new media bill that entails greater autonomy and social security for journalist and greater transparency of the operations and financing of media outlets.
All our stories on Hungary and the media are here
STA, 13 February 2020 - The Democrats (SDS) have accused the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) of leaking classified information to journalists about Hungarian financing of media outlets with close ties to the party, accusations that the LMŠ denies.
The head of the SDS deputy group, Danijel Krivec, yesterday sent a letter to Jani Möderndorfer, the chair of a parliamentary inquiry into the financing of political parties, implying that the vice chair of the inquiry and LMŠ MP Aljaž Kovačič, and another LMŠ member, were looking at documents on money transfers from private Hungarian companies in the safe room of the National Assembly on 31 January and 3 February.
The documents in question had been obtained during the parliamentary inquiry and were labelled as classified.
Later that week, media reported of the allegedly controversial financing of the SDS from Hungary, publishing data on transactions, which Krivec thinks "could not have been obtained legally", as NKBM rejected media requests for an insight into the transactions.
Krivec therefore proposes that the chair of the parliamentary inquiry into alleged money laundering at NKBM, Jani Möderndorfer of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) reports Kovačič and other unknown perpetrators to police.
Krivec also proposed to parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan that the issue be discussed by deputy group leaders.
The LMŠ rejects the accusations, saying that its MP and vice chair of the inquiry, Kovačič, has the right and duty to go through the documents that are relevant for the inquiry.
"After all it is his task and duty as member of the inquiry to get acquainted with the content before it is put up for debate or a vote," said LMŠ deputy group head Brane Golubović.
He added that Kovačič and his college had acted in line with the rules, recording the date and the documents they had inspected. Meanwhile, Möderndorfer labelled the demand inappropriate and a pressure on the parliamentary commission.
Kovačič rejected the allegations that he had leaked the confidential information to the press, while SDS head Janez Janša said that only two people had looked into the data on transactions of private companies and that they were both from the ranks of the LMŠ.
Kovačič, on the other hand, said that he and his colleague had definitely not been the only ones looking into the documents. "I'm probably one of the few people who always sign their names when they look into documents. If I wanted to play James Bond I probably would not have been doing that."
Web portal Necenzurirano.si reported of transactions of funds originating from Hungary from accounts in the UK and Hungary to Slovenia on Monday. It said EUR 4 million had been wired, of which EUR 1.5 million landed on the bank accounts of two media companies that are behind the TV channel and web site of Nova24TV, both of which are co-owned by senior SDS officials.
The remaining EUR 2.5 million was reportedly wired to North Macedonia to finance the purchases of media companies with ties to the biggest opposition party, the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE.
The National Bureau of Investigation has confirmed it is investigating the funding of some media outlets close to the SDS.
The SDS has denied the accusations on several occasions, and has even threatened the outgoing PM, Marjan Šarec, with a lawsuit over the statements he made on public TV regarding the financing of the SDS from Hungary.
Möderndorfer confirmed for the STA on Wednesday that he had received the letter from the SDS, which he labelled "highly unusual". "I admit I am surprised this came from someone who has no access to the documents of the parliamentary commission and is neither its member nor substitute member," he said.
All our stories about Hungary and Slovenia are here
STA, 11 February 2020 - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI, Nacionalnega preiskovalnega urada – NPU, “Slovenia’s FBI”)) is investigating the funding of some media outlets close to the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), public broadcaster TV Slovenia reported. The police refuse to comment.
The media are suspected of having received funding from Hungarian business people with close ties to Fidesz, the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, TV Slovenija said.
The news comes after web portal necenzurirano.si reported on Monday that EUR 4 million were transferred since August 2018 from accounts in the UK and Hungary to accounts in Slovenia.
EUR 1.5 million allegedly ended up on the accounts of media companies NovaTV24.si and Nova Hiša, the broadcaster of the TV programme and publisher of Nova24TV.
The rest allegedly went to North Macedonia for the purchase of media companies from the circle of Macedonia's biggest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE.
Necenzurirano.si also said that the funds were the key source of income for NovaTV24.si and Nova Hiša.
In 2018, total earnings of NovaTV24.si reached EUR 1.54 million, only EUR 300,000 more than the total sum of Hungarian funds since August 2018 until today. Whereas the earnings of Nova Hiša in 2018 reached EUR 324,000.
The portal said that the two media are close to the SDS, because several party members sit on the management board of NovaTV24.
SDS leader Janez Jaša accused NBI head Darko Muženič in a tweet today that he had allowed millions to be laundered in NLB bank and was now investigating the media that reported about it.
The SDS has repeatedly rejected speculation about illegal funding for the party from abroad. What is more, the party has threatened to sue outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec for saying that the SDS had received funds from Hungary.
Balkan Insight has just published a three-part series looking at the efforts of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with regard to the “virtual reunification” of the country under his form of “illiberal democracy”, with lavish spending aimed at courting the ethnic Hungarian communities in neighbouring states, as well as the wider media and political scenes. The series looks at Slovenia, Serbia and Romania, and what follows is a summary of the first, “In a Hungarian Corner of Slovenia, a Homegrown Orban”, by Akos Keller Alant.
The story opens in 2016, when a theatrical production of a Hungarian musical was to be staged in Lendava, aimed at Slovenia’s 6,000 or so ethnic Hungarians. However, the Hungarian Self-Governing National Community, or MMONK, which is tasked with representing the community, tried to get the show cancelled, with no official reason given by the president, Ferenc Horvath. Still, the organiser felt that perhaps the real reason was the fact the performance would mean royalties would have to be paid to an institution in Budapest known for its support of liberal causes, including migrants and refugees, a group Orban is among the most vocal in Europe with regard to opposing
The performance went ahead, but since then the theatre company has been disbanded due to lack of funding, while Lili Keep, the women who organised the performance, was forced out of her job as director of the Institution for Hungarian Nationality and Culture, replaced by Horvath’s deputy at MMONK. Keep claims that she was pushed out because she was too liberal, a fact that Horvath doesn’t dispute, although he adds that it was because she was finically too liberal, and couldn’t maintain the Institution’s finances.
This, the story claims, is symptomatic of the control Budapest has over ethnic Hungarians over the border, which is also financial, due to generous spending (especially since 2015), as well as offering other inducements to identify more strongly with the homeland and vote, such as making getting Hungarian citizenship easier. Such efforts, when they make it to the ballot box, see landslide wins for Fidesz (Orban’s party) among Hungarians outside the country.
Victor Orban and Janez Janša at an SDS rally, 2018. SDS' Facebook page
Horvath, since 2018 a deputy in the Slovenian Parliament, is now the main go-between for the governments in Ljubljana and Budapest when it comes the Hungarian community in Slovenia. He has also changed the statues of MMONK and, according to historian Attila Kovacs, a former local councillor in Prekmurje, taken power away from the community and placed it in his own hands.
As Kovacs tells Balkan Insight: “Mr. Horvath uses his power in an authoritarian way. He appoints people loyal to him to every important position, while he marginalises everyone who is critical of his politics.”
The benefits of being winning Horvath’s favour can be considerable, since he’s responsible for assigning the funds received from Hungary. These have grown rapidly in recent years, from just €222,000 in 2015 to just under seven million euros since 2016.
Horvath’s election to Parliament led to an investigation by the state Committee for the Prevention of Corruption, which ordered him to resign as either an MP or president of MMONK, two positions he continues to hold, while – it should be stressed – maintaining his innocence.
While in Parliament Horvath had himself appointed to a special committee investigating whether Janez Janša, the leader of SDS who won the last elections in 2018, but who was unable to form a government, received illegal campaign contributions from Hungarian allies of Orban.
The full article goes on to examine Horvath’s role in the Hungarian language media in Slovenia, the television arm of which was criticized in 2018 by the media ombudsman for being overly focused on the Hungarian government, Fidezs and its supporters. You can find it here.
All our stories on Hungary and Slovenia are here
STA, 19 November 2019 - The Slovenian and Hungarian automotive clusters signed an agreement to develop cutting-edge technologies which they hope would make them leaders in the transition to e-mobility. A technology and development business event held in Maribor on Tuesday was also attended by the Slovenian economy minister and Hungarian innovation minister.
The event was organised by the Chamber of Commerce from the Štajerska region in collaboration with the Hungarian Embassy in Ljubljana and the University of Maribor.
Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said Slovenian companies were already taking part in the development of Hungary's test track for conventional and autonomous cars.
Slovenia's automotive industry generates around 10% of the country's GDP and 20% of its entire exports, so he deems technological solutions in this area a basis enabling companies from both sides of the border to become an important player in the global car industry.
He said today's meeting with Hungarian Minster for Innovation and Technology Laszlo Palkovics further "enhances our excellent bilateral cooperation", noting trade in 2018 totalled EUR 2.4 billion.
[GOSPODARSTVO] Minister za gospodarski razvoj in tehnologijo Zdravko Počivalšek in madžarski minister za inovacije in tehnologijo Laszlo Palkovics sta bila danes v Lendavi. #vestnik #nicsenezgodibreznas #slovenija #madzarska https://t.co/wFPA1Yw3yd— Vestnik (@Vestnik_si) November 19, 2019
Palkovics added that this was one of the most exciting technological periods which would result in major technology changes to radically change people's lives. "Even if we are both small countries, we have to find our places in the development of high technologies," he said.
Zoran Ren of the University of Maribor said the university had worked with the universities in Austria's Graz and Hungary's Budapest on developing some components for Hungary's ZalaZone test track.
Od besed k dejanjem. V Mariboru pravkar podpisan sporazum o sodelovanju med Združenjem madžarskih proizvajalcev avtomobilskih delov in Slovenskim avtomobilskim grozdom. Skupaj z ?? ministrom dr. Palkovicsem dajeva razvoju avtonomne in brezogljične mobilnosti nov zagon. pic.twitter.com/IUqpS8h4pj— Zdravko Počivalšek (@PocivalsekZ) November 19, 2019
"Today's event is important because it defines the future. New ties are being forged which will help design an orderly and safer mobility in the future," said Rem, the vice-chancellor in charge of scientific and research projects.
He said the first stage of the test track project, worth EUR 150 million, had already been completed, with the second one, worth EUR 50 million, now continuing.
Iztok Seljak of Hidria Holding, a supplier of car parts for many leading car producers, said the Slovenian Automotive Cluster was looking for breakthrough solutions to tap in the potential offered by the transition to a society based on e-mobility.
One such solution is wireless electric car charging, for which a special consortium has already won some start-up funds, he explained.
"We are first partnering up with Hungarians, then we will also with Austrians and other European partners to receive more development funds and to make sure this becomes a priority European project which will enable us to become a leader in e-mobility," Seljak said.
Meanwhile, the two ministers continued the meeting in the Slovenian border town of Lendava, where the topics included a revitalisation of the abandoned Nafta industrial complex, the use of local geothermal sources and innovative zero carbon energy generation.
Commenting on the industrial complex, Počivalšek announced the state was ready to provide a 20% investment subsidy to investments in Lendava.
"We agreed that we need to encourage cooperation of the Porabje and Prekmurje border regions, along with the Austrian border area - the building of the test track for electrical and autonomous vehicles in Zalaegerszeg is a very good basis for this," Počivalšek moreover said.
Palkovics said the two countries also wanted to strengthen cooperation in the phasing of EU funds.
He proposed that funding for research cooperation be upped to EUR 1 million and moreover argued that the situation of young people living near the border could be improved with cooperation among universities and secondary schools in both countries.
All our stories about Hungary and Slovenia are here
Slovenia is shocked by the footage published by the Slovenian Motorway Company (DARS) featuring a deadly accident which happened on Ljubljana ring road this morning.
The accident occurred when a 41-year-old Slovenian driver of an Opel Corsa lost control over his vehicle due to driving too fast for the conditions, and hit the truck he was passing. The truck broke through the safety barrier and fell from the viaduct, down about 20 metres. The 53-year-old Hungarian driver did not survive the accident while the driver of a car sustained no injuries.
Traffic on the motorway in the direction of Styria was obstructed until 12:30. Police meanwhile continue to gather information on the causes of the accident. Due to suspicion of causing of an accident due to negligent driving, which is a criminal offence, the findings will be reported to the district attorney's office. The person who caused the accident could face up to 8 years in prison.
DARS decided to publish the video of the horrific traffic accident as a reminder to drivers of how quickly an accident can occur.
STA, 5 November 2019 - Karel Holec has been elected the new president of one of the two Slovenian minority umbrella organisations in Hungary, taking over from Martin Ropoša, who has led the State Slovenian Self-Government organisation since its establishment in 1995, public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported on Tuesday.
Holec, 50, is a journalist and photographer for the Porabje weekly, the only Slovenian-language paper in Hungary, which was launched in 1991. From 1994 to 2006, he was mayor of Orfalu, or Andovci in Slovenian.
The new leader said he would continue with the minority's main project - efforts to develop the Raba Valley (Porabje) to enable young people to stay in the region.
The minority organisation is seated in the town of Felsoszolnok (Gornji Senik) and has a unit in Budapest. Ropoša will from now on serve as its vice president.
Earlier this year, the other umbrella minority organisations in Hungary also got a new leader.
In May, Andrea Kovač replaced Jože Hirnök at the helm of the Association of Slovenians in Hungary after he led the organisation from its establishment in 1990.
The association is based in the town of Szentgotthard (Monošter).
There are some 5,000 Slovenians living in Hungary, of whom some 3,000 in the Raba Valley area along the border with Slovenia.