Forbes: Hungarian PM's friend became the wealthiest person in Hungary

meszaro lorinc penz money cover
2018.12.28. 16:03

The Hungarian edition of Forbes published their annual list of the richest people of Hungary, and it seems that this year, the throne was inevitably yanked from long-time titleholder Sándor Csányi by Lőrinc Mészáros, the close friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former mayor of his hometown. Mészáros tripled his wealth in 2018 and became Hungary's second dollar-billionaire after Csányi.

Forbes estimated his wealth to be over €1.1 billion after last year's mere €326 million. He first showed up on lists of the richest people of Hungary in 2014 with a €24 million wealth.

This year's growth was mainly prompted by his manoeuvre raising the capital of stock market company Opus Global (in which Mészáros is already a majority shareholder) by contributing a large part of his manufacturing and construction firms to the holding and getting shares in return. He is known to be somewhat of a lucky charm of the stock market anyways - Bloomberg declared one of his companies to be the best performing stock in the world with a 6231% increase of share prices in a year. The jury's still out if that is because of his economic genius or his government connections.

Mészáros was born in Felcsút, and was a school classmate of Viktor Orbán, but according to Mészáros, their friendship only dates back to 1999 - their mutual love of football created a strong bond between the two when Europe's then-youngest prime minister started playing in his hometown's local team, sponsored, amongst others, by the future wealthiest man of Hungary. Since then he is the president of the Felcsút football club (known for their stadium that fits all residents of the town twice) and its football academy as well, which has expanded into the largest multi-purpose sports facility in Hungary with the bill footed mostly by Hungarian taxpayers.

He became the mayor of Viktor Orbán's hometown in 2011 after the previous (independent) mayor was removed based on legislation passed soon after the municipal elections of 2010 making it impossible for people with public debts to be mayors. Felcsút's mayor happened to be in that category, and Mészáros easily won the subsequent elections. He resigned from the position this April, saying that controlling his business empire requires all his time and attention.

In a 2014 interview with Heti Válasz, he attributed his riches to hard work, fortune, and the graces of God and Viktor Orbán. Rightly so: at the time of Fidesz's ascent to power, Lőrinc Mészáros had a single company, Mészáros & Mészáros Kft, mainly doing gas-fitting. Their 2006 revenue was €60.000, but in 2015 that very same company was already raking in north of €60.000.000, which is a thousandfold growth in terms of revenue - just to put that into perspective, Amazon matched the multiplier of Mészáros's company, but needed 12 years to do so between 1996 and 2008, and Facebook's revenue in 2016 was only 600 times as much as it was in 2006 ($48 million to $27,6 billion). When faced with that latter comparison, Mészáros said that it could be because he is smarter than Zuckerberg. 

He might as well be right if success at public procurements is any measure of intelligence. In 2016 alone, Mészáros's original gas fitting company landed more than €400,000,000 worth of state contracts with its consortium partners, but it is not the only interest of Mészáros - that same year saw his rapid expansion into tourism, media, agriculture, construction, real estate, with these businesses bringing in an additional €300,000,000 worth of state contracts. Nowadays his influence is estimated to extend over hundreds of companies (despite him gifting his entire media portfolio to a recently created foundation in late November, with the merger exempted from competition law by Orbán) that employ at least 11,000 people, theoretically making Mészáros the 6th largest employer of Hungary. 

(Cover illustration: szarvas / Index)