Hungarian police ceases investigation against opposition mayoral candidate András Pikó
Police have ceased their investigation in the case concerning campaign team of András Pikó, former talk-radio presenter and the opposition's joint mayoral candidate in Budapest's VIII. district. The team was accused of copying personal data from the mayoral candidate's recommendation sheets. The Fidesz-led district's election office does not accept the decision.
In mid-September, police appeared at the VIII. district campaign centre of the opposition, just two days after pro-government political daily Magyar Nemzet ran a story alleging that the campaign team had copied voters' personal data from the candidate's recommendation sheets in order to build a database, which is strictly forbidden. The day after the article was published, the VIII. district election office found that Pikó's team violated the fundamental principles of the election process (a decision later overturned by the Budapest election committee) and reported them to the police.
The following evening, police searched the opposition campaign centre, confiscated laptops, and interrogated Tessza Udvarhelyi, Pikó's campaign chief.
At the time, Fidesz's VIII. district mayor Botond Sára said this was "the most brutal campaign fraud," Fidesz's parliamentary group leader (and former VIII. district mayor) Máté Kocsis urged Pikó to withdraw his candidacy. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) issued a press release stating that the police search was "obviously conducted to apply political pressure on the opposition candidate."
Magyar Nemzet's allegations were based on a photo taken of activists sitting with laptops at a table covered in recommendation sheets. The picture was originally published in Pikó's private Facebook group and was sent to the paper by whom Nemzet claims to be a "disgruntled member" of Pikó's team. However, Pikó's activists suspect an anonymous troll behind the leak: They have found a well-established fake profile that systematically infiltrated a number of opposition Facebook groups after adding several members as friends using a profile picture taken from Vice's interview with Barbara Roberts, a Canadian tree planter and self-professed hippy.
When Nemzet's article was first published, Tessza Udvarhelyi denied the accusations and said that the activists were merely administrating the number of recommendation sheets returned by activists, as there are hefty fines in place for each sheet that cannot be accounted for. In a Facebook post, Pikó welcomed the investigation, as he said "this gives us another opportunity to call attention to Fidesz's Kubatov list" - a list allegedly compiled by governing Fidesz during their 2014 campaign, supposedly containing sensitive personal information on constituents.
Police found nothing, election office presses on
HVG reported on Thursday that police have ceased their investigation as they deemed that there is no suspicion of a crime during the investigation into abusing personal data and violating campaign regulations. Pikó commented that he feels relieved even though the accusations have deeply offended him and his campaign team as well. At his press conference, Pikó said:
"The most important element of our campaign is that it is clean and credible, the report filed to the police questioned that. The decision of the police somewhat compensates us, however, it does not wash away the pain the false accusations caused us. (...) My campaign team did not commit a crime, everyone abided, and abides by the law. We are considering legal action, but above all, I expect Máté Kocsis to apologise to my slandered campaign team, to Tessza Udvarhelyi, and to me."
However, the district election office is not satisfied with the decision as much, and as they told Magyar Nemzet, they are planning to request the police to continue the investigation as the decision is not final:
"We are filing a complaint against the closure of the investigation; we want the procedure to clarify what happened in a way that reassures everyone. Just like in this case, the election office stands up against violations of election law in all cases."
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