Hungarian tax authority raids headquarters of opposition party Momentum
On Wednesday morning, detectives of the criminal investigations department of the National Tax and Customs Authority (NAV) appeared at the Budapest headquarters of opposition party Momentum by surprise, informing the party that
the tax authority had ordered a search and seizure in their office in order to find and secure evidence and documents for an ongoing criminal investigation into suspected fiscal fraud.
NAV ordered the search in order to investigate the party's finances during the 2018 election campaign. According to Momentum's statement sent to Index, NAV was most likely acting on a prior report from the State Audit Office which had since been revoked.
Momentum had received no notices on this matter from either the tax authority or the State Audit Office ever since the State Audit Office revoked the suspension of Momentum's state budget subsidies.
NAV, therefore, did not request further documents or contact the party concerning the case in any other way, but now, two weeks after the municipal elections, they are accusing Momentum of criminal activity and the detectives are looking for fictive invoices. The party's statement noted that they will always be available to the authorities, as they "have nothing to hide."
Miklós Hajnal who is on Momentum's governing board told Index that the detectives spent around one and a half or two hours in Momentum's office, nobody was frisked but the detectives checked the ID cards of everyone present. NAV was looking for the financial reports of the party's 2018 general election campaign expenditures, which they received from the accountant of the party on a pendrive. Hajnal added that the party has eight days to make a formal complaint, as of now, they are examining if NAV's procedure was lawful or not. In a tweet, the party's MEP Katalin Cseh commented:
#Hungarian democracy in action: following a highly successful local election, the National Tax Authority raided the offices of @momentumhu and seized several documents. #Fidesz is notorious to use public authorities as a political weapon to harass and intimidate the opposition.— Katalin Cseh (@katka_cseh) October 30, 2019
Earlier, in January, the State Audit Office had suspended Momentum's state budget subsidies, citing that Momentum did not fulfil its financial reporting obligations, even though Momentum had sent the reports to the State Audit Office by email and via the postal services as well, while
ÁSZ was still trying to reach the party at Momentum's old address.
Back then, the State Audit Office had accused Momentum of having received forbidden party funding from abroad, but in February, they assessed that
"the party had established the fundamental framework of their lawful financial operation. This means that Momentum can receive their formerly suspended state subsidies."
Update: State Audit Office issues a press release concerning Momentum's case
At 5:31 PM, the Hungarian State Audit Office (ÁSZ) released a statement via MTI in which they explain that during the examination of Momentum's 2018 campaign spendings, ÁSZ found that Momentum had failed to account for the lawful use of 500 million Forints of state subsidies until the deadline or since, which the State Audit Office subsequently reported to the prosecution in January 2019 and suspended the party's state subsidies, as they were obliged to do by law.
The fact this suspension was lifted in February 2019 as the framework for their lawful financial operation was established (with regards to the future) does not affect the findings of the ÁSZ inspection closed in January, nor the investigation into the prior period that these findings prompted.
ÁSZ noted that they are unable to give further information, as the procedure is now in the hands of the competent authority, namely the National Tax and Customs Authority.
(Cover: Máté Szekeres / Index)
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