Banks, hotels, casinos, factories, TV channels, newspapers, advertisement companies, building industry, or agriculture – three influential businessmen close to Viktor Orbán have interests in almost every sector. Lőrinc Mészáros has almost doubled the number of his enterprises last year, the companies of Garancsi are soaring and Andy Vajna’s wealth grows exponentially.
This article was originally published by Átlátszó.hu, a watchdog NGO and online newspaper in Hungary.
Some lucky do not seem to be able to fail, and make billions in Hungarian forints during the process since Fidesz took over two-thirds of the seats in the Hungarian Parliament in 2010. They might be considered talented businessmen, but none of them could have achieved their current success without the preferential treatment from the Hungarian government and other state organizations.
Lőrinc Mészáros, István Garancsi, and Andy Vajna have a great number of companies – in the picture below those 377 of them can be seen that Átlátszó could identify.
The Do-All: Lőrinc Mészáros
It was a year ago when Átlátszó made a graphic summary of the companies of Lőrinc Mészáros for the first time. He “only” had 125 companies then. It was not an easy task to find and connect them, but this time our job was even more challenging, as the number of his companies grew to a staggering 224 in a year. Some of these companies are directly owned by him, some belong to him only indirectly.
Mészáros, a close friend of Viktor Orbán, has interests in almost every sector. He owns a bank (MKB), an insurance company (Cig Pannónia), a TV channel (Echo TV), numerous newspapers (Mediaworks), hotels (Hunguest Hotels), camping sites (Balatontourist) and wineries (Dereszla). The beach of Aliga and the Matra Power Plant also belong to him.
His wealth is estimated to be 280 billion HUF (approximately 865 million euros at today’s exchange rate) by Napi.hu. Mészáros claims that he had been a successful businessman even before 2010, but the connection between the support of the Orbán-government and his success is hardly a coincidence. In 2010, Mészáros had a mere three companies, with 200 million HUF profit (approx. 617 thousand euros).
Since the election of Fidesz, his companies won a surprising number of state contracts. Between 2010 and 2017, his Mészáros and Mészáros Ltd. – alone and as a consortium partner – won state contracts worth of 491 billion HUF (more than 1.5 billion euros at today’s exchange rate).
The Real Estate Agent: István Garancsi
István Garancsi, another friend of Viktor Orbán, made headlines in Hungary in September 2018, when Átlátszó discovered that Orbán was taken by Garancsi to international football matches of Garancsi’s team by a private luxury jet on multiple occasions.
Garancsi only had interest in real estate and football clubs before 2010. After 2010, the Orbán administration introduced new policies that enabled Garancsi to create companies that are monopolies or quasi-monopolies in Hungary.
Since 2010, he has many new enterprises in several sectors: Átlátszó counted 114 companies that belong to him. Some of the sectors where he started new businesses are: finance (Duna Takarék Bank), construction (Market Építő Zrt.), advertising (ESMA), gambling (Casino Sopron) and fintech (online cash registers with Mobil Adat Zrt.).
The Garancsi network of companies consists of these (50%) and real estate companies (50%). His real estate companies are co-owned by Zsolt Hernádi (President of MOL, Hungarian Oil and Gas Public Limited Company), and Sándor Csányi (board member of MOL, and CEO of OTP Bank Group). They established a new company for every real estate they own, thus they have 45 such companies.
The rapid growth of Garancsi’s companies was enabled by certain policies of the Orbán administration. The government passed a bill in 2012 that made a requirement for all Hungarian retailers to have their cash registers connected online to the Hungarian tax authority (NAV) at all times.
Through two of his companies, Garancsi became one of the owners of the Mobil Adat Kft that could supply the tools and technology to nearly all Hungarian retailers. As the cash registers operate with irremovable SIM cards, with the installation of the online cash registers, the retailer is contractually tied to the provider, in this case the Mobil Adat Kft.
Thus the revenue of the Mobil Adat Kft is guaranteed on a continuing basis: since 2015, the company’s annual income is around two billion HUF (approximately 6.2 million euros at today’s exchange rate) and the profit is around half a billion HUF (approx. 1.5 million euros).
Similarly to the online cash registers, the government created a quasi-monopoly for casino corporation where Garancsi became a partner in 2016. The government nationalized the entire gambling industry in 2012. Since then only so-called “reliable gambling organizers” have been certified to open casinos in Hungary.
There are only a handful of such companies in the entire country. Garancsi is not among them, but due to a legal loophole that allows co-owners to share the profit, he used his football company to be the co-owner of Casino Sopron in 2016. That casino produced 1 billion HUF profit in the year 2017.
Not only Garancsi’s online cash registers and casino businesses, but also his construction companies benefit from tailwind from the government. Market Építő Zrt is a regular winner of high-value state contracts. Garancsi’s Garhartt Invest acquired shares of Market Építő in 2014. Since then Market Építő won the following state contracts alone or as a consortium partner:
- Construction of Duna Aréna (alone), 43 billion HUF
- Pannon Park project, 32 billion HUF
- Mome Creative Innovation and Knowledge Park, 10 billion HUF
- Szeged Youth Center (alone), 9 billion HUF.
These state contracts constituted a 6.3 billion HUF (approx. 19.4 million euros) profit in 2016, of which 5.3 billion (approx. 16.4 million euros) was distributed as dividend among the stakeholders. The bulk of the dividend flew to Garancsi via Garhartt Invest.
The Casino Man: Andy Vajna
Similarly to these two friends of Orbán, Andy Vajna became exceptionally successful after 2010, due to government support. Vajna was among the first ones receiving the title “reliable gambling organizer”.
Given that all competition was eliminated, he faced almost no competition when launching his gambling company. The balance sheet reflects this: in 2013 his company’s result was 1.6 billion HUF (approx. 4.9 million euros) after taxes. In 2014 it was 3 billion HUF (approx. 9.3 million euros) and in 2015 it was staggering 6 billion HUF (approx. 18.6 million euros) after taxes.
Átlátszó mapped Vajna’s companies in 2014 for the first time. He barely had Hungarian companies at that time, we found his name mainly in offshore companies. In the meantime, he distanced himself from those, and he has started his Hungarian businesses.
As of now, 39 companies can be traced back to him, including bakery businesses that are run by his wife. The national channel Radio 1 is owned by Vajna, and the prospective crown jewel TV 2 as well – the entertainment channel was anticipated to be a high yield venture but currently, it operates at a loss.