Hungarian diplomat covers up DUI accident in Vienna

February 02. 2021. – 06:50 PM

Hungarian diplomat covers up DUI accident in Vienna
Illustration: szarvas / Telex

Hungary's former ambassador to Austria, Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, had caused an accident in Vienna while driving drunk with his children in the back. The case was hushed up in Austria, even though the diplomat could have ended up in prison. Bobrovniczky's DUI crash had no consequences in Hungary either, the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no idea about the accident's most significant circumstances. The diplomat who belongs to circles of Cabinet Minister Antal Rogán and Árpád Habony used to be Viktor Orbán's primary contact in Vienna; therefore, despite the grumbling of other cabinet members, he is still the state secretary for public relations at the Prime Minister's Office.

Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky is in the Prime Minister's closest circles. The diplomat used to keep in touch with Heinz-Christian Strache, who was the Austrian Vice-Chancellor at the time, and Heinrich Pecina, a businessman who played a significant role in playing over an extensive media portfolio to Hungarian oligarchs. As Hungary's ambassador to Vienna, he often made headlines in Austrian and Hungarian press; he attacked the jury at Reporters Without Borders for giving awards to journalists he did not like, complained to the President of Austria about an exhibition in Linz, and most famously, he appeared on the Austrian TV show Wir Staatskünstler where two comedians mocked the Hungarian crowd after asking the ambassador if that is considered a crime in Hungary. Two years ago, a journalist of the German newspaper Die Welt published the rather peculiar letters he received from the politician, sent from a government email address.

Eight years ago, he crashed his car in Vienna. That in itself would hardly be newsworthy, however, the circumstances of the accident and what followed are noteworthy.

On the evening of 26 April 2013, Szalay-Bobrovniczky rear-ended a cab in a straight one-way street, pushing it into a parked A-class Mercedes. The cab's passenger and driver suffered minor injuries, though one of them was hospitalised, he was released shortly.

The Hungarian diplomat violated several rules during the accident. Six people were sitting in his five-seater service vehicle, the politician, his wife, and their four children, who travelled without safety equipment. According to the police report acquired by Telex, the police arriving at the scene tested Brobrovniczky with a breathalyser, and his estimated breath alcohol content was 0.84 mg/l. The diplomat refused to undergo an evidentiary, calibrated breath test after the preliminary screening.

The police report states that Szalay-Bobrovniczky "showed obvious signs that he was under the influence of alcohol, his mouth undoubtedly smelled of alcoholic drinks, and his conjunctivae were visibly red." Officers banned him from starting the car up again, and firefighters had to move the vehicle out of the way of traffic. Ultimately, the car was driven away by another member of the Hungarian diplomatic mission.

Former ambassador Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, Minister of the PM's Office Gergely Gulyás, Minister for the Families Katalin Novák, and former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache

Szalay-Bobrovniczky told Telex that at the time of the accident, he was on his way back from an official reception, besides, "during that period, I had to take medication for a viral infection, I even have a doctor's certificate. The breathalyser showed a higher value than it should have."

As there were injuries, the Austrian Public Prosecutor's Office had to carry out a mandatory investigation against the politician despite his diplomatic immunity. The case was closed two months later, on 17 June 2013. The decision ending the investigation cited Article 39, Paragraph 2 of the Austrian Criminal Procedure Code, according to which "the prosecutor must abstain from the criminal investigation and stop the related procedure if preliminary investigation suggests that the criminal act does not call for any court-sanctioned punishment, or if further criminal proceedings against the defendant would be legally unacceptable."

Several sources speaking to Telex claim that Szalay-Bobrovniczky was summoned by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the diplomat made an agreement about the conditions of stopping the investigation.

Responding to our questions concerning whether or not the Ministry contacted the prosecutors' office prior to the end of the investigation, Johannes Aigner, the deputy spokesperson for the Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs told us that "in Austria, prosecutors, as leaders of investigative procedures, must be unbiased and must decide about raising charges or stopping investigations without any external influence, based on their own perspective and deliberation."

However, Szalay-Bobrovniczky was facing severe punishment over the accident. Without the diplomatic immunity, he would have lost his license for six months for refusing to undergo a calibrated blood alcohol test alone, and he would have been issued a fine somewhere between €1600 and €5900, sent to a psychological fitness assessment and a driving course.

Bernard Hofer, a tort- and criminal law expert from Vienna told Telex that if a drunk driver causes an accident resulting in injury, that driver could be charged with negligently causing bodily harm. According to the Austrian penal code, this is punishable by up to 6 months in prison or a fine the equivalent of a whole year's salary. The lawyer added that having six people in a five-seater car is considered an aggravating circumstance, just like the fact that four passengers were minors.

This piece is an excerpt from Telex's original reporting published on 2 February 2021. You can find more details in the original, Hungarian version of our article here >>>