The biggest corruption case of recent times in Hungary: the Schadl-Völner case

March 09. 2023. – 08:33 AM



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What is the Schadl-Völner case?

The Schadl-Völner case is the most serious corruption case of recent years in Hungary. At the center of it are the President of the Court Bailiffs and the former State Secretary of the Justice Ministry, both of whom face up to a decade in prison. The potential involvement of the Ministry of Justice is obviously an important question.

Why is it called the “Schadl-Völner case”?

The case is referred to by this name because of the two top defendants: György Schadl and Pál Völner.

Other than the two of them, there are 20 other individuals accused of taking part in the conspiracy in some way.

What position did Schadl and Völner hold, and what are they charged with?

Schadl was President of the Hungarian Court Bailiffs’ Office and Völner was a Member of Parliament and a State Secretary of the Justice Ministry and Deputy Minister of Justice, working directly under Justice Minister Judit Varga.

Völner was officially charged with the offense of accepting bribes as part of a criminal conspiracy, committed by a senior public official in order to help others obtain an advantage or by otherwise abusing his official position for financial profit and in a continuous manner.

Schadl was charged with establishing a corrupt relationship with Völner, during the course of which he regularly gave bigger sums of money to the State Secretary so that he would:

  • make sure that those whom Schadl informally supported would be appointed as bailiffs;
  • support Schadl in implementing his operational, economic and organizational ideas concerning the Court Bailiff's Office;
  • help Schadl by ensuring that persons or companies named by him would receive grants which were not within the purview of the Ministry of Justice;
  • be involved in matters that did not fall within the scope of his authority.
  • The prosecution alleges that Völner thus received at least HUF 83 million (217,000 euros) from Schadl as "payment": i.e. in exchange for continually being at his disposal to deal with various cases.

Pál Völner in court on 23 February, 2023 – Photo: János Bődey / Telex
Pál Völner in court on 23 February, 2023 – Photo: János Bődey / Telex

How and when did the authorities begin to suspect this was going on?

It all started in early 2021, when the National Defense Service started wiretapping a corrupt NAV (National Tax and Customs Administration) middle manager and a contractor. It was suspected that the NAV employee was arranging bribes in exchange for certain tax-related cases not ending in penalties. The interceptions revealed that György Schadl, bailiff and president of the Hungarian Court Bailiff's Office, was also involved in the conversations as a very trusted friend of the entrepreneur.

In April of that year they began wiretapping him as well, and concluded that he was involved in several types of corruption. In the autumn of 2021, the Defense Service filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Central Investigating Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation. In November, György Schadl was finally arrested at the airport in Budapest, as he was about to board a flight to Dubai with his wife.

Given that prior to his arrest, Schadl’s frequent phone conversations with Völner were also wiretapped, in early December, 2021 the Prosecutor General initiated the suspension of the immunity of Pál Völner due to the suspicion of bribery and other criminal offenses. The Fidesz MP and State Secretary issued the following statement at the time:

“I haven’t committed any criminal offense, I have performed my duties as State Secretary and Ministerial Commissioner honestly and in accordance with the law, but I accept the political consequences of the case and am resigning from my post as State Secretary, effective immediately".

He also added that he would cooperate with the authorities and would be available for questioning at any time.

In a statement to the prosecution, György Schadl, the arrested President of the Court Bailiffs' Office denied that he had a corrupt partnership with Pál Völner. As for the money he received from the appointed bailiffs, he claims that he received it because he had previously lent it to them, has learned.

In his testimony, Schadl said that he had never given money to Völner. According to him, the only gifts they gave each other were drinks, but these were only " everyday courtesies".

György Schadl arriving to court on 23 February, 2023 – Photo: Péter Németh Sz. / Telex
György Schadl arriving to court on 23 February, 2023 – Photo: Péter Németh Sz. / Telex

So what has happened since then?

Schadl has been in custody, while Völner remains at large. The authorities conducted the investigation, and the trial has begun.

What did the investigators find?

Rigged bailiff appointments and bribes

Telex has acquired the records of some of the testimonies. In these, staff from different levels of the Ministry of Justice describe in detail what they saw of the rigging of bailiff tenders and how they were treated during these procedures. The names of some Fidesz MPs are also mentioned as "supporters" of certain candidates.

According to the investigators, following the appointments, Schadl regularly received money from those he helped into the position of bailiff (they also found that some of the appointees were largely inexperienced in the field). The prosecution claims that he kept precise records of how much money he received from each of them in Excel files, and collected a total of HUF 924 million (more than 2.4 million euros) in bribes this way. It is assumed that part of this money was later used to bribe Völner in exchange for the favors.

Rigged university exams

The prosecution believes that Schadl also helped some of his acquaintances “pass” their university exams without them needing to even show up for the oral exams. One name that is mentioned in connection with this is that of Ádám Nagy, who is Chief of Staff at the cabinet of Antal Rogán, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office.

The professor at the University of Pécs, who “helped” Nagy (via Schadl) pass the exam needed for his legal degree has admitted to his involvement, but the university claims they have found no trace of foul play. Additionally, none of these connections are mentioned at all in the indictment in the criminal trial of the Völner-Schadl corruption case.

Madame Minister mentioned

Blikk has leaked the transcripts of some of the recordings of the phone calls between Völner (the former State Secretary of the Justice Ministry) and Schadl (President of the Hungarian Court Bailiffs). In one of them, the pair is discussing going to the Minister of Justice for talks about a matter. Although Judit Varga is not mentioned by name, the person is referred to as “Madame Minister”, and at the time, Varga was Völner’s boss.

In spite of this, on 9 February, at the government briefing, the Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás said that “Despite the Völner-Schadl affair, confidence in Judit Varga is stronger than ever.”

The trial started

The trial began on 23 February, and both Völner and Schadl pleaded not guilty.

Some of the other defendants have already admitted their guilt at the preliminary hearings, including several bailiffs who have thus admitted that Schadl helped them into their positions in exchange for payment – which sometimes ran into hundreds of millions of forints.

This could make things even more difficult for Schadl and Völner, both of whom pleaded innocent.

The opposition parties recently submitted a proposal to the Parliament’s Judiciary Committee, requesting an examination of the potential responsibility of the Justice Minister, Judit Varga in the case, as well as a closer look into the identity of three people whose name came up between Schadl and Völner on several occasions: Tóni, Barbara, and Ádám. (While it still hasn’t been determined who these names are a reference to, the investigation documents suggest that Schadl had a close relationship with Ádám Nagy, Antal Rogán’s Chief of Staff, and Rogán’s wife happens to be called Barbara.)

The parliament’s governing majority rejected the proposal.

On 23 February, Völner’s lawyer requested that (among others) Judit Varga, Minister of Justice also be heard as a witness in the case. For emphasis, he read out an exchange of text messages between Völner and Varga talking about the "vh-matter", (végrehajtó = bailiff) which probably means bailiff). Telex’s video team recently asked her about the Schadl-Völner case, see what she said in this video.

Next, there will be a preliminary hearing in May, when the court will decide on the sentences of those who have already pleaded guilty in the case.

After that, in mid-May, the regular criminal trial will begin, with the first defendant, György Schadl, being heard.

Illustration: Péter Somogyi (szarvas)

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