"This case already reeked in court" – lawyer speaks out about President Novák's pardon in paedophile case

February 03. 2024. – 10:49 AM


"This case already reeked in court" – lawyer speaks out about President Novák's pardon in paedophile case
Katalin Novák talks to children in Kékcse on 13 April 2023 – Photo: Zsolt Czeglédi / MTI


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"If this can happen, then the decade-long struggle of the victims and their legal defense has become utterly pointless," lawyer András Gál, who represented the abused youngsters in the trial of the former director of the Bicske children's home, told Telex. It was revealed on Friday that on the pretext of the Pope's visit to Hungary last spring, President Katalin Novák had granted a presidential pardon to the deputy director of the children's home, who had used blackmail to force several residents of the home to withdraw their testimony against the paedophile director who had sexually abused them.

András Gál says that the Novák’s use of presidential pardons is difficult to understand. “She also pardoned György Budaházy, (far right extremist convicted of terrorism) who was sentenced to 17 years in prison in the first instance, and I think that her pardoning of the deputy director who forced the victims of the severely paedophilic children's home director to change their testimonies is another huge step backwards. From now on, it seems there are no limits.”

Gál shared that he still occasionally speaks with the abused youngsters. One of those affected by the case committed suicide, the others "have become psychologically wrecked". Some of them are struggling with alcohol, medication or drug addiction, and to this day they have not been able to escape the effects of what they had gone through.

As to why exactly Katalin Novák chose to pardon the deputy director, Gál can only speculate, but he says it appears that both in this case, as well as some others, the state has been trying to go easy on defendants active in religious organisations and the defendants in the Bicske case are or have presented themselves as such.

“And there you have it, that's the judgment of the Curia. This time, we were unable to put together a panel that would overturn or degrade the previous verdict to the ridiculous level of the Budaházy verdict in the second instance, and as of yet we don't get to pick the judge and the verdict, but that doesn't matter, because you are one of ours and we'll give you a pardon.”

– the agitated lawyer said.

"This case already reeked in court. The tutor, who was the director's accomplice, and paid 5,000 forints to the severely disadvantaged and sometimes mentally challenged underage boys entrusted to his care and supervision for having sex with the director, received a suspended prison sentence. I could have puked right there when the sentence was handed down."

It was in 2016 through RTL's Házon Kívül programme that the public learned about the severely paedophilic criminal activities of the director of the Kossuth Zsuzsa Children's Home in Bicske, which had gone on for a decade and continued for five years after the first reports were brought to the attention of the authorities in 2011. The programme featured face-to-face interviews with two victims, Julián and Levente, who agreed to speak on camera after another victim had jumped in front of a train shortly before.

Julián was 22 years old in 2016, and director János Vásárhelyi first molested him when he was 13. He went into the principal's office and after a while, the principal locked the door and while they were talking, Vásárhelyi started touching himself and then went up to the boy and reached under his shirt. Julián was scared, he didn't know what to do. The principal then put the 13-year-old's hand on his genitals. The abuse continued for four years. The boys who came forward also said that they were not the only victims, that it was an open secret in the institution that "Uncle János loves young boys".

It emerged soon afterwards that there had been suspicions about the possibility of the director of the institution committing pedophilic crimes against the children in his care for more than four years before RTL's programme aired, but no action was taken. "Five years had passed from the time the first case was reported. And during those five years, this man, who presented himself as extremely religious and meek, continued to sexually abuse children," András Gál said.

It was also revealed that shortly before the scandal broke, János Vásárhelyi had been awarded a state honour – even though he had been suspected of paedophilia five years earlier, but this had not been included in his file. The Hungarian Bronze Cross of Merit was awarded to him by János Lázár, then Minister of the Prime Minister's Office, who subsequently claimed that he was only filling in for Zoltán Balog, then Minister of Human Resources.

As the proceedings continued, it was also uncovered that the director had used blackmail and threats to get the children to retract the incriminating statements against him. This is where the deputy director came in, and helped the director to do this.

In September 2016, one of the children reported to his child protection guardian that the director had sexually abused him. The guardian immediately had the child removed from the institution. After this, the director contacted the child's cousin, who was also living in the children's home, and persuaded him to "smuggle" the child back inside.

The child then returned with his cousin, where the director (who was already suspended at the time) told him that if he wanted to continue living with his cousin (his next of kin), he would have to withdraw his incriminating statement. The principal then summoned his deputy and asked him to write the testimony on the child's behalf and have him sign it.

The deputy director complied, even though he was fully aware of what the director had been accused of. He wrote the following:

"I made it up that we had jerked each other off and that he had done this to other children as well. The truth is that he didn't pull down my pants and didn't touch me or jerk me off. I've been taking a lot of "whippits" lately and it didn't do me much good, I wasn't thinking straight a lot of the time."

He wanted to have the child sign this false statement in his own office, in the presence of the paedophile director. He was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for coercion in 2019 at first instance and again in 2021 at second instance.

In the end, the director was sentenced to eight years for having abused at least ten underage boys between 2004 and 2016 in the institution he ran. His youngest victim was ten years old, and he first approached him when the child told him that his mother had died. "Taking advantage of his grief and distress, he pretended to comfort him, but committed a sexual act instead," the prosecutor read out the indictment at the trial.

"Endre K., who is a psychologist and whose name is not in the newspapers today for the sake of protecting his rights to privacy, and who, since the President has exonerated him from the negative consequences of the crime, could tomorrow be the psychologist of any of our children, has assisted in covering up a seriously paedophilic crime. Since his name will not be made public, there is no way for the public to avoid him. "At least we know the name of Gábor Kaleta, (former Hungarian ambassador to Peru charged with possession of child pornography)" András Gál said. “This man used threats and blackmail to persuade the victims to withdraw their testimonies or not to give incriminating statements against the director. And this is the guy who was pardoned.”

In response to our questions, Katalin Novák's office said that “under Katalin Novák's presidency, there is no pardon for paedophiles, and there never will be. There is no excuse for paedophilia”. They also added that they are not able to provide any information on specific cases of clemency. Apparently then, while there's no pardon for paedophiles, there is for those who exculpate and cover up crimes of paedophilia.

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