The Cardinal Richelieu of the Orbán administration has been lying low for years – now everyone is talking about him again

May 21. 2024. – 10:21 AM

The Cardinal Richelieu of the Orbán administration has been lying low for years – now everyone is talking about him again
Photo by Lujza Hevesi-Szabó, illustration by Péter Somogyi (szarvas) / Telex


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Antal Rogán is the Hungarian government's Richelieu: a man with unprecedented power within Viktor Orbán's inner circle, and whose leadership has led to the right-wing press's unacceptable treatment of Katalin Novák. "Antal Rogán has to go!" – is what Péter Magyar, Judit Varga's ex-husband, said after resigning from the NER, stepping down from all his positions in state-owned companies and starting to speak out.

NER is short for Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere, meaning ’System of National Cooperation.’ The term was coined by the Orbán government after their election victory in 2010 to refer to the changes in government that they were about to introduce. By now, NER has become a word in its own right, and is used in colloquial Hungarian to refer to Fidesz' governing elite, complete with the politicians and the oligarchs profiting from the system.

Magyar appeared on the scene after Katalin Novák had resigned as head of state and Judit Varga announced that she would retire from public life and would not be heading the Fidesz-KDNP electoral list for the European Parliament. Since then, Péter Magyar has been speaking more and more about Viktor Orbán's indispensable minister, Antal Rogán, who for years has preferred to lurk in the background.

The Head of the Prime Minister's Cabinet Office does not even give public speeches. For example, last year at one of Fidesz's most important public political events, the Tranzit Festival held in Tihany, while the speeches of Orbán and Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó were aired, for mysterious reasons, Rogán's was not. He didn't even speak up in parliament for five years, until last year, but only when the rules of the House required him to answer a direct question. The only time Telex managed to ask him any questions was after his ministerial hearing last autumn.

For as much as he avoids the public eye, he plays a vital role in the background: he directs government communications and oversees the secret services. Péter Magyar has even explicitly referred to the "Rogán propaganda machine", which controls the communications of almost all ministries, down to the latest MTI releases (Hungary's state news agency), and is the first to receive the results of opinion polls.

When he first started speaking out, Magyar said that in the eyes of this machinery, he would from then on be perceived as "a traitor, a criminal, and a vindictive, psychopathic, drug-addicted, child-beating, pro-war Brusselite and Soros henchman" – none of which, he claims, are true. "I had the privilege of personally getting to know the system and how the services work, so I am aware that they will now try to accuse, defame and discredit me by any means possible, and they will make use of those who were close to me in the past. However, I'll send them the message here as well: I am not afraid, and I ask that no one be afraid to stand up for justice, for our country and for the vulnerable ones," he said.

Magyar also mentioned that when he was the head of the Student Loan Center, they were even restricted as to which communications company they could contract with: namely, Gyula Balásy's New Land Media. For years, Balásy has been the state's go-to partner in the advertising market, and his companies have produced most of the government's propaganda posters. In recent years, New Land Media Ltd. has regularly received orders worth tens of billions of forints. The government, including the National Communications Office overseen by Rogán, has paid the company tens of billions of forints for the production of advertisements and government propaganda. But Magyar said he "couldn't in good faith sign off" on such deals, nor was he satisfied with the company's work, "and it was then that I was notified from above that I should 'give it a rest.'" He subsequently left the Student Loan Center.

Here we've compiled a list of some of the odd and interesting cases in which the name of Orbán's most important minister has come up in the past.

Tóni, Barbara and Ádám

"Not even for a moment do I want to be part of a system where the actual individuals in charge hide behind women's skirts – where the Tónis, Ádáms and Barbaras can laugh their heads off while thoughtlessly sacrificing those who, unlike them, have never worked for their own material interests but for the sake of their country and their fellow compatriots." – wrote Péter Magyar in a post. However, he did not explain what he meant by this.

There was one case in which the names Tóni, Ádám and Barbara appeared together in this manner: the Schadl-Völner case. One of the most notorious corruption cases of recent years has been playing out in court for a year now, with the two main protagonists being the former president of the President of the Hungarian Court Bailiffs' Office György Schadl, and the former Fidesz Deputy Justice Minister and State Secretary, Pál Völner. According to the indictment, Schadl developed a corrupt relationship with Völner, who regularly received 2-5 million forints from him – making a total of at least 83 million. In return, the state secretary undertook to use the influence of his position to arrange specific cases, such as lucrative executive appointments, at Schadl's request. This, in turn, was paid for by Schadl from the money he received from those he helped into the executive position.

The convoluted case has plenty of subplots, but several points from the investigative material have been omitted from the indictment. Antal Rogán's name, for example, appears several times in the investigative material. According to the records, Schadl could, for example, arrange for successful university exams for acquaintances – such as Antal Rogán's chief of staff, Ádám Nagy – while receiving a sum of money in return for each. According to the investigative material, Schadl helped Rogán's chief of staff at the university to overcome three academic hurdles, even though Ádám Nagy was not even present at the exams. In fact, Schadl was even able to use the universities' software system, Neptun, to manage the registration for the exam through his contacts.

No one is investigating the identities of the "Tóni, Barbara and Ádám" that Schadl mentioned along with “a story about 35 years” in a wiretap transcript. It is still not clear who he was talking about, but the investigation documents suggest that Schadl may have had a close relationship with Ádám Nagy, Rogán, and his wife, Barbara Rogán.

When asked about the matter in parliament last spring, Rogán responded that he "has no way of knowing said Mr. Schadl or Schádl", that he did not know and is unlikely to ever meet any such person in the future. According to him, the prosecutor's office had investigated all the suspicious incidents in the case and, where necessary, initiated proceedings. He later said that the whole case was an "old chestnut".

Between September 2015 and May 2023, when the Office of the Hungarian Court Bailiffs was still headed by Schadl, it concluded 132 contracts worth more than 15.5 billion forints, among which there were plenty of NER-related contracts. One of the contracts was with Hunguard Ltd., which is closely tied to Antal Rogán: the company was paid 25.5 million forints for "information security expertise" in the summer of 2019.

The invention worth hundreds of millions

Speaking of Hunguard Ltd, the company has been riding high for years on the back of extremely well-timed changes in legislation. For seven years, Hunguard Ltd. has been virtually the only company able to provide cybersecurity certification for financial institutions. This is thanks to the fact that the legislation is continually evolving in such a way that only this company is in compliance, and it changes at the very moment another company could have been considered. Finally, in July of last year, the regulations were quietly amended to close the door to competition for years.

But what does this have to do with Rogán? The majority owner of Hunguard is Balázs Csik, who together with Antal Rogán is responsible for the invention of a digital signature process. This is, supposedly, a technology that is designed to provide secure identification for a handwritten signature on an electronic device (such as a tablet).

The rights of use of the invention are held by MobilSign Ltd., which is also a company of Balázs Csik. In 2022 alone, Rogán received 288 million forints from MobilSign for use of the invention, and a total of 1.1 billion since 2017. So one of Csik's companies regularly pays hundreds of millions of forints to Rogán, while his other company benefits from constant changes in regulations that are usually favorable to it.

The wife and the plots of land

At the beginning of 2021, the minister's declaration of assets revealed that he had remarried and that his new wife was Barbara Rogán. Although he was in no hurry to flaunt his third marriage, it was easy to immediately identify the new wife. A search for her former surname (Obrusánszki) instantly turned up a high-value sales contract.

The Obrusánszki family was planning to buy a total of 1022 hectares of land across eight settlements in north-eastern Hungary. The total value of the land exceeded 1.6 billion forints, and, according to the contract, Barbara Rogán's family intended to cover the majority of the sum with a loan. The loan was to be secured by Budapest Bank, which was state-controlled at the time of the contract and was then headed by none other than Rogán's old confidant, former Deputy Mayor of Budapest's fifth district, András Puskás.

Although the sales contract of the land deal proved that Antal Rogán's new wife and her family members were about to buy a huge land property, the Government Office of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County rejected the registration of the contract, so it did not enter into force. However, it is likely that it was rejected only after the independent press had published the details of the land purchase based on a document published on the Tardona municipality website.

After the case broke out, Antal Rogán lied, claiming that his wife had not received a loan from a state bank and that she had not acquired any land. Moreover, he demanded an apology from Telex. However, a signed contract of sale can be said – both in legal and common parlance – to mean that someone has acquired land, even if the transfer of possession takes place later. The intentions of both the buyer and the seller were clear from the contract.

The wife and the helicopter

Nor was life less exciting for Rogán with his previous wife either. In 2016, Cecília Rogán-Gaál and her husband took a helicopter to a wedding in Szabolcs County, at a cost of a quarter of a million forints per hour. Initially, the minister had denied to the newspaper Népszabadság that he had flown in a helicopter, but then it turned out that photos had been taken of them landing at the airport in Budaörs. So Rogán was caught in a lie.

Even the head of the company operating the helicopter had at first claimed that he did not know where the aircraft had been. Then, upon the publication of the photos, his memory was jogged and he remembered that he had offered Cecília Rogán-Gaál the trip, because he had signed a barter contract with her company.

Rogán also held a now-infamous press conference during which he pretty much just repeated one sentence: all information related to their private helicopter trip was made public through the company operating the helicopter.

A few days later, the publication of Népszabadság, the paper that broke the story was permanently shut down. During his commentary on the issue, Fidesz's Szilárd Németh said, "It is high time to close Népszabadság abruptly."

Shady downtown real-estate deals

It is not only in land deals that Rogán's name comes up, but also in dodgy real estate deals. Antal Rogán was mayor of Budapest's fifth district between 2006 and 2010. At that time, the municipality sold dozens of properties to tenants at a 30 percent discount. Several of these transactions subsequently turned out to have been made by individuals with strong links to Rogán's entourage or the district's leadership.

For example, according to Átlátszó, this is how Rogan's co-inventor, Balázs Csík of Hunguard, got his property, but even Árpád Habony's name cropped up several times in downtown real estate cases.

Even since Rogán's departure, the "inner-city method" scheme has not faded in the district. Since then, Fidesz's Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi has been running the city center. In turn, friends, relatives and acquaintances rent municipal properties and buy them at a discount after a year of renting, even if they had not previously carried out any real economic activity in the premises or offices.

A perfect example of this practice is the case of 3 Gerlóczy Street, which we visited as well. This 21st century property was leased out in eight parts by the municipality and sold for a total of 55 million forints, whereas the market price would be 300 million at least. The majority buyer was none other than Péter Pozsgai, the former brother-in-law of Antal Rogán's right-hand man Balázs Kertész.

His right-hand man downtown

Another name also appeared in the downtown property privatization deals, that of Balázs Kertész, who was Antal Rogán's right-hand man in Budapest's fifth district during his mayoral term. Kertész is a key figure in the real estate sales system and its legal innovator. His firm also acquired an office worth up to 150 million euros, which had been owned by the municipality for years. Kertész's office at the time was in Aulich Street, close to Parliament, and Antal Rogán and Árpád Habony were regular visitors.

The names Rogán and Kertész were first mentioned together in the K&H brokerage scandal in 2003. The crux of the case was that between 1998 and 2003, while working for K&H's brokerage firm, Attila Kulcsár had illicitly invested the money of clients – private individuals and some state-owned companies – through offshore companies, promising extremely high returns, which resulted in billions of forints in damages.

An inquiry committee was set up by parliament to investigate the matter – which, of course, came to nothing. They wanted to verify the truth of the press reports stating that Kertész and Rogán may have been beneficiaries of the deals. Their involvement was traced back to a note of uncertain origin in the investigative material. In it, Kertész was said to have been in charge of Antal Rogán's slush fund affairs. In the end, however, their names never even appeared in the indictment and they were never charged with anything. In response to the whole affair, Rogán claimed that he had only been introduced to Attila Kulcsár in a meeting, who said that he had only discussed municipal loans with the politician.

In addition to the brokerage scandal, Kertész's wife's firm was also entrusted with the utilization of Rogán's invention, and the law firm of Kertész's university classmate Kristóf Kosik was one of the big winners in the Rogán-initiated residency bond deal.

The residency business

In 2012, as head of the Parliament's Economic Committee, Antal Rogán submitted the bill that established the residency bond program. The idea was that non-EU citizens would be able to obtain a Hungarian residency permit for 250-300 thousand euros (about 95-115 million forints). The program's implementation was mainly entrusted to offshore companies with unknown backgrounds, which generated hundreds of billions of forints in revenue and gave nearly 20,000 foreigners the opportunity to settle in Hungary. The foreign nationals could also apply for EU papers, which allowed them to freely move, do business and set up companies throughout the EU. Although the program was suspended in 2017, this did not invalidate the permanent residence permits already issued.

According to Direkt36, a member of an international criminal organization involved in laundering money from the smuggling of weapons, narcotics and people may also have been granted a residence permit. Similarly, a key figure in Syria's war-criminal Assad regime, who the US government believes has been channeling money from Russia and Lebanon to the Syrian dictatorship, has been granted Hungarian papers. The same is true for the son of the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

As this was a bond program, the idea was that the applicants would get back most of the money they had invested years later, but according to Russian residency bondholders, they did not get their money back from a company linked to a good friend of Antal Rogán.

Portik's testimony

Regarding the downtown real estate affair, Péter Juhász (who briefly served as a member of the district's local representative body and later became president of the Együtt Party) claimed that Rogán was a "criminal and does business with criminals", which resulted in Rogán suing Juhász for defamation. In response, Juhász asked the court to question Tamás Portik, a man from the criminal underworld who was in prison, because he was aware that there was some kind of connection between Rogán and Portik.

The year was 2016, and the mafioso claimed in court that he had known Rogán for a long time, having met him at a party in the mid-2000s. Portik explicitly asserted that he once gave a bribe worth ten million forints to Rogán so that he, as mayor at the time, would arrange the transfer of a municipally-owned property to Portik's business associates. Rogán responded that not a word of what Portik said was true, that the two had never met, and that he wanted to press charges for perjury.

Forgotten square meters

There was a time in 2014 when Antal Rogán did not know the size of his own apartment in the luxury Buda complex Pasa Park. He had to amend his declaration of assets twice because the 74.5-square-meter apartment had become 149 and then 185 square meters. But they also added the 70-square-meter apartment of his then wife, Cecília Rogán-Gaál, from the adjacent property, making it 255 square meters; then a previously undisclosed parking garage also appeared. It also only later occurred to him that he owned not 50 percent but 100 percent of the apartment, which had originally been listed as 149 square meters. He explained this at the time by saying that he considered the flat to be "marital, joint-owned property" and that it was in fact half owned by his then wife, Cecilia Rogán-Gaál.

It was also at this time that Péter Juhász started to pick up on the fact that Rogán's declared income at the time was somewhat at odds with the size of the apartment. Rogán's response to the skepticism was that he and his wife had done everything honestly, they had taken out loans, they had received family assistance, and his only mistake was that he filled in his asset declarations incorrectly. His life was an "open book" to the public. After his divorce from Cecília Rogán-Gaál, he sold the apartment to a company that had been set up four days before the sale.

Incidentally, the Pasa Park complex had been built by BIF Plc, which is majority owned by the family of the Director General of the House of Terror, Mária Schmidt. But it is also home to Mihály Varga, the Finance Minister, and Csaba Csetényi. Csetényi's PR and communications group regularly wins tenders for government communications campaigns, including the Prime Minister's Office headed by Antal Rogán. Mr. Csetényi had previously said that he didn't obtain public tenders because of his address card but rather he has a lot of work under his belt, and that is why he wins.

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