By Agence France-Presse
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office hit back Thursday over reports that he flew to football matches on a luxury plane funded by a friend who has won many lucrative public tenders.
Accusations of corruption over the trips amounted to “personal slander,” said his chief of staff Gergely Gulyas.
Orban “has always attended defining events for Hungarian sport,” Gulyas told reporters in Budapest, adding that the trips were made in a personal, not official, capacity.
The investigative Atlatszo.hu site reported Monday that Orban had used a luxury private jet to watch his favourite side MOL Vidi FC play in Bulgaria and probably also to attend World Cup games in Russia, including the final.
Atlatszo estimated the Austrian-registered Bombardier Global 6000 luxury jet’s value at 53 million euros ($62 million).
The site said that the ownership of the plane was unknown but that it was usually parked at Budapest airport.
Orban’s spokesman Bertalan Havasi later said that the premier was a regular guest of MOL Vidi owner and one of Hungary’s richest men, Istvan Garancsi.
The club is based in the prime minister’s birthplace of Szekesfehervar, 60 kilometres (37 miles) southwest of Budapest.
“Not a single forint” of taxpayer money is spent on Orban’s match flights, Havasi told the Nepszava paper on Monday.
Orban’s office denies claims of cronyism regarding Garancsi, who is often referred to as an oligarch.
But Orban’s opponents allege that Garancsi’s wealth has been amassed mostly through winning multi-million-euro public contracts thanks to his friendship with Orban.
Another news site, Index.hu, has suggested that in accepting the trips, Orban may have broken rules that forbid lawmakers from taking gifts whose value exceeds relatively modest parliamentary salaries.
Since the expose emerged, an opposition political party, Dialogue, said it planned to file a complaint with prosecutors over suspected corruption, as well as demand a parliamentary enquiry into Orban’s official personal wealth declaration.
Gulyas said Thursday the latest accusations were merely part of opposition campaigning before the European Parliament elections next May.
In power since 2010 the football-mad Orban, 55, has built dozens of publically-funded state-of-the-art stadia nationwide, including in the village of Felcsut where he grew up, and even abroad.
On Thursday, Orban, who played football for Felcsut during his first term as premier between 1998 and 2002, inaugurated a 9.5 million euro ($11 million) sports academy in Backa Topola in Serbia’s Vojvodina region where many ethnic-Hungarians live.
Orban’s critics regularly accuse him of squandering public funds on sport at the expense of neglecting other sectors like health and education.
Earlier this month the European Parliament voted to start steps to sanction Hungary over a series of controversial reforms that Brussels says undermine democracy.