This is How Orbán Rolls: HUF 5.5 Million Spent on Accommodation for One Night in Vienna
- 24 Mar 2023 8:29 AM
It was a rather expensive decision: according to data from the ministry, the prime minister and his team stayed in two five-star hotels, and the accommodation cost HUF 5.5 million in public money.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who heads the Austrian government, on 28 July, 2022 – before the €141 thousand flight to the US.
They discussed about the Russian-Ukrainian war, the European energy crisis and illegal migration. What was left out of the official statement was reported by Azonnali.hu (the story is no longer available), which said that the Austrians were shocked by the huge staff that Viktor Orban had travelled with.
3 Ministers and staff of 35 people included
It is clear from the photo published by the Prime Minister’s Press Office that Orbán was accompanied by Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás, Minister of Economic Development Márton Nagy, State Secretary for EU Affairs János Bóka, and Balázs Orbán, the Prime Minister’s Political Director.
According to Azonnali, the Prime Minister was accompanied by a staff of 25 people, plus Szijjártó, who also took about 10 people, making the total number of the delegation around 40.
Azonnali reported that the meeting was rather short: Viktor Orbán held a half-hour of one-on-one talks with Karl Nehammer, during which time bilateral meetings were organised for the ministers and Balázs Orbán, followed by a half-hour plenary session and finally a one-hour lunch. In other words, the official programme lasted 2 hours in total, 3 hours maximum including breaks, and it was over quickly, and Vienna is not far from Budapest, but the delegation did not come home straight away, but spent the night in one of the most expensive hotels in Vienna, the Bristol.
The hotel is part of the Mariott chain in the city centre, and is opposite the famous Vienna Opera House, many of whose rooms have a magnificent view.
Booked for 1 night on the hotel’s website the the cheapest room was HUF 150,000 (EUR 375), the cheapest suite, the Opera, was HUF 416,800 (EUR 1042), and the most expensive, the Prince of Wales Presidential Suite, was HUF 2.4 million (EUR 6,000) last August.
Newspaper closed, senior diplomat fired, costs hidden
After the article was published, MP Olga Kálmán (from opposition party DK) asked the Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó how much Viktor Orbán’s “shakedown in Vienna” cost taxpayers, and whether they are willing to make the invoices for the trip public.
State Secretary Tamás Menczer responded on Szijjártó’s behalf, but did not answer the two simple questions. He only explained what was discussed at the meeting (war, peace, immigration) and how important Austria is as a partner.
Someone is really hurt by the revelation of the luxury trip to Vienna: a few days after the story about the trip, Péter Ungár, LMP MP and owner of Azonnali, announced the closure of the newspaper. And Válasz Online wrote that a senior diplomat was also fired from the Hungarian embassy in Vienna because the details of the trip were made public.
We waited months for a reply
On 21 August, we filed a Freedom of Information request to all the ministries that might be competent in the matter. We asked each of them for a list of expenses related to the trip to Vienna. However, our FOI request was uniformly extended by all the ministries asked, using the legal possibility to extend the deadline by 45 days, citing the emergency situation (then due to the Russian-Ukrainian war).
After the 45 days, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Government Office and the Cabinet Office said that they were not the data controllers in the case. They obviously knew this a month and a half earlier, but delayed responding – it is a common tactic to let the scandal die down before saying anything.
Only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was left in the game: at the beginning of October, the Ministry extended the deadline for responses by another 45 days. After this deadline, on 21 November, they finally sent us a reply to our request for data submitted 3 months earlier.
Then, in November, they said that Viktor Orbán and his delegation’s trip to Vienna on 27-28 July 2022 had resulted in an advance of 341,800 forints for per diem and 199,452 forints for other material expenses, according to the accounts available at the time of the FOI request (21 August 2022 – ed.).
The Foreign Ministry’s reply revealed that Azonnali was wrong about only one thing: it was not the night of the meeting with the Austrian Chancellor that Viktor Orbán and his entourage spent in Vienna, but the previous one, as the Foreign Ministry referred to the trip as 27-28 July 2022. However, this is a detail that does not change the substance of the matter, as the night spent abroad was not denied.
HUF 5.5 million in 2 luxury hotels
It was a nice trick, but we didn’t give up looking for costs. Immediately after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ reply, at the end of November 2022, we sent another request to cover the expenses of the trip to Vienna.
The usual extension of 45 days came back first, but in mid-January, instead of delaying the request, we finally received a substantive reply.
Viktor Orbán’s trip to Vienna cost a total of HUF 7.2 million (EUR 18 thousands), of which HUF 5.5 million (EUR 13,750) was for accommodation.
In addition to accommodation, there were 1.1 million forints in representation costs, 427 thousand forints in per diems, 141 thousand forints in interpreting costs, and almost 73 thousand forints in unknown “other expenses”.
We also specifically asked which hotel(s) the delegation was staying in, so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was obliged to answer this question.
The ministry of Péter Szijjártó said: “The Prime Minister and part of his delegation are staying at the Hotel Bristol. Other members of the delegation from various ministries stayed at the Hotel Sacher Wien.”
As we’ve already described, Hotel Bristol is one of the most expensive hotels in Vienna. Not far away, on the other side of the Opera House, is the Hotel Sacher, where the rest of the delegation stayed. The Sacher is also a five-star hotel where, according to its website, high life meets hospitality.
Since opening in 1876, it has hosted famous people such as former Queen Elizabeth II of England, former US President John F. Kennedy, actress Sharon Stone, singer Justin Bieber and top model Naomi Campbell.
According to the current booking options, the cheapest room for one night is 600 euros (about 240,000 forints), the cheapest suite is 800 euros (about 320,000 forints) and the most expensive suite (Grand Signature, 95 square metres) is 2,700 euros (about 1 million forints). We couldn’t find the availability and price of the largest apartment in the hotel (Madame Butterfly, 180 square metres) anywhere, perhaps it is reserved for celebrities.
At the end of August, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás, spoke briefly about the Vienna trip at a regular press conference. In response to a question from Telex, Gulyás said that the Hotel Bristol was a good hotel, but there were more expensive ones, and that he had saved on petrol because he shared a car with Balázs Orbán, the prime minister’s political director.
The minister said he had no reason to complain, but “it would be a shame to talk about extreme luxury”.
Written and translated by Katalin Erdélyi.
Photo: Wien Hotel Bristol Karntnerring wikipedia Thomas Ledl
LATEST NEWS IN current affairs