Similar to Forbes Magazine, the Hungarian financial newspaper Napi Gazdaság compiles a list of the 100 richest Hungarians, some of whom are businessmen often with close ties to government. The two most prominent figures in Hungarian business life (and in conspiracy theories), who are literally unknown to foreign decision-makers, diplomats or investors, Lajos Simicska and Zsolt Nyerges are willfully left out from this year’s edition. As the editor-in-chief Peter Szakonyi explains to atlatszo.hu, this is not supposed to be a result of any kind of self-imposed censorship, but simple rule-following: people whose dubious wealth creation derives from their political connections or state contracts are ignored.
„Talking about a case legitimizes it. If you get into the game of talking to the media, you keep the story alive. Information is oxygen. Without it they die,” – this is the advice the lawyer gives to his client in Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, a principle that is also followed by Mr Simicska. While belonging to the very inner circle of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (they used to be room-mates in the now legendary Bibó College, the birthplace of Fidesz party in the late 80’s), he intentionally avoids the world of the media by any possible means.
A tactics that clearly proved to be successful: while Mr Simicska (and his aide Mr Nyerges) is one of the most influential (and probably richest) businessmen in Hungary, the wider public hasn’t had any information whatsoever about their life, personality or family in the last 15 years. News about his companies’ (among them, most notably, Közgép) public procurement successes are available, but our knowledge about the person himself basically converges to zero. A ghost that is haunting the country, and that never materializes in public. Neither the yellow press, nor the opposition newspapers were able to find a piece of information that would shed some light upon the secretive life of Mr Simicska and Mr Nyerges.
The ownership structure of Közgép is incredibly opaque, and is hidden by exploiting a technical (or deliberately tailored) gap in the relevant laws. Origo.hu news site established that even though theoretically the attendance list of the annual general meetings are publicly available, from year to year it is always the very same single person attending and voting about the Annual Report, whose share in the company is below 0.01%. It was atlatszo.hu which managed to get a written proof that the man behind Közgép is Mr Simicska.
The 100 richest
Adding to the opacity of the personality of the two businessmen, you would not find them on the list of the richest Hungarians in any year. In the 2013 publication, on page 7 the editors admit that although their fortune surpasses the HUF 5 billion (cca. USD 22m) entry threshold, they will not be included in the list given the lack of transparency of their business activities and the way they got rich.To understand why this kind of reasoning is dubious or at least highly partial, it is enough to know that a certain number of businessmen presented on the list actually lags in the transparency criteria. On the other hand it is acknowledged that these gentlemen (for the sake of the English record, Tamás Leisztinger, Tamas Vitezy, Huba Szeremley or Csaba Lantos have all had connections to high-profile political circles at some point of their careers) are probably much less feared of in the media industry, in which Mr Simicska and Mr Nyerges are the biggest whales. The universality of the self-imposed editorial ethics could be further questioned if we consider that the past of certain foreign businessmen, whose stories are borrowed from the Forbes magazine in the Hungarian publication (Eike Batista, Rinat Akhmetov or Dmitry Rybolovlev), are nonetheless just as problematic – but the mafia issues and other dark privatization deals go again unmentioned.The Hungarian „He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” and his „Sword-bearer” shall not be mentioned in any article – goes the golden rule of the Hungarian public and commercial media. The independent print media and the online websites fight their crusade and are heavily discussing the activities within circles and for a small readership – in Hungarian language. Their allies in the investigations? Google, the Opten company database, and Facebook. Platforms where traces of „You-Know-Who” are hard to track down. You might meet his lawyers in the courtroom though. Otherwise he remains silent as The Sphinx.
The original Hungarian language article was published on 15 August 2013. The text was translated by atlatszo.hu volunteers.