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Hungary’s government under pressure on multiple fronts

Use of EU funds, attacks on the media and Orban’s lavish lifestyle under fire

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg. Photograph: Kerstin Joensson/AP Photo

Legal challenges and corruption allegations are mounting against the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, as he tightens his grip on the country’s media and battles the EU on issues ranging from asylum policy to NGOs.

The European Parliament this month voted to launch disciplinary proceedings against Budapest for threatening democracy and the rule of law with its treatment of migrants, civil society groups and media and academic freedoms.

Now the Open Society Foundations (OSF) of billionaire philanthropist George Soros are suing Hungary in the European Court of Human Rights over laws introduced by Mr Orban’s government that criminalise activists who help refugees and migrants.

“There is only one thing this legislation will stop, and that’s democracy ... These laws were designed to intimidate independent civil society groups, in another step towards silencing all dissent,” said OSF president Patrick Gaspard.

Since retaking power in 2010, the once liberal Mr Orban has positioned himself as a champion of Eurosceptic and anti-immigration views, while claiming to be a defender of conservative and Christian values.

He has placed loyalists in charge of formerly independent institutions, allowed friends and relatives to grow rich on state contracts and EU-funded projects and overseen the takeover of major Hungarian media by close allies.

Attack on media

Last week a media group that includes the prominent news website index.hu was acquired by buyers including Jozsef Oltyan, a member of the Christian Democrats, who rule in coalition with Mr Orban’s Fidesz party.

Index is one of few popular online Hungarian media outlets that still criticise the government and its allies, and Mr Orban has accused it of peddling “fake news”.

“We just want to keep on doing what we have been doing, that is, creating a newspaper to the best of our ability, independently from the right-wing, or from the left-wing,” Index reporters said in a statement.

The lifestyle enjoyed by Mr Orban and his allies is also coming under scrutiny, after one of Hungary’s few remaining investigative publications accused him of using a private jet on trips organised by a wealthy businessman.

The Atlatszo news website said Mr Orban flew on the jet several times to watch his favourite football team play abroad. A government spokesman insisted no taxpayer money was spent on the trips. Atlatszo also questioned the mystery ownership of a luxury yacht used by government officials and loyalists.

The European Commission is also reportedly investigating alleged misuse of EU financing in Hungary, which could jeopardise more than €1 billion in funds. Hungarian officials deny there is any problem or threat to future funding.

The government has also vowed to appeal to the European Court of Justice over what it calls the European Parliament’s “fraudulent” vote to launch disciplinary proceedings against Hungary.