Hungary police drop Orban-linked corruption probe

A police decision to close a corruption probe linked to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's family "strengthens doubts" about the independence of Hungary's law enforcement bodies, an EU official said Wednesday.
A police spokesman said Tuesday that a probe opened in February on the basis of findings by the European Union's anti-fraud office OLAF had been terminated.
A "crime did not take place," Kristof Gal told the Hungarian news agency MTI.
The outcome of the Hungarian probe was "surprising," said Inge Graessle, head of the EU's budget control committee, as the OLAF report contained "strong evidence".
The decision "leaves and strengthens doubts on the independence of Hungarian law enforcement authorities and reinforces the need of a real tool to protect EU financial interests in future," Graessle said in a Twitter post.
In January, OLAF said it had uncovered "serious irregularities" and a "conflict of interest" in Hungarian public lighting projects involving a firm once controlled by Orban's son-in-law.
The OLAF investigation concerned contracts worth tens of millions of euros, part funded by the EU, to modernise street lighting won by the Elios company between 2011 and 2015.
At the time, Elios was part-owned by Istvan Tiborcz, the husband of Orban's eldest daughter, and a second man who also owned another company advising local authorities on public tenders. That raised the question of a conflict of interest.
Tiborcz sold his stake in Elios in 2015.
According to local media reports, Tiborcz also holds considerable real estate assets -- both directly and indirectly owned -- including a number of castles and hotels.
Orban's critics have long accused him of presiding over a corrupt system that enriches his close associates, a charge denied by the government.
After returning to power in 2010, Orban appointed Peter Polt, a close ally and former member of his ruling Fidesz party, as chief prosecutor.
Opposition parties also condemned the police decision as a sign that certain people are "untouchable".
On Wednesday, they urged Hungary to join the EU's independent European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) body.
That office is tasked with investigating and prosecuting EU budget fraud but Hungary is among six of the bloc's 28 member states that does not participate.
Although it receives billions of euros in EU development funds each year, Hungary argues that joining the EPPO would infringe on its sovereignty.
Hungary's refusal to participate in the body has prompted an independent Hungarian lawmaker to mount a drive to collect a million signatures in an effort to force the government to sign up.
© 2018 AFP