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Politician lodges harassment complaint after critical articles

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Police were reported this week to be investigating a complaint of harassment filed by State Secretary for Transportation László Tasó, who has been the subject of investigative pieces by Direkt36, in what appears to be an effort to silence press criticism by lodging criminal charges.

Laszlo Tasó. (Photo: kormany.hu)

“The press office of the Budapest Police told Direkt36 that a harassment investigation has been launched against unknown suspects,” according to an article published by Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative journalism organization and news portal.

Although no one has been named, Direkt36 said they have reason to believe the harassment complaint by Tasó could target their portal. “He accused Direkt36 of deliberately falsifying data” and he has threatened to sue the portal many times or legally force them to print a correction, according to Zsuzsanna Wirth, a member of Direkt36. Despite making several such threats, Wirth said Tasó never acted on them. She said her organization is hoping that nothing comes of the police investigation but added that they are ready to defend their work.

Wirth said she and the team at Direkt36 worked on two articles about Tasó in their series on asset declarations by officials.

“The first piece showed that, in his wealth declarations, he failed to declare millions of state agricultural subsidies and concealed some of his lands for years. These lands are located in a planned industrial development zone. In the case of some other lands, he listed a smaller share than he actually had in them,” she said. 

According to the second piece, when Tasó was mayor of Nyíradony, he led a civic organization that was granted HUF 38.3 million in state money to transform an old “castle” into a hotel. “The restoration project finished at the end of 2013. A month later, the town of Nyíradony sold the castle to Tasó’s NGO (its members being mostly his family members and former employees or colleagues). The price was significantly lower than the cost of restoration,” the article said.

Tasó is one of several officials mentioned in a series of investigative stories conducted by Direkt36 as part of their Vagyonkereső project, which looks at the asset declarations of public officials. “As the wealth declarations in their current state are barely suitable to demonstrate the assets of politicians in a transparent way, Direkt36, 444 and Transparency International have partnered to develop a database, in which anyone can search for the declarations of MPs. Vagyonkereső aims to help hold the politicians accountable,” Wirth said. 

Direkt36 says it has reported on many politicians as part of this project, even the prime minister, but that Tasó seems to be the one who has been most angered by the project.

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