An EU budgetary committee has raised its concerns about the unusually high number of single-bid tenders awarded in Hungary, less than a week after Hungarian prosecutors confirmed they had opened an investigation into an EU-funded project awarded to the prime minister’s son-in-law.
On a fact-finding mission to Hungary recently, the European parliament’s budgetary control committee found that 36 percent of tenders for projects had only one bidder. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right MEP who leads the committee, said Hungary had “some specific problems which need to be tackled.”
The Committee’s findings come at the same time that Hungarian prosecutors confirm they have begun an investigation into the tenders awarded to a company owned by Prime Minister Orban’s son-in-law, Istvan Tiborcz. The Hungarian prosecutors were tipped off by the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF which concluded a probe last month revealing “serious irregularities” as well as “conflict of interest” issues in how Tiborcz’s company, Elios Innovativ, secured 35 contracts to improve public lighting in several towns.
The contracts won by Elios were the subject of a complaint in 2015 filed by a Hungarian opposition party which denounced them as flawed due to a conflict of interest. According to this complaint, a businessman associated with Mr Tiborcz also owned another company responsible for preparing tenders for these markets. According to the Hungarian press, the court has filed the complaint in 2016.
Critics of Prime Minister Orban accuse him establishing a clientelist system in which his friends and family benefit by skimming off EU funds. Other projects that have been flagged for fraud or misuse of EU-funds in Hungary include the 1.7 billion euro Budapest metro, which a separate OLAF investigation found “serious irregularities – fraud and possible corruption … in all phases of the project.”
OLAF recommended that 283 million euro be paid back to the EU in compensation for misallocated funds, but Hungary has so far failed to return the money.
Prime Minister Orban’s office has refuted the budgetary committee’s findings, claiming that the latest figures for 2017 show that the number of single-bid tenders has fallen from 36 percent to 26.3 percent.
The Hungarian government has said that it is cooperating with the prosecutors investigation into the contracts awarded to Elios Innovativ, but has also claimed that the probe is politically motivated and designed to hurt the ruling Fidesz party’s prospects in April’s general election.