In a letter sent to Commissioner Vera Jourova, European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) Director-General Ville Itälä and the EU Ombudsperson Emily O’Reilly, Hungarian watchdogs Atlatszo, K-Monitor and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), supported by Berlin-based human rights organisation Civil Liberties Union for Europe, call on the Commission and OLAF not to put up a legal fight over an EU Court decision ordering OLAF to unblock the release of an anti-fraud investigation into Viktor Orban’s son-in-law, but build instead on the ruling to improve their access-to-documents policy.
The EU court case had originated from a request for access to documents submitted by Ms Homoki, a resident in Gyál, a town in Pest county in the Budapest metropolitan area, with the legal support of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. The action brought by the activist was meant to shed light on an EU-funded street lighting project carried out in Gyál which, instead of improving the town’s public lighting infrastructure, further deteriorated the lack of visibility in the town’s streets. As previously reported, the European Anti-Fraud Office had carried out an investigation into the matter which uncovered “serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” related to the project’s tender, which was won by a company half-owned by István Tiborcz, the Hungarian prime minister’s son-in-law. The Hungarian authorities haven’t found irregularities one year later, and Hungarian taxpayers had to eventually settle the HUF 13 billion (EUR 36.3 million) bill for the project.
In September, the European General Court ruled on the action brought by the activist, concluding that OLAF could not refuse access to the report. In their open letter, civil society groups call on the Commission and OLAF to accept the ruling and release the report. They also ask for measures to ensure that access to public interest information is better promoted and protected at both EU and national level.
“People have a right to know what happens with their contributions to public resources. Citizens can only know that their contributions are being used responsibly if they have access to information about how it’s spent, including investigations that show politicians are misusing funds.
The rule of law is there to ensure that the resources citizens contribute are used to fund the community services that people should be able to rely on, rather than enriching a few politicians and their allies. In our letter, we ask the Commission, OLAF and the EU Ombudsperson to better enable the public to get information about threats to the rule of law, like corruption, and thus promote more transparency and accountability,” said Linda Ravo, senior advocacy consultant at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe.