BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary is set to reappoint its chief prosecutor to a new 9-year term and will remove its main judicial administrator, in moves that critics say highlight premier Viktor Orban’s mixed success in influencing the judiciary which remains one of the most independent bodies in Hungarian society.
Despite constant clashes with Western partners over the rule of law, the conservative populist Orban has solidified his grip over most walks of Hungarian life.
He rejects allegations that his government has eroded checks and balances and has said his strong mandate received in democratic elections empowers his Fidesz party to change laws.
While the country’s prosecution system has been under the direct control of chief prosecutor Peter Polt, an Orban loyalist, the National Association of Judges has resisted Orban and has been engulfed in a bitter dispute over administrative attempts to rein it in, via appointments or financial pressure.
President Janos Ader, a former head of Fidesz party and Orban’s key ally, proposed reappointing Polt as chief prosecutor for a second nine-year term on Tuesday. He gave no reasoning. Parliament, where Fidesz holds a large majority, will have to confirm Polt.
The European Union said in 2019 Hungary lacked determined action to prosecute corruption in high-level cases and “the effective functioning of the prosecution service remains a concern.”
Polt has dismissed those claims as “baseless”.
Tunde Hando, the wife of Fidesz stalwart and European Parliament member Jozsef Szajer, will leave her position as chair of the judiciary administration a year early.
As chief administrator she was ultimately responsible for the operation of the court system, with a say over issues like the nomination of new senior judges or budgeting.
Hando said she always acted by the law, adding Hungary’s Constitution makes clear the fundamental division of powers.
Balazs Toth, a legal expert at the rights group Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who has represented clients in cases against the government, said Fidesz wants a country without checks and balances, but judges have withstood the propaganda and pressure.
Fidesz has nominated Hando to the Constitutional Court, once Hungary’s top arbiter of law but greatly weakened after Orban’s party started to appoint its members.
Prosecutors filter criminal cases and decide which cases to investigate and how, choosing which cases to refer to the courts - a power that critics have said it used selectively to block cases detrimental to Fidesz or Orban’s associates.
When investigating a case of suspected fraud in 2014 involving Orban’s son-in-law Istvan Tiborcz, Polt’s prosecutors found no wrongdoing. A later probe by the European anti-fraud body OLAF however, detailed alleged fraud totaling 13 billion forints ($44 million) and recommended Hungary investigate.
Polt reopened the case but again dismissed it.
Tiborcz has not commented on the case, in which he and his business partners were never charged, as matters did not proceed to court.
Polt has rejected allegations of complicity.
Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alexandra Hudson
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