Hungary tax authority raids NGO, rekindles fears of crackdown

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Tax investigators raided the offices of Hungarian environmental group Energia Klub on Thursday, seizing hundreds of documents and computer files as part of what they said was a “criminal investigation into budgetary fraud”.

Energia Klub director Maria Csikai told Reuters on Friday that five officers spent all of Thursday going through their files in a move that was reminiscent of a government crackdown on non-government organizations in 2014.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been criticized at home and abroad for his tough actions against NGOs, which extended to 62 organizations and lasted for more than a year but uncovered no wrongdoing.

The government had said the groups used international funds in an illicit way to subvert the country’s political balance.

Orban personally ordered the 2014 “extraordinary government audit”, according to a letter to the director of the Government Audit Office KEHI obtained by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

Since then, the government has kept up pressure on civil society groups that it says receive funding from international donors such as financier George Soros. Orban told parliament last month that civil groups received foreign money to “organize refugee streams and boost migration.”

Thursday’s raid focused on a grant program funded by EEA Grants, the same donor organization whose projects were scrutinized in 2014, provoking a major diplomatic dispute between Hungary and grantor nation Norway.

The grant program was non-political, targeting better adaptation to climate change on a local level.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs did not immediately respond to emailed questions, but tax authority NAV confirmed the raid. “Financial investigators indeed conducted a property search in connection with an ongoing investigation,” it said.

Energia’s director Csikai said there had been no warning.

“They busted the door on us like on some criminals to seize stuff that has been checked and rechecked a hundred times,” she said in the central Budapest office that Energia Klub shares with Okotars, the foundation that was the main target of the 2014 crackdown.

Csikai said everything the investigators seized had already been reviewed by state audits, was readily available online, and would have been made available on request.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Dominic Evans