Ex-deputy mayor of Budapest Miklós Hagyó suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the Hungarian state when he was held on remand for nine months following his arrest on corruption charges, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg concluded on Tuesday. The court awarded EUR 12,500 in damages and EUR 6,000 in costs to the former Socialist politician in a ruling that is open to appeal. Hagyó was arrested in May 2010 after a crushing electoral defeat for the Socialists saw him lose his parliamentary seat and immunity from prosecution.
He had alleged that his health deteriorated and he lost 37 kilogrammes while being held for 23 hours a day in a damp, mouldy cell throughout nine months of pre-trial detention before being transferred to house arrest. The court agreed that this constituted inhumane treatment and a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He was found to have been denied contact with his common-law wife, although the court rejected a similar complaint regarding his 11-year-old daughter.
Hagyó was also denied the right to a trial within a reasonable time, and denied access to evidence that may have enabled him to challenge his pre-trial detention, the court said. His lawyers had argued that their client could not be seen as a flight risk because he had remained in the country while enjoying immunity from prosecution even when he knew he would be arrested as soon as it expired.
The case of Hagyó and 14 co-defendants finally came to court in June 2012 and the trial is ongoing. It revolves around alleged systemic corruption and embezzlement in Budapest City Council and the capital’s public transport firm BKV. Hagyó is not the only defendant to have complained of inhumane treatment following arrest. Furthermore, numerous witnesses have withdrawn testimony crucial to the case against the 15 accused, with some alleging in court that they were pressured by prosecutors and police to put the former deputy mayor in the frame.
No success so far
With prosecutors having notably failed to make a case against former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány over a failed casino development project, Hagyó’s is the last significant case in the government’s effort to fulfil a pre-election pledge to “hold to account” allegedly corrupt public officials from the previous eight years of Socialist-led government.
The campaign, led for two years by a prime ministerial “accountability commissioner”, was largely a failure. Hundreds of cases were thrown out for lack of evidence and the commissioner himself was sued by some of those he accused in public. The vast majority of over 1,000 cases probed were turned down by prosecutors or thrown out by courts, and from the handful that did make it to trial there have been no convictions to date.