Viktor Orban. Picture: REUTERS/LASZLO BALOGH
Viktor Orban. Picture: REUTERS/LASZLO BALOGH

A police decision to close a corruption probe linked to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s family “strengthens doubts” about the independence of Hungarian  law enforcement, says a top EU official.

Police spokesman Kristof Gal said on Tuesday that a probe opened in February on the basis of findings by the EU’s European AntiFraud Office (OLAF) had been terminated.

A “crime did not take place,”  he told the Hungarian news agency MTI.

But Inge Graessle, head of the EU’s budget control committee, said on Wednesday that the termination of the Hungarian probe was “surprising” and the OLAF report contained “strong evidence”.

The decision “leaves and strengthens doubts on the independence of Hungarian law-enforcement authorities and reinforces the need of a real tool to protect EU financial interests in future,” Graessle tweeted.

In January, OLAF said it had uncovered “serious irregularities” and a “conflict of interest” in Hungarian public-lighting projects involving a firm once controlled by Orban’s son-in-law.

The OLAF investigation concerned contracts running into tens of millions of euros, funded partly by the EU, to modernise street lighting won by the Elios company in 2011-2015.

At the time, Elios was part-owned by Istvan Tiborcz, husband of Orban’s eldest daughter, and a second man who also owned another company advising local authorities on public tenders. That raised the question of a conflict of interest.

Tiborcz sold his stake in Elios in 2015.

According to local reports, Tiborcz also holds considerable real estate assets, owned directly and indirectly, including castles and hotels.

Orban’s critics have long accused him of presiding over a corrupt system that enriches his close associates, a charge denied by the government.

After returning to power in 2010, Orban appointed Peter Polt, a close ally and former member of his governing Fidesz party, as chief prosecutor.

Opposition parties condemned the police decision as a sign that certain people are “untouchable”.

On Wednesday, they urged Hungary to join the EU’s independent European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) body.

That office investigates and prosecutes cases of EU budget fraud, but Hungary is among six of the bloc’s 28 member states that does not participate.

Although it gets billions of euros in EU development funds every year, Hungary argues that joining the EPPO would infringe on its sovereignty.

Hungary’s refusal to participate in the body has prompted an independent Hungarian MP to mount a drive to collect a million signatures in a bid to force the government to sign up.