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Hungary foreign minister: vacation on tycoon's yacht is 'my private life'

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto rejected allegations of corruption and calls for his resignation on Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time after he was photographed aboard the yacht of a government-friendly tycoon more than a week ago.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends a news conference at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

The 41-year-old, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s top diplomat for six years, vacationed in the Adriatic off the Croatian coast aboard the 21 million euro ($25 million) yacht, the Lady MRD, according to an investigation by website Atlatszo.hu.

Atlatszo photographed Szijjarto aboard the ship, whose owner is Laszlo Szijj, a businessman whose companies have routinely won billions in government contracts in the past decade, making Szijj one of the richest men in Hungary. The photo was taken on Aug. 16 and published on Aug. 18.

Opposition parties have called on Szijjarto to quit, arguing that he could not have paid for the hire of the ship from his declared earnings, while receiving the trip as a gift or being invited as a guest would be a conflict of interest.

Szijjarto did not deny spending time on the Lady MRD earlier this month but said it was part of his personal life that he had no intention to detail to reporters, who asked him repeatedly about Szijj and his holiday.

“This is my private life, family vacation is part of private life,” he said in response to a question about his choice to holiday on Szijj’s yacht at a road building ceremony where he was approached by several TV crews.

“What little private life I have has nothing to do with my (official) decisions,” he said.

Szijjarto said he had respected all laws pertaining to him both in office and in his private life.

The Lady MRD is owned by Maltese company L&L Charter Ltd., whose ultimate beneficial owner is Szijj, according to the Malta Business Registry, which began to publish such data this year.

Szijj did not reply to requests for comment sent on Tuesday.

The news website G7.hu said that vessels similar to the 41-metre (134 ft) Lady MRD usually rent for about 180,000 euros per week.

Szijjarto, who comes from a wealthy family, has a monthly pretax salary of about 5,650 euros according to his official wealth declaration.

Szijjarto declined to say whether the trip was a gift from Szijj or how he paid for it.

Reporting by Marton Dunai, Editing by William Maclean

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