February 1, 2019 / 4:24 PM / a year ago

Hungary's Jobbik party says might disband after second audit fine

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s largest opposition party, Jobbik, has been pushed to the brink of insolvency by a second monster fine related to campaign spending and may be forced to disband, it said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A man stands next to an election billboard of opposition party, Jobbik in Budapest, Hungary April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Jobbik, once known for its hard-line and anti-Semitic views, has turned into a milder party in recent years, as it shifted towards the centre to challenge Fidesz, the ruling right-wing party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The State Audit Office, headed by a one-time senior Fidesz official, hit it with a 660 million-forint ($2.4 million) fine for illegal spending in 2017.

Now it faces another fine, related to 2018 campaign spending, of 273 million forints. That has dealt the party, still the second strongest in Parliament, a potentially lethal blow, a Jobbik spokesman said.

“It’s entirely plausible that Jobbik as a party, and its parliament group, will cease to exist,” spokesman Peter Jakab told Reuters. The party has called an extraordinary congress to set its future course.

The state auditors said in a statement on their web site on Thursday that Jobbik used unidentified and illegal campaign funds.

“Jobbik breached the campaign financing laws... calling unpaid bills and debts ‘assets’ even as they could clearly not form the basis of their campaign spending,” it said.

Jakab said the party had funds left over from 2017 and acknowledged the party had unpaid tax and post office bills listed as supplier loans. But those funds were not illegal, and procedures were already under way to repay them, he said.

The party has fought the fines in court, but it can’t keep its operations running and pay the penalties with its current 510 million-forint annual budget, much less campaign in European and local elections this year, Jakab said.

He said the 20 Jobbik MPs would keep their Parliament seats.

The changes might accelerate a process of opposition forces - several of which were also fined by the auditors - uniting against Fidesz, he said.

“The way we are picked apart by the auditors today, other parties can get the same tomorrow,” Jakab said. “If tyranny attacks freedom, then those attacked tend to group together. The regime and those fighting against it will form the two sides.”

“The last people to systematically eradicate the opposition were the Communists, and that led to the 1956 revolution,” he said. “We would prefer for the rule of law to continue instead.”

Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King

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