April 19, 2018 / 7:03 PM / a month ago

Soros foundations to quit Hungary amid political hostility

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - George Soros’ Open Society Foundations will close their office in Budapest and move their eastern European operations to Berlin, Austria’s Die Presse newspaper reported on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Activists of Egyutt (Together) opposition party removes a government billboard displaying George Soros in monochrome next to a message urning Hungarians to take part in a national consultation about what it calls a plan by the Hungarian-born financier to settle a million migrants in Europe per year, in Budapest, Hungary, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Soros, a Hungarian-born U.S. financier, for a host of ills and pushed through legislation cracking down on non-governmental organisations called the “Stop Soros” laws which drew international criticism.

The Hungarian news web site 444.hu said the Open Society Foundations office would shut by Aug. 31 and move first to Vienna then on to Berlin.

Reuters was not been able to immediately reach the Open Society Foundations either in Budapest or New York.

FILE PHOTO: Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in London, Britain June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo

Orban, a self-styled champion of what he calls an “illiberal democracy”, has long been at odds with Soros’ network of NGO’s which promote liberal values around the world.

The Hungarian premier has for years waged a campaign against migration into Europe, an issue at the centre of his re-election bid which resulted in a third landslide victory this month.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A government billboard is seen in Budapest, Hungary, February 14, 2018. A billboard reads: 'Soros wants to transplant millions from Africa and the Middle East'. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo/File Photo

Orban’s Fidesz party said it would deliver on campaign promises to crack down on NGOs that promote migrant rights. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the election was characterised by xenophobic and intimidating messages.

The legislation submitted to parliament before the election would impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that the government says back immigration.

Their activity would have to be approved by the interior minister, who could deny permission if he saw a national security risk.

Open Society Foundations could not immediately be reached for comment. Hungarian government spokespeople did not immediately reply to emailed requests for comment.

The Soros-founded Central European University has also said it is opening a campus in Vienna in the near future. It has said it remains committed to its Budapest campus, despite government pressure that it said was geared to oust it from Hungary.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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