Friday, October 23, 2020

Hungary Mayor caught on tape having orgy denies charges of money laundering and hiring escorts

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Start with an Olympic gymnast-turned-mayor and his business associate, cruising off the coast of Croatia on a luxury yacht. Surround them with countless bottles of alcohol and several scantily clad young women. Add in rumors of corruption, cocaine, money laundering and prostitution.

And to top it off, film them all having an orgy on the boat.

It may be difficult to dream up a political crisis more scandalous than the one that recently implicated Zsolt Borkai, the mayor of Hungary’s sixth-largest city, a week before his reelection campaign was set to come to a close.

But not even a viral sex tape making the rounds on adult websites was enough to derail Borkai, the married father of two and an ally to the country’s authoritarian right-wing prime minister, from winning another term on Sunday as mayor of Gyor, the urban center of northwestern Hungary.

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Still, the orgy imbroglio appeared to help force the first major loss for Fidesz, the conservative party headed up by Viktor Orban, in the more than nine years since the populist leader became prime minister. At least 10 of Hungary’s 23 largest cities, including the capital of Budapest, elected opposition candidates who had joined against Orban’s populist brand of autocracy.

The “Borkai-gate” saga, as Hungarian media outlets are calling it, began when an anonymous blogger who refers to himself only as “the Devil’s Advocate” began accusing a Fidesz mayor of “corrupt practices.” According to the Budapest Business Journal, the blogger — whose posts have since been taken down — claimed that he had been working as a lawyer for Fidesz politicians but quit after party leaders threatened him.

Then the writer posted links to a leaked video of Borkai, 54, engaging in a cocaine-fueled orgy aboard a yacht. He and his lawyer, the blogger alleged, had used government money to fund their romp on the Adriatic Sea and hire the escorts who appeared in the video.

At first, Borkai, who won gold on the pommel horse in the 1998 Olympic Games and had been mayor of Gyor since 2006, denied that the video was of him. “I consider the lies published about me to be part of an opposition campaign aimed to divert attention away from their own incompetence,” his campaign said last week in a statement to Hungary Today.

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But later media reports confirmed that his attorney had benefited from his connection to the mayor, who allowed him to buy farmland outside the city in 2012 through an offshore company — and for far less than market price — only to resell it at a higher value.

Meanwhile, a left-wing newspaper reported that one of the young women who appeared in the sex tape had received the equivalent of nearly $10,000 in government grants to open a wedding-dress rental company with her sister.

Days later, Borkai changed course. “The published recordings picturing me were made years ago,” he told a local television station on Oct. 7, according to Hungary Today. “Some of the footage is manipulated, other parts are genuine.” Although he apologized for the tape, he denied charges of money laundering, hiring escorts and using cocaine.

He still refused to resign, sending Hungary’s conservative political circles into a tailspin.

The image of an orgy on a yacht came in sharp contrast to the ruling party’s ethos: Orban, a staunch authoritarian who has restricted local media and railed against migration, has painted himself as a defender of Hungary’s Christian culture. He said he would punish cities that voted to abandon Fidesz, whose slogan is “God, nation, family.”

Late last week, meanwhile, the opposition party put up posters at a Fidesz headquarters that instead read, “Public funds, cocaine, whores.”

The country’s pollsters were thrown for a loop, with five of them assembling a last-minute news conference on Thursday in which they retracted many of their initial predictions about local elections. With Borkai-gate now in play, it would be hard to know what would happen next. “If only it was erotica,” one pollster remarked, “and the more tasteful kind at that.”




And other members of Fidesz turned against Borkai. The mayor of Budapest, who also was running for reelection, called his actions “unacceptable, indefensible and undignified.” Even an anonymous opinion piece in Magyar Nemzeta conservative Hungarian newspaper closely linked to Orban and his party, said the embattled mayor should resign.

“Zsolt Borkai dumped a cartload of tacks onto the floor, and he is now forcing his own family and his fellow politicians to walk around barefoot, in blindfolds,” said the editorial, which was later taken offline, credited to a publishing error by the newspaper’s editor. “This situation could have been easily avoided. He should have stepped down days ago.”

After several days of silence, Borkai announced an “extraordinary press conference” set for Friday evening. It was finally happening, media outlets speculated: The mayor was going to resign.

Then, an hour before the news conference, he mysteriously backed out. Amid the ensuing scandal, Borkai posted a photo of him and his family on Facebook, showing the four of them standing side by side at a rock concert on Saturday.

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“We persevere,” the photo said, “for better or worse.”

The following day, he won the election.

Following Borkai’s victory, Orban has been expected to expel him from Fidesz. As the party’s chairman, he has the final say on the matter. As of Tuesday morning, however, the prime minister had not commented on the matter.

Borkai was not the only mayor whose campaign was tarred by a sex-tape scandal — nor the only one to win his election this weekend despite such a scandal. Opposition candidate Tamás Wittinghoff, running for a mayoral post in a suburb of Budapest, also had a sex tape leaked.

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