Lajos Simicska was regarded as the most powerful oligarch in Hungary from the time Viktor Orbán formed his second government in 2010 until his dramatic public rift with the prime minister in 2015 (see The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned).
Lőrinc Mészáros has supplanted Simicska as the most powerful oligarch in Hungary since the latter year.
The term oligarch in its contemporary, Eastern European sense denotes a businessman (and rarely a businesswoman) who acquires significant wealth and political influence through his (or her) connections and allegiance to the government and uses this wealth and influence to provide the government with various means of support.
Simicska was born in the city of Székesfehérvár (central Hungary, pop. 98,000) in 1960.
He attended the same high school in Székesfehérvár as Viktor Orbán, graduating in 1979—two years before the future prime minister of Hungary.
Simicska and Orbán then performed their mandatory service in the Hungarian People’s Army together in the city of Zalaegerszeg (western Hungary, pop. 60,000) in the years 1981–1982 (see Siss-boom-BANG!)
Simicska—as Orbán—subsequently attended the Loránd Eötvös University School of Law and Political Sciences in Budapest in the 1980s, though it is not known if Simicska graduated. While at the university, Simicska and Orbán both lived at the special residence hall for law students called the Bibó College (Bibó Szakkollégium). Simicska participated in the formation and early activities of Fidesz at the Bibó College, though was not among the 37 founding members of the party in 1988.
Simicska assumed his first formal political position in 1993, when he became financial director of Fidesz (source in Hungarian). He then served as president of Hungary’s internal revenue service ÁPEH for just over a year at the time of the first Orbán government in 1998 and 1999.
Simicska did not appear in public for a period of 15 years from the time of his resignation as president of ÁPEH in August 1999 until attending the official inauguration of an equestrian center in western Hungary in September 2014. The weekly Magyar Narancs published the first updated photograph of Simicska in over 13 years on the magazine’s cover in December 2012.
Simicska spent the next decade quietly building an opaque business empire centered on the formerly state-owned construction company Közgép (“Public Machine”). Simicska was so secretive about his business activities that although it had long been speculated that he had acquired a majority stake in Közgép, definitive proof that he actually owned the company emerged only in documentation submitted as part of a public tender in 2012 (source in Hungarian).
During this period, Simicska also acquired partial or total ownership over broadcast and print media including the news television station Hír TV, the radio stations Lánchíd Rádió and Class FM, the daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, the weekly news magazine Heti Válasz and the weekday free sheet Metropol. These media explicitly supported Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.
In addition to construction and media, Simicska focused his business activities on outdoor-advertising, primarily via the companies Mahir Cityposter and Publimont.
Becoming an Oligarch
Simicska attained immense wealth following the return of Viktor Orbán to power as prime minister in 2010, primarily through the large number of state construction contracts awarded to Közgép beginning that year.
Közgép won 179.4 billion forints in public tenders from 2010 through 2013: 1.2 billion forints in 2010; 31.6 billion forints in 2011; 17.6 billion forints in 2012; and 129 billion forints in 2013 (source in Hungarian).
Közgép’s revenue rose almost threefold from 44.8 billion forints in 2010 to 129.8 billion forints in 2014 (source in Hungarian).
Simicska’s pro-Fidesz news media—Hír TV, Lánchíd Rádió, Magyar Nemzet and Heti Válasz— also began to generate significant profit during this period, much of which proceeded from government advertising. The aggregate post-tax profit of these four media nearly doubled from 876 million forints in 2012 to 1.7 billion forints in 2014 (source in Hungarian).
Simicska was ranked the tenth-richest person in Hungary in 2015 with estimated wealth of 73 billion forints (source in Hungarian). He had not previously appeared in the annual Napi Gazdaság ranking of the 100 wealthiest Hungarians due to the lack of transparency surrounding his business operations.
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