Árpád Habony has been Prime Minister Viktor Orbán‘s chief strategic adviser since 2006 (source in Hungarian). However, Prime Minister Orbán has never acknowledged that Habony serves in this unofficial capacity, stating in 2015 that “nobody of that name appears on any state payroll” (source in Hungarian).
Habony is regarded as the architect of many of the Orbán government’s main policies, notably the 2013 public utility-fee cuts and the 2015 anti-migration campaign (source in Hungarian; see Hungary and the Great Migration).
Habony is regarded as one of the most influential business oligarchs in Hungary.
Habony ranked either number four or number six in the annual napi.hu Influence Barometer of the 50 most powerful people in Hungary during the five-year period 2014–2018 (source in Hungarian).
Pauper on Paper
Following the victory of the Fidesz–Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance in Hungary’s 2014 National Assembly election, opposition media focused increasing attention on Habony’s luxurious lifestyle, notably his expensive clothing, handbags and vacations (source A, B and C in Hungarian).
At the same time, Habony’s company and sole demonstrable source of income had generated total revenue of only 128,000 forints (around 450 euros) in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 (source in Hungarian).
Habony reported to Hungary’s National Tax and Customs authority in 2016 that he had derived most of his income between 2009 and 2013 via loans from Orbán government commissioner and oligarch Andy Vajna and former Orbán government security adviser András Tomba (source in English).
Revenue through State Advertising: Modern Media Group
In April 2015, Habony and Tibor Győri—Prime Minister Orbán’s former legal adviser—founded the company Modern Media Group, which began publishing the pro-government free weekly newspaper Lokál in Budapest the following month (source in Hungarian).
Lokál generated an estimated 1.5 billion forints (4.8 million euros) in revenue through the publication of advertisements for state-owned companies, notably lottery company Szerencsejáték and the Hungarian Electrical Works (Magyar Villamos Művek), during the newspaper’s first year of operation (source in Hungarian).
Lokál began appearing daily in June 2016 (source in Hungarian). Former Orbán ally Lajos Simicska therefore ceased publication of his free Budapest daily newspaper Metropol, which had generated billions of forints in revenue through the publication of advertising for state-owned companies before his dramatic split with the prime minister in February 2015 (source in Hungarian; see also The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned).
In June and July 2016, Modern Media Group signed contracts with both the Budapest public-transportation company BKV and the Hungarian State Railways MÁV to distribute Lokál at public-transportation and railway stations in Budapest (source in Hungarian).
Modern Media Group began publishing the weekly Lokál Extra immediately following the conversion of Lokál into a daily in June 2016.
Modern Media Group recorded after-tax profit of 683.2 million forints in 2017, compared to 54.8 million forints in 2016 and 204.5 million forints in 2015 (source in Hungarian).
Lokál and Lokál Extra derived 3.4 billion forints—or just over 65 percent—of their combined 2017 advertising revenue of 5.2 billion forints from the publication of government and state advertisements (source in Hungarian).
The Prime Ministry, the Hungarian Electrical Works and Szerencsejáték published over 2.6 billion forints worth of advertising in Lokál and Lokál Extra in 2017 (source in Hungarian).
Lokál, Lokál Extra and 888.hu serve as conduits for Orbán government propaganda, much of which is based on Russian government propaganda (source in English; see also Pre-Election Sampler from the Freesheets and The Empire Strikes Back).
Divestment of Modern Media Group
On November 28, 2018, Habony transferred ownership of Modern Media Group to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány, or KESMA) without financial compensation (sources A in English and B in Hungarian).
Danube Business Consulting
In April 2015, Habony and prominent U.S. Republic Party political consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein founded a company called Danube Business Consulting in London (source in Hungarian). Habony became the sole owner of Danube Business Consulting following Finkelstein’s death in 2017 (source in Hungarian).
Danube Business Consulting had assets of 381,998 pounds sterling (133 million forints) in 2017, up from 77,900 pounds sterling in 2016 and 5,000 pounds sterling in 2015 (source in English).
In 2016, Danube Business Consulting reportedly provided services to the conservative-nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and to former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy (source in Hungarian).
Hungarian Investment Immigration Program
Opposition media have linked Habony to two offshore intermediary companies that participated in the Orbán government’s Hungarian Investment Immigration Program from 2013 to 2017 (sources A, B, C and D in Hungarian).
The eight intermediary companies that were involved in the Hungarian Investment Immigration Program generated a total of 156.2 billion forints in revenue from the sale of so-called “residency bonds” through the program (source in Hungarian).
Acknowledgement of Advisory Role
In December 2014, Minister in Charge of the Prime Ministry János Lázár revealed that he regularly sought advice from Habony, marking the first time that an Orbán government official had acknowledged Habony’s advisory role.
Lázár told the television station RTL Klub, “I know Árpád Habony, we meet regularly. I ask for his opinion on certain questions, though I have no advisory or official relationship with him. I consult with him based on personal acquaintanceship. I have no knowledge that he has any contract with the government” (source in Hungarian).
However, Prime Minister Orbán and members of his entourage have remained reluctant to discuss Habony’s advisory role. In February 2016, for example, government Spokesman Zoltán Kovács abruptly ended a press conference in order to avoid responding to a question regarding Habony (source in Hungarian).
On June 6,2016, Jobbik National Assembly representative János Volner asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “Who is Árpád Habony?” Prime Minister Orbán responded by reading the following statement from a paper: “I did not find the name of the person in question on the payroll of a single government institution or state company, therefore I am not qualified to answer the question” (source in Hungarian).
Lawsuit against Jobbik
In April 2017, the nationalist opposition party Jobbik launched a major outdoor-advertising campaign featuring signs that showed the faces of Orbán, Habony, Cabinet Minister Antal Rogán and oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros above the text “You Work. They Steal” (Ti Dologoztok. Ők Lopnak) (see Legislative Amendments on Outdoor Political Advertising).
In September 2017, Jobbik announced that the Budapest Court of Appeals had rejected Habony’s claim that he could not be regarded as a “public figure” (közszereplő) and thus the party had unlawfully displayed his face on its signs (source in Hungarian).
Last updated: January 1, 2019.