Hungary's anti-fraud watchdog wants powers for raids and prosecutions

FILE PHOTO: European Union leaders summit in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary's anti-corruption body, tasked with stamping out fraud in the spending of billions of euros of European Union funds, has requested greater powers including for prosecutions, raids and sanctions, a document shows.

The Integrity Authority, created under EU pressure in late 2022, is independent of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government and led by a former partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers with two decades experience of forensic accounting and compliance.

But it says it lacks teeth to expose wrongdoing in the eastern European nation which has for years been at odds with the EU bloc over rule-of-law matters.

"This document offers a high-level description of essential powers necessary for the Authority to function effectively and fulfil its legal mandates," the Authority said in a paper obtained by Reuters that was submitted to Hungary's Justice Ministry and the European Commission.

Orban's government has not commented since the body's leader Ferenc Biro first voiced concerns in April.

The requests, in a four-page document dated March 1, include equipping the body with criminal prosecution powers and strong sanctions to ensure compliance with legislation.

International watchdogs say Orban, in power since 2010, has long channelled EU funds to businessmen close to his nationalist Fidesz party. The government denies such allegations, with Orban saying he is not involved in business matters and that Hungary has no more corruption problems than other EU nations.


The European Commission released 10 billion euros of funding to Hungary in December in a move some European lawmakers are seeking to overturn over what they see as horse-trading by Brussels to overcome Orban's veto on aid to Ukraine.

Despite some progress in rolling back contested reforms to the Hungarian judiciary, billions of EU funding remain suspended, with Orban deepening a standoff with the EU's top brass ahead of a June 6-9 European Parliament election.

The Integrity Authority is seeking a legal mandate to conduct unannounced search, examination or inspection of premises of entities under scrutiny, as well as the ability to take formal measures, such as sealing, seizure and confiscation.

The body wants the ability to conduct autonomous investigations and mandate prosecution in corruption cases. It says its staff should be entitled to summon, take into custody or use other coercive measures, the document showed.

As part of beefed-up investigative powers, the authority also wants the ability to deploy covert tools and means on its own authority and impose fines if investigations are obstructed.

"The Authority needs to have access to personal information, personal data relating to criminal matters and confidential data, including classified data," the document added, calling for electronic and direct access to databases such as the Electronic Public Procurement System.

The body is also requesting the power to impose "sufficiently severe" sanctions to ensure compliance with legislation, such as issuing a warning or deterrent fine in case of inadequate or incomplete compliance with its recommendation.

(Reporting by Brussels newsroom; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)