Hungary anti-graft body describes ventilators deal as ‘hotbed of abuse’

(Malaysia Now) – The Hungarian chapter of a global anti-corruption body views the country’s purchase of medical equipment last year as mired in secrecy, and has filed a freedom of information request to obtain further details.

Transparency International Hungary (TI-Hungary) also described the purchase by Budapest spanning dozens of contracts as rife with suspicions.

“Beyond doubt, the procurement of respirators… it is a hotbed of abuse and mismanagement,” the anti-graft watchdog’s Miklos Ligeti told MalaysiaNow.

Hungary’s purchase of ventilators and other medical equipment last year was touted as the single biggest purchase of medical equipment by a European Union member-state.

Last month, MalaysiaNow reported that several of the purchases were linked to Malaysian businessman Vinod Sekhar, who is believed to have received the lion’s share of the deal totalling over half a billion dollars.

Hungary’s purchases of ventilators kicked up a storm last year, with opposition politicians calling out the deals for being opaque as well as resulting in an oversupply.

Sekhar, who operates a chain of companies and organisations under the Petra Group, has secured more than US$500 million, or about RM2.5 billion, worth of contracts to supply ventilators to the Hungarian government.

MalaysiaNow had viewed documents furnished by a Hungarian journalist who investigated the controversial deals, after the papers were made available by the Hungarian foreign ministry following pressure from the media.

Among others, the documents showed that the Hungarian government had agreed to pay a total of US$559,600,000, which at the time of the contract in May 2020 was equivalent to about RM2.43 billion, to GR Technologies, a company Sekhar represented.

In an interview with a news website yesterday, Sekhar confirmed his involvement in supplying ventilators to the Hungarian government, but said “everything was above board”.

“Will we make money? It’s the normal percentage (in commissions). People gave their time and energy to secure it, and they should be paid,” he said. “Eventually, I’ll get the commission and I’ll make a donation to Hungary.”

In October last year, a prominent Hungarian political activist who is also a member of the European parliament questioned why the bulk of the purchases was made through the country’s foreign affairs ministry.

“It is strange in itself that the procurement of health equipment is not handled by the government ministry responsible for healthcare, but by the foreign affairs department,” István Ujhelyi had said.

Ligeti meanwhile said the concerns over the purchase of the ventilators were not only due to its sheer size, but also the “incredibly overpriced process”.

He said suppliers in Hungary’s purchase of ventilators were “selected arbitrarily in a non-transparent and no-bid process”.

“TI-Hungary tried to follow this story, we issued freedom of information requests to Hungary’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade, and at least we uncovered from the responses that none of the respirators bought were resold in the market, so financially this transaction was a disaster,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“TI-Hungary is convinced that the perpetrators of this scandal should be brought before justice and we are happy to cooperate in this regard.”