HCLU Wins Landmark Freedom of Information Case

The Hungarian Ministry of Development and Economics is ordered to disclose data, which reveal what investments worth 200 billion Hungarian forints – nearly 800 million euros - were carried out by Swedish companies in exchange for the purchase of Gripen fighter-jets by the Hungarian Air Force. The journalist of on-line newspaper, origo.hu – with legal representation provided by the HCLU - has initiated a Freedom of Information lawsuit in December, 2007, because the Ministry has previously rejected to provide information to the journalist’s FOI request. According to the September 8th ruling of the Regional Court of Appeals, the defendant Ministry acted unlawfully.

In 2001, the government decided on purchasing the Swedish Gripen-jets instead of the American F-16 jets for the Hungarian Air Force. In compliance with the contracts, 110% of the purchase price had to be invested in Hungary by the Swedish party or rather, had to be used to create opportunities of export-expansion to Sweden for Hungarian companies. Two years later, the following administration ordered more advanced jets and increased the purchase price to nearly its double.

In mid-August 2008, the Saab/Gripen Group issued a press release, which states that it fulfilled its duties – worth almost 800 million euros - according to the contract. The original term, cited from the 2001 contract, was due to end in 2015. Also ascertained from the press release was, that this was approved by the Ministry’s Offset Committee on March 27th, 2008. The journalist represented by the HCLU filed the lawsuit in December, 2007, because that is when the Offset Committee has informed the public, that more than 90% of the offset has been fulfilled.

The object of the lawsuit was to find out what Swedish investments were accounted by the Ministry. According to the first and second instance rulings, the requested data could shed light on this.

The Regional Court of Appeals’ decision states, that the requested data is unequivocally public interest data since the fighter-jets were purchased from public funds and the data requested by the journalist are closely connected to the acquirements. The verdict states that the Ministry is obligated to issue the exact list of companies, which received shares from the offset program.

According to the Ministry’s files – to which the Ministry’s lawyers referred to during trial - there are approximately 80 such companies.

The HCLU considers the verdict to be of great significance and hopes the Ministry will disclose the requested data. In this case, the Hungarian government is litigating the public by rejecting to disclose data regarding the government’s nearly 800 million euro spending. The HCLU expects the Ministry - after the first and second instance verdicts – to keep from turning to the Supreme Court for an extra-ordinary remedy.

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