Orban’s spin doctor granted diplomatic passport despite holding no official government role

Arpad Habony photographed in Washington in 2014. Via Facebook-Fanny Kaminski
Arpad Habony photographed in Washington in 2014. Via Facebook-Fanny Kaminski

The Hungarian prime minister’s enigmatic spin doctor, Arpad Habony has a diplomatic passport – Atlatszo learned recently. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that Habony got a diplomatic passport, it was issued on February 15, 2019, and it was granted to him by minister Peter Szijjártó.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi. English version by Anita Komuves. Story by Atlatszo, reprinted with permission.

Arpad Habony has been a key figure in Viktor Orban’s communications strategy for years. He was working on Orban’s strategy with the late Arthur J. Finkelstein until the summer of 2017. Habony and Finkelstein co-founded a consulting company in London, Danube Consulting, which Habony took over after Finkelstein’s death.

Habony is a key figure in Orban’s media empire. Companies connected to Habony have been buying up media in Slovenia. And in April 2019 companies linked to Habony became owners of the newly founded, London-based V4 News Agency (V4NA). This is a media outlet that promotes Orban’s narrative in English, with a regional perspective.

Habony also seems to have a key role in U.S.-Hungarian relations. According to newspaper Népszava, Arpad Habony regularly speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein.

Habony was also spotted in Washington, D.C. during Viktor Orban’s recent trip to the White House.

Reportedly, Habony has been one of the most trusted advisor’s of Orban, part of the prime minister’s inner circle. Some claim that he is the brainchild behind Orban’s most successful political strategies. Others simply call him a ’spin doctor.’

Another term often used in relation to Habony is ’enigmatic’ because he holds no official title in the government and he is not officially on the government’s or Fidesz’s payroll.

In 2015 Orbán was asked about his relationship to Habony at a press conference and he replied that there was no official relationship between him and Habony and that

„no person of such name is on any state payrolls.”

However, in that same year, Habony had a Parliament pass issued by the request of the Prime Minister’s Office. When Atlatszo inquired about Habony’s relationship to the PM’s Office, the department replied that Habony did not have a contract with the PM’s Office.

The question of whether Habony has a diplomatic passport has already been in the limelight before. In October 2014 it was revealed that the United States issued visa bans on six Hungarian individuals. It was rumored that Habony might be one of them. However, soon after this, he posted a photo on social media showing him in Washington, D.C. – thus proving that he was allowed to enter the United States (see the featured photo of the post; credit: Facebook, Kaminski Fanny – VSquare)

This was the time when both media and opposition politicians wanted to know whether Habony might have a diplomatic passport that would have allowed him to enter the country despite the visa ban.

After a freedom of information request, a court case and several questions from reporters, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade replied both in 2015 and 2017 that Habony did not have a diplomatic passport and had never had one.

However, Atlatszo was told by several sources recently that the situation changed and that Habony has a diplomatic passport now.

Thus we filed a freedom of information request with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and asked if Habony had a diplomatic passport and if yes, what is the reason for it, who requested and who granted it.

The ministry replied that Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjártó granted the diplomatic passport on February 15, 2019, following a request from Habony. The ministry did not say why Habony was granted a diplomatic passport.