Valuable buildings in two countries bought by Hungarian-owned company

by Katalin Erdélyi, Átlátszó

Manevi Zrt, formerly owned by the Hungarian state, was donated by the government to the Foundation for Preserving Built Heritage in Central Europe (Közép-európai Épített Örökség Megőrző Alapítvány) this year. The company, as well as its Slovak and Romanian subsidiaries, have bought several buildings abroad in recent years, for example a castle in Romania, a monument in Croatia and a monastery in Slovakia. However, after 30 days, Manevi replied to Átlátszó’s public data request that it has no foreign properties. But according to the title deeds, they have several. Átlátszó also found a previously unknown acquisition: this summer, a historic hotel in Oradea was bought by Manevi’s Romanian subsidiary. It would be important if the company could clarify the discrepancy between its claim and the facts, because it is a criminal offence to conceal or falsify information of public interest.

This article was originaly published on english.atlatszo.hu.

The Foundation for Preserving Built Heritage in Central Europe, controlled by people close to the ruling party, was created by the government with a 2020 law, and at the same time two state-owned companies, Manevi Zrt. and Comitatus-Energia Zrt. Both had properties abroad by then, but Manevi has since set up subsidiaries in Slovakia and Romania, which have bought additional buildings.

The Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Preserving Built Heritage in Central Europe is chaired by Levente Magyar, Parliamentary State Secretary and Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministerial Commissioner for Francophone Affairs. The members of the Board of Trustees are Péter Kiss-Parciu (Deputy State Secretary for Regional and Cross-border Economic Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Orsolya Mária Pacsay-Tommasich (State Secretary for the Hungarian Diplomatic Academy and the Stipendium Hungaricum Programme at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade), Gergely Jákli (CEO of Eximbank) and Zsolt Virág (Ministerial Commissioner for the National Castle Programme and the National Castle Programme).

Major acquisitions in Romania

In 2018, Átlátszó reported that the Hungarian state-owned Manevi Zrt. had acquired the Romanian company Dacia SA, which owns the Pannónia Hotel in Satu Mare. The purchase price has not been disclosed, Manevi has refused to publish the sales contract on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, and the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) has accepted this argument, but company reports have told Átlátszó that the Romanian hotel is worth HUF 1.2 billion. Renovation of the building has still not started, but the local mayor says it will finally begin in spring 2022.

In May this year, Átlátszó also wrote about the foreign properties still owned by Manevi, based on the information available at the time.

It is quite an impressive list: in addition to the Pannonia Hotel in Satu Mare Mare, Romania, it includes the Korona Hotel in Maramures, Romania, the Wesselényi Castle in Zsibo, Romania, and a listed building in the historic centre of Osijek, Croatia.

According to Romanian press reports, Manevi also bought an imposing building in Nagykároly in 2019, which is believed to be intended to operate as a hotel after renovation.  Manevi is also interested in two Aradian monuments, the White Cross Hotel (Hotel Ardealul) and the Hirschl Theatre, which is practically opposite it.

The Park Hotel in Oradea

During recent research Átlátszó also found a previously unknown Manevi property. Manevi Pro Transilvania s.r.l., the Romanian subsidiary of Manevi Zrt., was registered in April 2021. In the summer, this company became the owner of the Park Hotel in Oradea, according to the Romanian land registry. The building is listed in the Romanian Monuments Register under the number BH-II-m-B-01075.

According to the Romanian Hungarian encyclopaedia called Adatbank, the Baroque palace was built in 1785, when Count Samuel Teleki, Archbishop of Romania, became the owner of the land on which the building stands. In 1833, the palace became the property of Count Ádám Rhédey, who ceded part of it to the National Casino of Bihor County. After several changes of ownership, in 1909 the Weiszlovits family took over the building, creating business premises on the ground floor and Art Nouveau-style hotel rooms on the first floor. In addition to the interior, the façade was also altered, and the transformed property opened in 1915 as the Park Hotel (Hotelul Parc in Romanian).

The Park Hotel in Oradea. Source: ArnoldPlaton /Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

According to the article of Erdély Online, the restoration of the monument, which was in a very poor state and was then in the hands of 8-9 owners, had begun this April. The renovation is expected to be continued by Manevi.

Real estate acquisitions in Slovakia

At the end of October this year, Ján Kuciak Investigative Center (ICJK) compiled a list of buildings acquired by Manevi and the Hungarian Foreign Ministry in Slovakia, in addition to the properties in Romania (we published English translation of this article on VSquare).

ICJK found that Manevi Zrt. owns two properties in Bratislava, in Sedlárska ulica (Nyerges Street) and in Védcölöp ulica (Palisády). These are the former buildings of the Hungarian Embassy and the Hungarian Cultural Institute, and according to the Slovak property register, both were acquired by Manevi Zrt. in February 2021.

In addition, in early February 2021, Manevi’s subsidiary in Slovakia, Manevi SK s.r.o., based in Dunaszerdahely, was registered. And according to the Slovak land registry, on 2 March and 8 March 2021, Manevi SK became the owner of the Premonster monastery in Ipolyság and the surrounding land.

In December 2020, Örs Orosz, a member of the board of the Alliance Party, which is a group of three Hungarian parties, wrote on Facebook that the Sine Metu Civic Association, which he leads, had bought the monastery in Ipoloveni and wanted to save the building. In August this year, it was announced that Manevi SK was an investor in the project. However, the ICJK found out that it was much more than that: the company ownes the monastery.

Manevi SK is also the owner of a monument in the old town of Košice. Manevi SK also owns the Vlára Spa House in Trenčéntyeplic.

Manevi: We have no foreign properties

At the start of the research for this article, on 16 September 2021, Átlátszó requested a public data request from Manevi SK for a list of foreign properties owned by the company.

Átlátszó asked for the exact address of the properties, their value, date of acquisition, type of acquisition (purchase, gift, exchange), purchase price and seller in case of purchase, intended use, (estimated) cost of use and intended date of occupation.

On 1 October, Zsanett Oláh, CEO of Manevi, extended the deadline by another 15 days. According to Ms Oláh, this was necessary because the data request would “require a disproportionate amount of the company’s human resources necessary to carry out its core business”.

After the extension expired on 16 October, instead of the list we had hoped for, she surprisingly replied to our request as follows:

“Our company does not own any foreign property.”

This response contradicts the foreign property registry data Átlátszó obtained, which still lists Manevi Zrt. and its subsidiaries as owners of several properties. It would be particularly important for Manevi to resolve this discrepancy as soon as possible, because concealing or falsifying data of public interest are criminal offences.

Indeed, after Manevi’s reply, Átlátszó asked for the ownership sheets again, in case there had been a change in the meantime, but there had not. According to the Slovak land registry, at the time of the request Manevi Zrt. was the owner of two properties in Bratislava: one in Sedlárska ulica (Sedlárska Street) and the other in Palisády street (Védcölöp Street).

According to Romanian property registers, the Hotel Pannonia in Satu Mare continues to be owned by Dacia SA, which was bought by Manevi, while Manevi also owns the Wesselényi Castle in Zsibo, the Korona Hotel in Maramures, the monument in Nagykároly and the Park Hotel in Oradea, owned by Manevi’s Romanian subsidiary Manevi Pro Transilvania.

Wesselényi Castle in Zsibo. Source: Wikimedia Commons / bmanolea, CC 3.0

Based on the above, it seems very much that the response to Átlátszó’s data request does not reflect reality. It would be quite unrealistic if the information were untrue because Manevi is not aware of what properties it owns abroad.

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, Hungarian version of this article was written by Katalin Erdélyi in a joint project of Átlátszó and Átlátszó Erdély, supported by NewsSpectrum. The article can be found here. Oštro helped with the Croatian data.

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