Hungary's Jobbik party says fine may keep it out of election

Hungary's Jobbik party says fine may keep it out of election


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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A huge fine from state auditors threatens the ability of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party to participate in an April parliamentary election, the party's leader said Friday.

Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona asked supporters for donations to help pay the fine of 331.7 million forints ($1.24 million) imposed by the State Audit Office, which he says could bankrupt the party.

"Using the State Audit Office, the current government has launched a brutal attack against us," Vona told reporters. "It is unprecedented and unimaginable in European democracies for a government to try to use such means to ruin its biggest challenger four months before the elections."

The penalty also could cost Jobbik the same amount of money from the funds the party receives from the state. Based on its 2014 election results, Jobbik gets 476 million forints ($1.78 million) annually.

The party has until Dec. 21 to reply to a preliminary auditors' report that claims Jobbik paid illegal, below-market prices for a recent anti-government ad campaign. Jobbik denies the claim, but could be forced to pay the fine as soon as early January, Vona said.

Jobbik bought the billboard space from Lajos Simicska, a tycoon who was once a key ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Their relationship soured in 2015, and Simicska has since said he'd like Jobbik to win the 2018 election.

Analysts have long maintained that election spending is grossly underreported by most parties, including Orban's Fidesz, which for many years placed its own ads on Simicska's billboards.

The audit office is run by a former Fidesz lawmaker. Critics saw his nomination as part of a weakening of democratic checks and balances under Orban. The state prosecutor's office is also headed by a former Fidesz politician.

The opposition Together party called on the audit office to examine the Fidesz ad campaigns during the 2014 election. The Politics Can Be Different party said the audit office made itself part of the election campaign as "the extended hand of the government."

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