No FBI office, say local authoritiesBy Tamás S Kiss
Mch. 2, 2000
The National Police and Budapest-based US officials took pains to equivocate international press reports that Hungary would become home to a mafia-busting task force of the FBI that would be the agency’s first permanent office outside the United States.
The New York Times and Associated Press reported that the FBI plans to set up an office in Budapest this spring to help lead the charge against the Russian mafia.
The AP quoted Hungarian National Police (ORFK) spokesman András Rózsa saying, "The office will be on the premises of the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), but there are many details yet to be worked out."
In an interview with The Budapest Sun, however, Rózsa, said he was misquoted. "There was no mention of having an office in Budapest," Rózsa stressed. "There’s nothing new, we’ve been co-operating with the FBI for a very long time," he said, suggesting language difficulties may have caused the confusion.
Leslie Kaciban, director of the ILEA, jointly run by the FBI and ORFK to train Eastern European police in anti-mafia tactics, backed Rózsa’s claim.
"There will be no FBI office at the ILEA," Kaciban said.
"One thing we must clarify is that this is a training center and not an operations center," he added.
He did, however, confirm news statements that federal agents were due in Budapest as ORFK’s workload has increased.
"The whole idea of strengthening the FBI presence with a separate work group is just in its infancy," he stressed.
Local police said that four FBI agents would arrive shortly though they would have no office of their own.
They would not be allowed to arrest criminals or carry out house searches and would be allowed to carry guns only for self-defense.
The agents would have no more legal authority than any other foreign officer working in Hungary.
Rózsa denied a statement in the Times that the FBI agents were coming at Hungary’s request. He said they were coming as part of an existing co-operation agreement.
US Embassy spokesman Ed Kemp confirmed only that the two nations had signed a bilateral agreement in 1998.
He also read a February 22 US Embassy press release that said: "The FBI agents, who are expected in Hungary in the spring, will be working under the authority of the Hungarian Government and subject to existing Hungarian law and law enforcement working procedures. They will not have law enforcement powers."
The statements were at odds with those of Thomas Fuentes, Chief of the FBI’s organized crime division, who told the Times that the four agents would make up a "truly working squad" to which there was "no precedent" in the world.
John Russel, a spokesman for the US Justice department, said that the US Constitution would only allow FBI agents to work in a foreign land based on a mutual agreement between the two states.
Russel added that according to the US Constitution the Federal agents would not be permitted to hire and fire Hungarian agents, contradicting the Times, which reported that the agents here would have the final say in the hiring and firing of 10 Hungarian officers who would work with them.
According to legal specialist László Palki, international law does not restrict the movement of foreign police offices in countries whose governments have agreed to accommodate them.
He said most countries allow for such arrangements as long as the terms are in line with the domestic constitution.
Major issues that must be considered include the sovereignty of the country and whether the practice abides by the penal code.
The FBI agents are due here following a visit to Hungary last fall by FBI Director Louis Freeh and CIA Director George Tenet.
Both men had closed-door meetings with Premier Viktor Orbán but would not confirm that their visit was related to then recent reports that millions of US Government aid had been laundered through the Bank of New York by Russian mobsters.
Hungarian police say Budapest is the home to Russian gangster Semyon Mogilevich, accused of laundering over $500 million in the Bank of New York scandal.