Hajnalka Debreczeni, a former press aide of DAHR president Hunor Kelemen opened a fashionable restaurant in the center of Cluj-Napoca. Her business was greatly helped by her husband, Zoltán Nagy, chief of staff of the same Hunor Kelemen, who used money from a public foundation he is presiding. The initial investment into the restaurant coming from the foundation amounts to at least 70 thousand EUR.
It was December 2016. The parliamentary election campaign in Romania was about to end, and while even its most ardent supporters were uncertain whether the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) will be able to jump the 5 percent threshold and get into the Parliament, a flashy restaurant opened in a heritage-listed building located in the center square of Cluj-Napoca, the largest city in the Romanian region of Transylvania.
So what is the connection between DAHR and the restaurant named L’Alchimiste? One of the connections is that SC Videbor SRL, the company operating the restaurant, is owned by Hajnalka Nagy-Debreczeni, who at that time was the press aide of DAHR president Hunor Kelemen, and is still the director of the foundation that publishes one of the largest Hungarian news portals in Romania.
There is more: Videbor SRL did not rent the 202 square meter space directly from its owners, but from the School Foundation, established by the DAHR with the purpose to organize educational projects (currently the main activity of the foundation is the operation of a block of flats where young university teachers can rent apartments at a discounted price).
Over the years, School Foundation received financing from the Hungarian government; the block of flats has been built in 2009 with a series of grants amounting to 1,3 million EUR. The foundation currently runs at least one project financed with a 60 thousand EUR grant from a Hungarian state owned company.
The contract between the School Foundation and the restaurant was signed by the president of the board of trustees, Zoltán Levente Nagy, who happens to be the husband of Hajnalka Nagy-Debreczeni and chief of staff of DAHR president Hunor Kelemen.
The original articles in Hungarian:
The space needed urgent and costly repairs
From the contract signed on 29 October 2015 we can learn that the School Foundation rented the space for 10 years, until the end of 2025. The president of the board of trustees already knew that the space will be underlet to the company owned by his wife: in the contract, it is stipulated that the School Foundation as a landlord will underlet the space to Videbor SRL.
The interposition was necessary because apparently Videbor SRL did not have the funds that had to be invested in the space that needed urgent repairs, and to pay the financial guarantee asked by the owner. So the School Foundation paid the 31 thousand EUR bill for the consolidation of the arches of the building, and they also paid the first six months of the rent (30 thousand EUR) and a guarantee of 15 thousand EUR.
This initial investment on behalf of the School Foundation was reimbursed gradually by Videbor SRL, as the company paid slightly higher rent compared to the rent paid by the School Foundation to the owners. According to a calculation of the president of the board of trustees, the School Foundation would make around 16 thousand EUR net profit in 10 years.
„My wife is the guarantee that this business will work, and that it will be able to fulfill its contractual obligations” – said Zoltán Levente Nagy when Átlátszó Erdély asked him about the conflict of interest.
After the initial piece was published, on 24 March 2017, Nagy announced that the School Foundation will terminate the contract immediately both with the owners and Videbor SRL because this arrangement „can create the appearance that there have been other personal considerations, apart from a purely business rationale”.
5 months later, on 6 September 2017, Átlátszó Erdély found no evidence at the Company Registry of a new lease contract signed between the owners of the building and Videbor SRL.
The story, which was published in March 2017, received apparently little echo in the Hungarian media landscape in Transylvania. One of the reasons of the silence is that the most important media outlets are either directly controlled, or heavily influenced by DAHR and its ally from Hungary, the government of Viktor Orbán.
The Romanian translation of the story:
News website forced to move out of their offices
In May 2017, we could see what can happens to a media outlet that does report on a controversial businesses linked to high-ranking DAHR politicians. A few weeks after Átlátszó Erdély broke the story, on 28 March, one of the more important news websites, Transindex.ro, did some additional reporting on the L’Alchimiste story.
Soon the management of the website was announced that their landlord, which happened to be the School Foundation, raised their rent to 900 EUR, an amount that is ridiculous even for the high rental prices in Cluj-Napoca. The news outlet was subsequently forced to move out, and find a new location for their offices.
The management of Transindex.ro did not confirm, but also did not deny that their story on the L’Alchimiste was the reason for the sudden raise of rent. The president of the board of trustees, Zoltán Levente Nagy also declined to comment to Átlátszó Erdély, arguing that contractual relations between two legal entities are not of public concern.
The chef comes forward
L’Alchimiste got involved in another controversy soon: in June, a chef who recently quit his job at the restaurant choose to come forward, alleging that the management paid only a quarter of his last month salary. When he urged the payment of the remaining money, he was threatened by Zoltán Levente Nagy.
The chef, who asked his name not to be published, alleged that he was asked to work regularly over time: for example, in February, he worked 319 hours – which is double of the „normal” 160 hours of the 40-hour workweek.
The management did not pay his days off (after 6 months of work, he was entitled to 10 days, but only took out 4), and also refused to show him his payslips.
The president of the board of trustees, Zoltán Levente Nagy, who seems to be involved in the day-to-day operation of his wife´s restaurant, threatened the chef in an SMS, saying that he will get his money soon if he calms down. If not, the management is prepared to start a disciplinary procedure against him because he did not finish his work during his last days.
Átlátszó Erdély asked the owner of the restaurant, Hajnalka Nagy-Debreczeni to comment on the allegations of her former employee. This was her reply:
I do not wish to answer to your questions. What you are doing is a clear case of harassment. My lawyer will contact you soon, you can address him your questions from now on.