Earlier this month police arrested László Vizoviczki, the proprietor of a wide range of restaurants and, cafés and nightclubs across Hungary, as well as holdings in publishing and radio broadcasting. Vizoviczki’s nightlife empire has centered on the island north of downtown Budapest called Hajógyári sziget, where he could boast of no fewer than 10 establishments, including legendary meat-markets Dokk, BedBeach and Studio, one of Europe’s largest music clubs, capable of holding upwards of 5,000 revelers. It was from this that Vizoviczki and his closer associates became known in the Hungarian underworld as “the Hajógyári gang.” Vizoviczki, meanwhile, got the handle “Vizó.”
The allegations against Vizoviczki are wide-ranging. Through a top lieutenant identified as István V., he is said to have paid for a vast protection racket in which the police turned a blind eye to rampant drug dealing at his clubs, improperly served as guards at such establishments, and even raided and shut down his rivals’ operations.
Six senior officers and two civilians at the National Investigation Bureau and the headquarters of the Budapest Police (BRFK) are awaiting trial on charges of being involved in the racket, among them former District III police chief Attila Markó, who had recently been promoted to public security deputy chief of BRFK. Farther down the food chain, up to 100 beat cops – mostly from the Budapest force – are believed to have been in service of the syndicate. Reportedly, some chiefs banned uninitiated patrolmen from visiting Vizoviczki’s clubs, so they wouldn’t recognize colleagues working “overtime.”
In addition to these allegations, Vizoviczki appears likely to face charges over his accounting for the billions of forints that have passed through his hands over the years, or, more to the point, not accounting. When police searched Vizoviczki’s apartment they reportedly found HUF 420 million in cash, an amount that dwarfs what his clubs were officially making. (On paper, his Hajógyári sziget clubs last year had combined revenue of less than HUF 1 billion and net profits of HUF 50 million.) Meanwhile, the authorities said yesterday that they were eyeing up to HUF 5 billion that Vizoviczki may have stashed abroad.
One point of ambiguity involves the genesis of the takedown of Vizoviczki. According to reports at the time he was taken into custody, his arrest followed the launching of an investigation by the Central Investigation Chief Prosecutor in February. But a story earlier this week in government-friendly Magyar Nemzet had the effort to bring Vizoviczki to book going all the way back in 2010, when then newly-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received a report detailing links between Budapest’s night life underworld and the police. Other reports have Vizoviczki being ratted out by members of a drug cartel he had authorized to use his clubs for distribution.
Meanwhile, it is not only widely accepted that others at the top in the Budapest Police must have known about the protection racket. According to Népszabadság, Vizoviczki had already been “well-known” to police as he had been previously charged with several crimes, including drug trafficking and prostitution.
And if Vizoviczki was “well-known” to the police, he was similarly familiar to the country’s political class. His name was mentioned during a parliamentary committee hearing in 2000 in connection with the “oil bleaching” scandal that rocked Hungary during the 1990s, in which he was said to be a “foot soldier” of the underworld groups that conspired with politicians to make windfall profits off the improper resale of subsidized diesel fuel. In the decade since, he has allegedly made great efforts to maintain good relations with governments of both left and right. Following the “red sludge” disaster of 2010, he organized a concert to help victims of the crisis, whose patron was Péter Ágh, chairman of Fidelitas, the youth wing of ruling party Fidesz. Note that this cooperation would have taken place long after Fidelitas’s chief patron – Viktor Orbán – supposedly was informed of the police’s indecent entanglement with the Budapest club scene.
Following Vizoviczki’s arrest, one of his colleagues was anonymous quoted as saying that he had become a role model for many others in the business, having built an empire out of nothing. “While others were kicking back in Ibiza, he was working 24/7.” Given that most of his empire is still running, it seems that whoever has succeeded him as king of the shadowy Budapest nightlife scene is similarly busy. The question is who they are – and to whom they will now own their new crown.
UPDATE: It seems that over the weekend several of Vizoviczki’s Hajógyári sziget clubs were raided by the authorities, but according to this report, news of the raids may have been leaked in advance to those running the clubs by members of the police.
UPDATE II: And now they are looking for bodies.