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Roma murder confession garners zero interest

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Berlin, Sep 18: The perpetrators ambushed their victims, set their homes on fire and then shot them as they sought to escape the flames. Or they killed them in their sleep. In all, the neo-Nazi group killed six people, among them a small child, and injured a further 55, most seriously. The only motivation for their crimes was the fact that their victims were Roma.

Roma murder confession garners zero interest

The series of right-wing attacks in 2008/2009 were the gravest set of crimes committed in Hungary's recent history — on par with the NSU murders in Germany that killed 10 and left one injured between 2000 and 2007. Here, too, the victims were targeted because they were foreigners. The murders in Hungary were carried out in the final months of the country's Socialist-Liberal government, as Hungary drifted further into corruption and political chaos. Just months later, Viktor Orban was elected to power with a two-thirds majority.

The case of Hungary's Roma murders was never entirely solved. Nevertheless, three perpetrators were handed life sentences in 2014, and an accomplice was given 13 years in prison. Still, despite ample evidence of their guilt — including DNA samples collected at various crime scenes — all of the men involved were unflinching in their claims of innocence. Only one of the four, Arpad Kiss, considered the leader of the group and the main suspect in the case, ever spoke of the crime in public, each time proclaiming his innocence.

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Accidental murderer?

Now, out of the blue, he has given a confession. Some 13 years on, the Budapest daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet — considered an unofficial megaphone for Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party — has published an interview with Kiss. The interview, dated August 31, provided a confession that was just as confusing as it was shocking.

In it, Kiss said: "The crimes took place. We committed them." Although he described the crimes as a "mistake," he never expressed true regret or remorse. Nor did the interviewer ever bother with follow-up questions. Kiss also described the group's proclamations of innocence before the court as a "mistake."

Although he was presented as the main perpetrator and organizer of the group, Kiss denied he any leadership position. He claimed he simply wanted to help his younger brother, and only became involved in the murders by chance. The bizarre climax of the interview came when Kiss suggested the last two murders in April and August 2009 could have been avoided if investigators had worked more effectively.

Unnamed accomplices

But that wasn't the only statement that made the interview so remarkable. For the first time, Kiss publicly confirmed what most who have followed the case long suspected: accomplices and supporters enabled the murders by providing cash, guns and logistics. In the interview, Kiss referred to two helpers: A local politician from the far-right Jobbik party, and an employee at a gun shop who apparently had access to confidential information from the Interior Ministry through a relative.

Kiss did not name names, nor did he offer further information, though he claimed to have provided details on both accomplices to Hungarian investigators back in 2020. But official investigations went nowhere. "We were held responsible, but those two went free," said Kiss in the interview. "I find that shocking."

No reaction to the interview

Kiss said he hopes his sentence will be reviewed. He and the two other perpetrators were handed "life" sentences, which means at least 40 years behind bars in Hungary. In October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that practice illegal. Should Hungary change course, Kiss could go free in 2034.

Although the Roma murders represent a uniquely racist, far-right crime spree, reaction to the interview has been nonexistent. A few media outlets offered short summaries, but neither Orban or his fellow Fidesz politicians have addressed it, nor has anyone from the opposition party. Journalists have also remained silent.

"No political side in Hungary has any interest in completely investigating and solving the Roma murders, that is consensus," filmmaker and journalist Andras B. Vagvolgyi told DW. Vagvolgyi is one of the few people who know the case inside and out. He attended the trial over the course of years, and published a book on the crimes in 2016. He has even been in contact with Arpad Kiss over the years, conducting yet unpublished interviews with him and working on a film about the crimes.

Vagvolgyi is convinced that a fundamental investigation into the case could prove the perpetrators had accomplices in the security and intelligence communities. He said a general lack of will to get to the bottom of the case, as well as a latent antiziganism, are both impeding closure. "Many politicians have told me that people should finally just forget about it," said Vagvolgyi.

Accomplices let off?

Liberal ex-politician Jozsef Gulyas, who together with friends and acquaintances helps survivors of the crimes, agrees. "Sadly, hardly anyone is still interested in the case. The victims are all but forgotten," he told DW. Gulyas was a member of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security that investigated the case back in 2009 and 2010.

"In light of Arpad Kiss' public statements," said Gulyas, "the most important thing now would be to open a new investigation and demand intelligence agencies turn over whatever information they have on the case."

It remains unclear if that will happen. Neither Hungarian Police nor the National Bureau of Investigation replied to a DW query on whether a new investigation was planned, nor to the question of whether the investigation of accomplices was concluded unsuccessfully, as Kiss claimed.

What role did the ex-prime minister play?

Possible evidence that intelligence services were aware of events could be potentially explosive. For instance, Istvan Csontos, an informant for the Hungarian military's KBH security office, also happened to be the getaway driver in the last two attacks. He reportedly informed his contact at the KBH of his role, but that information is said to have not been passed on. Csontos was released from prison in August, after serving a 13-year sentence. He has never publicly spoken about the case.

Political calculus may also be behind the prominent placement of the Kiss interview in a paper that is known as an unofficial media partner of the prime minister. In the interview, Kiss accused Socialist ex-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany of having indirectly known about the crimes and quietly profiting from them. Gyurcsany is still active in politics, and is consistently the target of attacks from Orban and Fidesz. The former prime minister has never responded to calls to explain his ties to the case.

Source: DW

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