The hearing continued in the case in which, according to the indictment, the Esély a Hátrányos Helyzetűek Közshaznú Foundation and Szeged Adult Education High School and Vocational School (Szefi) and the leaders of Rogers High School between 2012 and 2014 requested normative support of more than one hundred million forints that did not exist, or after students without student status. The first and second defendants, two former Szeged Fidesz local government representatives, did not understand why they were in court at the last hearing held on Tuesday. This has not changed now either, however, another defendant was heard, who spoke about his innocence in an emotional testimony.
Thursday’s trial began with the previously abandoned hearing of the second defendant, the former director of the Szeged Adult Education High School and Vocational Training School (Szefi). The judge explained the accusation that budget fraud in the amount of approximately HUF 25 million for the 2012 school year and HUF 63 million for the 2013 school year was committed, and then he read from the testimony of the former school director, in which the person concerned emphasized that he was absolutely not involved in the administrative work related to grants, as he trusted the expertise and conscientiousness of his colleagues. He emphasized that during part of the period investigated by the prosecution, he was no longer at the head of the school.
“Due to the lack of professional competence, my colleagues never received this kind of instruction from me,” the judge quoted the testimony, in which the former director stated that he did not tell his colleagues how to fill in the number of students and the corresponding financial data. He said that “this is not included among the tasks of the head of the institution according to the law”, this was not his competence, he was only responsible for coordinating the tasks. According to him, they made a mistake during the investigation, that they examined the operation of the institution as a profit-oriented company, did not take into account the social utility of Szefi, and the fact that the director’s salary did not depend on the number of students.
One of the main issues of the last negotiations was when the student legal relationship is valid. Previously, it was said that the application form is valid from the moment it is filled out, but now, with the almost complete agreement of the defendants, it was stated that the legal relationship of a student is established upon enrolment. It was also a matter of debate how long the legal relationship would last. According to the legislation of the time, if the student does not show up for classes and does not obtain at least two grades, he ends the semester with an insufficient grade, so he has to repeat the year. If the situation does not change in the repeated year, the legal relationship must be terminated. Thus, as the testimony also emphasized, the institution’s management acted legally from an academic point of view, because it did not exclude chronically absent students sooner.
The other important factor that had an influence on the management of absences was the policy, which, according to the written testimony, had an emphatically only pedagogical role. The important part of the case, according to which 20 hours could be missed, was already in effect in 2007, no one objected, the employees of the institution just complied, including the director, since it was subject to the approval of the foundation.
According to the director’s claim, he was not aware that the maintainer had falsified registration forms, referring to the fact that it was previously revealed that registration forms had been destroyed, which they then commissioned an external company to replace, but it falsified them. Due to the nature of adult education, the policy treats attendance less strictly, so that family members and students who are busy with work, who are absent more, do not lose their legal relationship. Even in the event of an absence of more than 20 hours, it remained until the end of the semester, when it was totaled according to the law.
Institutional leader without powers?
“I believe, and I believe in good faith, that these documents were in order,” stated the former director, adding that he did not knowingly sign any false or falsified documents. He said that he was forced to manage the management of the institution according to the Organizational and Operating Regulations (SZMSZ) approved by the maintainer, so he had no serious room for maneuver. In his testimony, the prime accused, the president of the foundation that maintains the institutions, did not deny that the application of the norm was solely his responsibility, and that the head of the institution could not therefore have an operational management role in accepting the grants.
The director resigned in February 2014 citing internal professional and personal conflicts and the fact that the administrator was increasingly postponing the termination of the student relationship in order to document as many names as possible.
“I left the teaching career after fifteen years, I always followed the job regulations, I signed what I signed in good faith, I had no intention of certifying false documents,” said the former director. The judge then asked if the suspicion by the investigative authorities led to the resignation, the man answered yes. At the same time, the director answered in the negative whether he knew anything about the instruction he had in principle ordered, according to which the school’s teachers should enroll in some kind of training, thereby increasing the number of staff.
Meetings behind closed doors
The sixth defendant, who first worked as an assistant principal and then as a principal at Rogers High School, read a self-written statement, which was officially recorded. The woman, who is currently working as a school director, read the text in which she declared her innocence quite tensely, struggling with tears. “Part of the meetings took place behind closed doors for me,” he stated. He handed over some documents to the judge, in which he summarized his duties as deputy director in the 2012-13 school years.
He claimed that he was not aware that he had signed any problematic, questionable documents. “So, after ten years, I’m saying that I probably knew the papers were going to the Treasury, but I don’t know more than that. I only recorded the number of junior high school students.” He also added that none of the students under his responsibility were named anywhere in the indictment.
Since the teacher ran Rogers High School, she claimed she had almost no contact with the other principal. He occasionally substituted in the vocational classes, where, according to him, a high degree of absenteeism was not typical, which he otherwise dealt with quite strictly.
It was also found that students with special educational needs were recorded with a multiplier of two or three in the electronic system at the time, that is, the absences were recorded as if they were the absences of two or three different students, so that they would not suffer a disadvantage. From time to time, this meant some difficulties in terms of numbers and records when counting the students, but according to the teacher, in general, “mistakes were made at the bottom”, i.e. smaller numbers were recorded rather than larger ones.
At the end of his report, the judge asked him if he felt guilty, to which he – feeling somewhat emotional – answered with a firm no. The next hearing is scheduled for June.
The author is a Szeged journalist. The article is also published in Telex as part of the cooperation between Szegeder and Telex.