BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The head of Hungary’s tax authority and several colleagues are among six people that Washington has banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption, she told a newspaper on Wednesday.
Ildiko Vida denied any wrongdoing and said Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government knew she was on the travel ban list. The ban, announced last month, targets people Washington says are engaged in or benefit from corruption.
The travel ban comes amid a wider souring of relations between Hungary and both the United States and the European Union over what they perceive as Orban’s increasingly authoritarian rule and Budapest’s stand in the Ukraine crisis.
U.S. Charge d‘Affaires Andre Goodfriend said last month that corruption was a symptom of the weakening of Hungary’s democratic institutions and called the ban a warning to Budapest to reverse policies he said threatened democratic values.
In an interview with the daily Magyar Nemzet, Vida said she had nothing to hide.
“I did not commit anything. I have not been and I am not party to any corruption case and I am ready to undergo any probe cleanly,” Vida said, adding she had no intention of resigning.
Vida declined to name the other five people on the list. She said she had notified a government official about the ban, but did not name the person.
“The name (of the government official) is not important. The point is that the government knew about the case,” she said.
Various ministers in Orban’s centre-right government have denied knowledge about the substance of the allegations made against the six people blacklisted by Washington.
On Wednesday, the Economy Ministry, which oversees the tax office, said in a statement that Vida had informed the minister about her travel ban before giving the interview.
“As we still don’t know any details of the specific case that prompted the American decision-makers to ban Ildiko Vida’s entry to the United States, the Economy Ministry is awaiting information from the U.S. that could be the basis for any investigation in the given case,” it said.
Vida said a letter she had received from the U.S. embassy did not refer to any specific case over the corruption claims.
Goodfriend told the daily Nepszabadsag on Wednesday that the number of people on the U.S. visa ban list could change, adding that Budapest had turned a blind eye to corruption.
“There is corruption (in Hungary), but there are countries where it is more frequent,” Goodfriend said.
“The difference is that elsewhere, the government acknowledges the existence of corruption and steps up against it. They arrest officials, they press charges and convict corrupt persons. We do not see that here.”
Goodfriend said the United States had been in discussions with the Hungarian government for years on tackling corruption, including specifics about the involvement of public officials.
Last month, he urged Hungary to back EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and not to call for autonomy for ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine at this time of instability.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones