Bribe menu shows Hungary has best police force money can buy

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The Independent Online

Whether you are a Budapest motorist pulled over for a spot fine, or one of the city's Mr Bigs needing to oil the wheels of "business", you can feel reasonably confident that you can bribe your way out of difficult situations.

Whether you are a Budapest motorist pulled over for a spot fine, or one of the city's Mr Bigs needing to oil the wheels of "business", you can feel reasonably confident that you can bribe your way out of difficult situations.

Most police officers in Hungary have their price, and corruption is institutionalised through the ranks from top to bottom. But the question is: what is your officer's price and how do you find it out?

Helpfully, a precise price list of bribes has been published, extending from the officer on the beat, to ministry officials. A favour from a police chief with ministry contacts, costs 15 million forints (£35,000), but a nod and a wink from a lower- ranking officer or clerk can be had for a mere 25,000 forints (£58), the equivalent of two weeks' salary for some junior officers.

Although the price list will doubtless prove useful for those businessmen - from east and west - who help keep the underground economy thriving, its intention is to help clamp down on criminality by exposing the endemic corruption. The survey was done by the Hungarian research institute, the Association of Law Enforcement Researchers.

The study, presented at an official conference in Budapest attended by Hungary's interior minister, Sandor Pinter, says the general consensus that corruption is widespread is dangerous, because that will affect even honest police officers.

Bribery is not a popular topic of discussion within the police. The survey was originally intended to canvass the views of 300 officers. But only 150 responded, simply because many were not willing to give their views.

Those who did talk described a carefully graded scale of size of bribe in relation to rank and prestige. In answer to the question of how much money is required to bribe any given officer, the survey reported that "the majority had a precise idea of who costs how much".

The survey also noted that 57 per cent of respondents believed the police leadership to be morally and professionally incapable of co-ordinating an effective anti-corruption drive. Only 5 per cent believed it could.

Mr Pinter said Hungary had too many laws governing the fight against corruption, but not enough appropriate legislation.

Still, senior officers are making headway in their attempt to clean up the force. Last November, Hungary's national police commander, Peter Orban, dismissed 260 officers, memorably describing his dumped former colleagues as "suspicious characters and alcoholics".

Budapest cynics wondered how such questionable types had managed to find posts in the police in the first place.

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