Hungary president quits over pardon for deputy who hid boss's sex crimes

Katalin Novak announces her resignation live on TV from the presidential palace of Budapest
Katalin Novak announces her resignation live on TV from the presidential palace of Budapest - SANDOR PALACE/AFP via Getty Images

Hungarian president Katalin Novak has resigned following outrage over a decision to pardon a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home.

Ms Novak, a close ally of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s conservative prime minister, pardoned some two dozen people in April 2023 - among them the former deputy director of the children’s home, who helped his boss hide his crimes.

“I made a mistake... Today is the last day that I address you as a president,” Ms Novak said as she announced her resignation in a speech broadcast on state television.

“I made a decision to grant a pardon last April believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of children whom he had overseen. I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning was suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to paedophilia,” she said.

Ms Novak, a former minister for family policy, became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of president in March 2022.

Since the independent news site 444 revealed the controversial pardon decision last week, the country’s opposition has been calling for Ms Novak’s resignation.

On Friday, a thousand demonstrators rallied at Ms Novak’s office calling for her to quit.

Rare setback for Orban

In a bid to contain the political damage, Mr Orban, whose Fidesz party is beginning the campaign for European Parliament elections in June, submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament late on Thursday depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children.

On Saturday, Mr Orban’s former justice minister Judit Varga, who was expected to lead Fidesz’s list for the elections, and who also signed off on the pardon, said on Facebook she would step down as an MP, taking responsibility for the decision.

The scandal was a rare setback for Mr Orban, who has been in power since 2010, and who faces European parliament elections just as the country emerges from an inflation crisis.

Mr Orban has for years campaigned to protect children from what he has described as LGBTQ activists roaming the nation’s schools. This has been one of several issues over which Mr Orban has clashed with the European Commission.

The head of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, Mate Kocsis, said Ms Novak and Ms Varga made “responsible” decisions which the party would respect.

Fidesz leads opinion polls ahead of the June elections but about a third of voters are undecided.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.