Euronews new owner Alpac Capital linked to Hungarian Prime Minister’s adviser

A majority stake in the Euronews media network is being sold to a company run by the son of a key adviser to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been widely criticized as an enemy of press freedom.

Euronews announced on December 17 that the Portuguese investment company Alpac Capital, whose CEO, Pedro Vargas David, is well connected in Hungary and is the son of Orban’s adviser Mario David, will buy 88% of the shares of the Egyptian magnate Naguib Sawiris.

In recent years, Euronews has seen its revenues fall and has been subsidized by the European Commission.

The purchase price was not disclosed, but the planned capital raise could further increase Portuguese ownership of the struggling channel, which offers content in 15 languages ​​and reaches around 145 million people.

RFE/RL has contacted Pedro Vargas David with questions about the acquisition of Euronews but has not yet received a response.

Under Orban, Hungary was reprimand by rights groups for having a poor record on media freedom, while being accused of influencing media regulators, targeting media outlets and journalists who criticized his government, and providing public funds to pro-government media.

In 2010, when Orban returned to the post of prime minister for the second time, Hungary was ranked 23rd on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom list. In 2021, he had slipped to 92nd place.

Mario David, the father of the CEO of Alpac Capital, is a right-wing Portuguese politician, former member of the European Parliament and current adviser to Orban on European Union issues. He was also vice-president of the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest party in the European Parliament.

According to a listing on the site of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office, Mario David has a contract until the end of 2021 and advises Orban for free.

RFE/RL has contacted the Prime Minister’s office about Mario David’s relationship with Orban but has not yet received a response.

Orban and Mario David are said to have known each other since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in April 2016 Orban called Mario David a “true friend” when he presented him with the Middle Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit in Lisbon. The Portuguese politician received the award for “supporting Hungarian interests”.

When Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited Budapest in the summer of 2020, Mario David attended the meeting as part of the Hungarian delegation, Portuguese online publication Observador reported.

Pedro Vargas David, who was educated at Harvard and worked for management consultancy McKinsey & Company, has many ties to Hungary and, according to a Hungarian society profile Index magazine lived in Budapest in 2019.

Pedro Vargas David founded a joint investment fund in 2017 with EXIM, the official Hungarian export credit agency. He also has a 5.25% stake and a seat on the board of 4iG, a Hungarian communications giant that has won numerous government contracts in the IT sector and whose owner, Gellert Jaszai, is considered well-connected. in Orbán.

“European CNN”

Euronews was founded in 1990 with the aim of becoming the “European CNN” and was initially in the hands of a consortium of European public broadcasters.

In 2015, the Egyptian tycoon Sawiris became the main owner through the Luxembourg company Media Globe Networks. NBC News, which is owned by US telecommunications conglomerate Comcast, sold its 25% stake in Euronews to Sawiris in 2020.

After the sale to Alpac Capital, the remaining 12% of Euronews will remain in the hands of a consortium of public television and local authorities.

For years, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has subsidized Euronews with large sums.

Politics reported that in 2019 the European Court of Auditors expressed concern that between 2014 and 2018 Euronews relied on 122 million euros ($138 million) in funding from the European Commission , or about a third of the company’s annual turnover.

A spokesperson for the European Commission, who wished to remain anonymous, told RFE/RL that a decision was taken in March to renew the partnership agreement with Euronews.

The contract, signed in July, runs until 2023 and “does not contain direct funding obligations, but allows the commission to sign specific contracts on funding,” the spokesperson said.

According to auditors in 2019, the European Commission, which has been criticized in the past for taking little action to tackle press freedom abuses, should put in place a mechanism to check that Euronews “meets its commitments in matters of editorial impartiality”.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the commission spokesperson did not comment on the change in ownership, saying Euronews is a private company and the European Commission has no stake in the channel, and that it has no role in making financial, managerial or personnel decisions. the decisions.

“That said, we are monitoring developments closely to ensure that any changes in the company’s management or editorial workflows do not affect our contractual arrangements,” the commission spokesperson said.

Laura T. Thrasher