World

Hungarian President resigns over pardon for man convicted of hiding child abuse

Katalin Novak said she would step down after pardoning a man over a string of crimes committed at a state-run children’s home.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak has been in office since 2022 (AP)
Katalin Novak Hungarian President Katalin Novak has been in office since 2022 (AP) (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Hungary’s conservative President has resigned amid a public outcry over a pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case.

The decision by Katalin Novak unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government.

Ms Novak, 46, announced in a televised message on Saturday that she would step down from the presidency, a post she has held since 2022.

Her decision came after more than a week of public outrage after it was revealed that she issued a presidential pardon in April 2023 to a man convicted of hiding a string of child sexual abuses in a state-run children’s home.

A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian President in Budapest (AP)
Hungarian presidential palace A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian President in Budapest (AP) (Denes Erdos/AP)

Ms Novak said on Saturday: “I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people. I made a mistake.”

The resignation came as a rare piece of political turmoil for Hungary’s nationalist governing party Fidesz, which has ruled with a constitutional majority since 2010.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Fidesz has been accused of dismantling democratic institutions and rigging the electoral system and media in its favour.

Ms Novak, a key Orban ally and a former vice president of Fidesz, served as Hungary’s minister for families until her appointment to the presidency.

She has been outspoken in advocating for traditional family values and the protection of children.

Ms Novak was the first female president in Hungary’s history, and the youngest person to ever hold the office.

But her term came to an end after she pardoned a man sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring victims to retract their claims of sexual abuse by the institution’s director, who was sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

Public outcry followed a pardon the President granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case (AP)
Hungary presidential palace Public outcry followed a pardon the President granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case (AP) (Denes Erdos/AP)

She said on Saturday: “Based on the request for clemency and the information available, I decided in April last year in favour of clemency in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him.

“I made a mistake, because the decision to pardon and the lack of justification were apt to raise doubts about zero tolerance for paedophilia. But here, there is not and nor can there be any doubt.”

Also implicated in the pardon was Judit Varga, another key Fidesz figure who endorsed the move as Hungary’s then-minister of justice.

Ms Varga was expected to lead the list of European Parliament candidates from Fidesz when elections are held this summer.

But in a Facebook post on Saturday, Ms Varga announced that she would take political responsibility for endorsing the pardon, and “retire from public life, resigning my seat as a member of parliament and also as leader of the EP list”.