Hungarian official sacked from Orban's office on bribery allegations

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's office has fired an employee and is co-operating with a related investigation into allegations of bribery, it said on Monday after local media reported that a senior official had been accused of taking bribes.

The European Union has long accused Hungary of misappropriating funds and threatened to cut funding to the country unless it takes concrete steps to curb corruption.

The official, whose name was not released, held the rank of department head and worked on EU-funded projects, website reported.

"We have terminated the employment of the only employee of the Prime Minister's Office involved and we are fully co-operating with authorities in their investigation," the government spokesman's office said in an emailed reply.

It said the procedure was a good example of what it called an effective system of criminal controls safeguarding Hungarian and EU funds.

It did not elaborate further on the rank of the official involved or his portfolio. Hungarian prosecutors said an investigation was under way into bribery and other offences involving 20 suspects so far.

Last month prosecutors said the suspected fraud involved projects worth a combined 10 billion forints ($27.5 million) financed in part by the Hungarian budget and EU funds.

Prosecutors declined to give further details on Monday.

In February, Reuters reported that the European Commission had told Hungary to reform its public procurement laws to curb systemic fraud before billions of euros from the bloc's 750 billion euro RRF fund were made available to it.

Last month the Ministry of Finance said three of its employees working on fund applications were arrested during the raids and they were suspended from their jobs until the end of the investigation.

The European Commission sent a formal letter to Hungary late last month in the first step of a new move against what it says is Orban dismantling democratic checks and balances. That process could also freeze funds for Hungary over corruption risks.

($1 = 363.76 forints)

(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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