BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary's populist prime minister on Friday lashed out against billionaire financier George Soros, claiming he and groups backed by him want to secretly influence the country's politics.
In his annual state of the nation speech, Viktor Orban said groups partly funded by Soros, who was born in Hungary, needed to be made transparent and identifiable.
"Large-bodied predators are swimming here in the waters. This is the trans-border empire of George Soros, with tons of money and international heavy artillery," said Orban, who received a Soros-funded scholarship as Hungary was transitioning from communism to democracy in the late 1980s.
"It is causing trouble ... that they are trying secretly and with foreign money to influence Hungarian politics," Orban said.
He did not cite evidence backing his claims, and did not identify the groups he mentioned. Government officials had earlier taken aim at corruption watchdog Transparency International and rights groups like the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
In 2014, Orban ordered a crackdown on civic groups supported in part by Norway, but extensive investigations and audits did not uncover any financial irregularities of note.
In an email to The Associated Press, a Soros representative said they were "proud to support Hungarians who insist on having a voice in their democracy."
"The Open Society Foundations for over 30 years have supported civil society groups in Hungary who are addressing profound problems in education, health care, media freedom and corruption," said Laura Silber, the organization's chief communications officer. "Any attacks on this work and those groups are solely an attempt to deflect attention from government inability to address these issues."
Orban also claimed that Soros' organizations were still working on bringing hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe, contrary to the wishes of Hungarians and their government.
Orban has been outspoken about his strong opposition to taking in refugees and migrants, and in 2015 ordered fences built on Hungary's southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop the migrant flow.
On Friday, he reiterated a government plan to keep migrants in border camps built from shipping containers while their asylum applications are being processed.
The proposal drew strong criticism from local and international rights groups, which said it was clearly against EU law and the United Nations Refugee Convention.
Amnesty International said the plan was "yet another disturbing move in a pattern of demonizing" refugees.
"Rounding up all men, women and children seeking asylum and detaining them months on end in container camps is a new low in Hungary's race to the bottom on asylum seekers and refugees," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe.
Orban also painted a bleak picture of Western Europe, saying its "future is casting a long and dark shadow on its present."
He joked that Hungary was ready to take in Western Europeans, whom he said are suffering from globalization's effects.
"Naturally, we will take in the real refugees," Orban said to laughter and loud applause. "The panicked German, Dutch, French and Italian politicians and journalists, Christians forced to leave their countries who want to find here the Europe they lost at home."
Orban, who returned to power in 2010, will seek another four-year term in April 2018.