April 18, 2018 / 2:24 PM / 7 months ago

Hungarian swimming executive denies murder of business rival

BUDAPEST, April 18 (Reuters) - Hungarian police have arrested an executive at world swimming's governing body for the murder of a media tycoon in Budapest 20 years ago but suspect Tamas Gyarfas is innocent, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Police have never resolved who ordered the murder of Hungarian mogul Janos Fenyo who was sprayed with submachine gun bullets at a stop light in Budapest in February 1998. The killing shocked Hungary, which was emerging from Communist rule.

Gyarfas, 69, has for decades been a driving force behind Hungary's position as a power in world swimming and he is a member of the Lausanne-based International Swimming Federation's (FINA) eight-person executive, according to FINA's website.

In the 1990s, he and Fenyo vied for control of a Hungarian television production company, according to public records.

Police on Tuesday said they had detained and questioned a man they named only as Tamas Gy. They said in a separate statement Gy had been formally arrested.

"Tamas Gyarfas has announced a complaint against the accusation and denies the act attributed to him in the strongest terms," his lawyer Janos Banati said in a statement that confirmed that police arrested Gyarfas.

Police said the man is suspected of instigating the killing along with another man whom they named only as 50-year-old Tamas P. State news agency MTI and Hungarian newspapers identified the second man as Tamas Portik, a businessman sentenced to 13 years in jail for another crime in May last year.

A lawyer for Portik did not return calls requesting comment.

Last year, a Hungarian court sentenced Jozef Rohac of Slovakia to life in jail for killing Fenyo, but at the trial it did not emerge who ordered the killing.

Gyarfas "expressed his astonishment" when he was detained and said he had always been willing to help police and had already told them all he knew about the case, Banati said.

Police suspects that Gyarfas commissioned Portik to murder Fenyo, Banati said, adding that his client can be detained for 72 hours.

Police declined to comment further on Wednesday.

"FINA is aware of the media reports regarding FINA Executive Member, Tamas Gyarfas. We will continue to monitor the situation closely as we await for further developments of the ongoing investigation," FINA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Gyarfas was head of the Hungarian Swimming Association until November 2016 when he resigned under pressure over his leadership from the country's leading swimmers including triple Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu. (Reporting by Sandor Peto and Krisztina Than Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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