Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes part in a European People Party (EPP) summit in St Julian's, Malta, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi(reuters_tickers)
By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday a Budapest university founded by financier George Soros had "cheated" in awarding its diplomas and violated Hungarian regulations.
Orban, outspoken critic of liberal civil organisations funded by Soros, said the college's fate depended now on talks between Hungary and the United States.
The Central European University (CEU) said it operated lawfully and was accredited to award Hungarian and U.S. degrees.
"The CEU utterly rejects the Prime Minister of Hungary's false allegations that CEU is 'cheating'," CEU said in a statement. "We have been lawful partners in Hungarian higher education for 25 years and any statement to the contrary is false."
In an interview on state radio, Orban said the CEU violated rules by issuing diplomas recognised both in Hungary and the U.S. as the university operates exclusively in Hungary and has no campus in the United States.
"Hungary is a sovereign country, it supports knowledge in all cases but does not tolerate cheating," Orban said. "Not even a billionaire can stand above the law, therefore this university must also obey the law," he added.
A year before 2018 elections, Orban has raised the stakes in his fight against civil organisations funded by U.S. financier and philanthropist Soros.
Earlier this week, his government submitted a bill to parliament to regulate foreign universities, which could force the CEU founded by Soros in 1991 out of the country.
Orban said the government would hold negotiations with the U.S. administration about the future of CEU, but there was no need for talks with the university itself.
CEU has said the bill proposed this week was unacceptable and that it threatened academic freedom in Hungary.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Ralph Boulton)