A Russian spy allegedly found in Jobbik’s European parliamentary delegation

It was about a month ago that I wrote a post on “Jobbik and the Russian connection: The role of Béla Kovács.” I suggest taking a look at that piece by way of background to today’s post. I ended it with the following sentence: “I assume that, given his background, the Hungarian national security office is keeping an eye on Kovács.” Well, as it turned out, only a few days before I wrote this sentence the office turned to Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt to instigate proceedings against Kovács on charges of espionage for Russia. But being an ardent supporter of Russia in the European parliament where he represented Jobbik does not necessarily mean that he was a spy. In fact, the more I read about the case the less I think that Kovács is guilty of the crime he is charged with.

As usual, Fidesz’s timing is impeccable. As we all know, the European parliamentary election will be held on May 25, and Jobbik is positioned to do extremely well at the polls. But Magyar Nemzet‘s revelation of the espionage charge may siphon off some Jobbik support.

It seems that the Fidesz top brass has known for months that the national security office was looking into Béla Kovács’s activities in Brussels. Several government actions support this hypothesis. For instance, last fall there was a belated addition to the new Criminal Code that extended the scope of espionage to include EU institutions. Prior to that, the charge of espionage could be leveled only against those who committed such a crime either against Hungary or NATO. As of January 1, if Kovács spied on the European Union he could be sentenced to a jail term of between two and eight years. One can’t help thinking that this change in the Criminal Code was not a coincidence.

More recently, on May 11, Peter Polt asked the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to revoke Kovács’s parliamentary immunity. Péter Polt should have known that the current parliamentary session had already ended and that there will be no meeting of the European Parliament between now and May 25, the day of the election. Therefore, Kovács’s case couldn’t be investigated by the European Union’s legal affairs committee and voted on by the members of the parliament before the election.

Moreover, Fidesz was well apprised of what was going on in the prosecutor’s office. On May 11, the same day Polt wrote to Schulz, Antal Rogán referred to a Jobbik MEP “who spends more time in Russia than in Budapest or in Brussels.” As usual, Fidesz and the prosecutor’s office worked hand in hand.

Kovács himself made no secret of his Russian sympathies. In fact, he made several speeches in the parliament scolding the European Union for not wanting to have closer relations with Russia and for not embracing Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union. He repeatedly urged closer cooperation with Russia, which led his colleagues in Brussels to call him “the Russian lobbyist.” Such open crusading would be strange behavior from a cloak-and-dagger spy.

Béla Kovács who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament Source jobbik18.hu

Béla Kovács, who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament
Source: jobbik18.hu

It would also be utterly foolish of a Russian spy to use Russian citizens as parliamentary aides, but this is exactly what he did when he hired two Russian youngsters to work for him. Apparently, they were  rarely seen but received a monthly salary of 1,400 euros. One of them was a nephew of his wife who is a Russian-Austrian citizen.

The Orbán government has a penchant for using the national security office for political purposes. Let us not forget the charges of espionage leveled against Lajos Galambos, former head of the national security office, and György Szilvásy, minister in charge of the secret service. We know very little about the exact charges because the proceedings were held in camera and were declared to be a state secret. But what we learned about them unofficially indicates that the charges were trumped up. A Népszabadság editorial put it this way: “We will never learn the truth about Béla Kovács. But we know all about the methods of Fidesz.” They seize every opportunity without a moment’s hesitation and use the theoretically neutral police, secret service, and prosecutor’s office. The “cases” are lined up, waiting for an order from above: we now want a picture of the hooded Zsolt Molnár or some real estate fraudster. “Oh, espionage and not for the United States but Russia? Too bad, but it will do.” Of course, Kovács still might be a spy, but “it is more and more difficult to believe the national shepherd when he cries wolf.”

Béla Kovács naturally denies the charges: “I have never been a member of any secret service, Hungarian or foreign. I never cooperated with them, nor have there been attempts to recruit me on their part.” By now, all kinds of stories are circulating, including that his Russian-born wife, Svetlana Istoshin, worked for the KGB. Something he also denies.

Fidesz naturally cast a wide net. The parliamentary committee on national security will be convened and, according to the chairman, the socialist Zsolt Molnár, they want to question Gábor Vona as well.

How much this will hurt Jobbik’s chances at the polls no one knows. Index yesterday ran an article with the title “Kágébéla might be Jobbik’s undoing.” The “Kágébéla” of course refers to his alleged ties with the KGB. Or at least this is what some of his colleagues in the party called him. In Jobbik he was mostly valued for the amount of money he managed to get for the party. Whether this money came from Russia or not, we have no idea. Without a doubt, there are many questions concerning Kovács’s past, but I am not at all sure that spying is one of his sins.

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32 comments

  1. Dog eat dog. I have no sympathy for any Jobbik politicians and would have less sympathy for any Fidesz politicians. Fidesz plays its game, Jobbik lies his way. I think the gloves are off between the two parties, and I just enjoy watching how will they get at each other’s throat at this time.

  2. With sufficient interrogation I am confident Kovas will confess he is a spy. Eva you forget the most clever spies pretend to be utterly foolish, who would suspect such an idiot Jobbik to have the skills of James Bond after all. In truth I agree with Some1 it is very enjoyable to watch the Jobbik and Fidesz roll in the dirt. But please leave Vice President Biden out of this, ok.

  3. I think it’s too late for Fidesz, it’s probably like the corruption cases about Fidesz. Such stories might hurt the already losing party, but voters will ignore it if they really are enthusiastic about a party.

    MSZP was punished for its corruption, but voters just didn’t care about Fidesz’ corruption which was many orders of magnitude greater. I guess they will not care too much about Jobbik’s alleged spy case either, as Jobbik voters are already huge supporters of Russia (although this has been purposefully engineered by the top brass of Jobbik, which is paid by Russia).

    Blogs, comment sections have been already full of commenters denouncing the West and defending Russia in every way they can (and it is obvious that these are Jobbik supporters — although Russia is known to pay such internet activists in Russia so they can do so in Hungary too). Bottom line: jobbikniks just love Russia, the last power which dares to stand up to the hated West and US (ie cabal of capitalist Jews), supporting Russia is no crime in their eyes.

    Kovacs was probably not a traditional spy, as it’s questionable what kind of non-public information he could possibly obtain from the already very transparent EU institutions.

    But almost certainly he was and is a paid representative, an activist within the EU and Hungary operating on behalf of certain Russian agencies, when such Russian agencies are openly plotting to hurt and defeat the EU and the West as such (not that it is too difficult a task given how divided and dependent the EU is).

  4. Istvan: I would be totally surprised if Kovacs confessed.

    In the US there is even death penalty, but certainly a couple of decades is a realistic outcome so the threat is real, there is incentive (perhaps even too much) to confess.

    2-8 years means perhaps 3-4 years at best in practice, given that the information he could have obtained is of questionable importance. Nobody will confess under such circumstances. The guy spent 17 years in Russia (or working for Russians as his resume is a bit unclear), I am sure he is a rather well-trained, well-selected guy, and those are usually not the confessing types. There are no enhanced interrogation methods in Hungary (only if you are a Roma).

  5. Oh please folks, this is nothing but ‘show and tell’.

    If people were left a few moments of peace they might cotton on to the real issues–Russian plans to move ever westward; and the Paks conspiracy to plant an (exploding?) nuclear reactor in the heart of Europe.

  6. I would be surprised if procedures would start against Kovács. As long as Orbán is the boss, who voted for former skinhead Sneider as vice-speaker for parliament I do not think that Fidesz will have a serious conflict with its stepchild Jobbik.

  7. Kovacs probably did not commit spying.

    He allegedly committed the crime of “hazaárulás” or betrayal of the homeland (section 258 of the Criminal Code).

    This felony includes the maintaining of a contact with a foreign government or organization in order to violate the constitutional order or the independence of Hungary (punishable by 5-15 years of imprisonment – without aggravating circumstances).

  8. Fidesz Penal Code

    “261. § (1) Aki idegen hatalom vagy idegen szervezet részére Magyarország ellen hírszerző tevékenységet folytat, bűntett miatt két évtől nyolc évig terjedő szabadságvesztéssel büntetendő.”

    Can this be interpreted that any journalist, or we, commentators on this blog, who “gather information” about Hungary can be jailed from 2 to 8 years?

  9. @tappanch

    Same as in the US. Of course, it can be interpreted. It depends on the prosecution.

    At least it’s only eight years tops (and as a first time offender you probably won’t get the maximum), whereas in the US it’s a tiny bit more, plus you also go broke financially for your remaining life. You can do your googling about the ongoing or recently closed cases.

    And at the UK is probably worse, given it does not have the First Amendment.

    But hey, Hungary (or Russia, Kazakhstan, Belorussia, Turkey etc.) only does what the Westerners do anyway, actually the sentences are probably shorter and the government’s power is weaker, everything is kinda Gulash here. Without irony people may have a bigger freedom in Hungary than in the US or in the UK because the potential danger is much smaller in absolute terms.

  10. “I think it’s too late for Fidesz,….”

    Problem for the regime is that Jobbik and Fidesz are pretty much interchangeable in terms of their hatreds and outside Budapest, even in terms of their personnel and support base.

    The typical Fidesz supporter and politician shares the typical Jobbik supporter’s and politician’s hatred of the Jews, the Roma, the EU and foreigners in general. The only difference is that the typical Fidesz apparachik and supporter is much older that their typical Jobbik counterpart- the Orban *Peace* March looked more like a National Pensioners’ Convention rather than a lively and vibrant political demo.

    So “don’t vote for Jobbik, they are too close chums of the Russkies” ain’t going to work when Orban himself has prostituted himself in front of Putin.

  11. I agree with Some1 – this is part of a power-play.
    Actually I see it as a warning, before they may go further.

    My guess that Jobbik is a much more suitable alternative to Putin as Orbán’s Fidesz:

    -They could be bought for less – not yet in power, not really around the bounty.
    – They’re not known from previous anti Soviet/Russian sentiments, easier to maintain relations.
    – Vona hasn’t yet shown those megalomaniac signs what dear Viktor so well known of, he could be easier to deal with, less likely to bite the master in the ass.
    – They could be obliged to be grateful to Putin – will do what he wants, while Orbán thinks, he is equal, or even more.
    – Probably they would sell Hungary cheaper than Orbán, due to all of the above.

    So far they didn’t presented real danger to Fidesz, – let them do their dirty work, let them play with paramilitary groups freely, keeping the “unfitting” undesirables at bay, but their recent gain started to present an alternative, particularly since the “smoother” line been introduced. Whit help from Russia already in four years time Jobbik going to be a serious contender for taking over Hungary for good, and this is an option couldn’t be taken lightly, this is a possibility Viktor just couldn’t risk let it happen.

    So, I think if you look at it from here, the whole picture start to get another lighting, it started to making more sense to me anyway.

  12. Not too much OT:

    What one of Orbán’s followers wrote on politics.hu:
    http://www.politics.hu/20140516/hungary-can-send-bills-for-eu-funds-says-pm-office/#comment-1389951843

    “Money is really the only reason why Hungary should be in the EU at all. Well, at least for the time being. Say if the idea of “United States of Europe” becomes a significant danger to Hungary’s statehood then Hungary will need to leave the EU in no time at all. Until then we are going to make the most of it, that is Hungary tries to obtain as much as money as possible and tries to give up/provide as little as possible in return.
    Yeah, I’ve just described how “a rational economic agent in the market” behaves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R

    In other words the right thing is if Hungary is purely utilitarian regarding the EU.

    His Excellency Mr. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s popular and charismatic prime minister explicitly stated in his inauguration speech that “federalist Europe” an extremist idea and Hungary fights extremism.”

    And if it brings in more money to the Fidesz mafia, then of course Hungary should join Putin’s Eurasian Union …

    Ain’t that funny in a way?

  13. @Troppauer

    “18 U.S. Code Chapter 37 – Espionage” is very clear that you have to transmit DEFENSE (military) information or document to become a spy.

    The Fidesz Penal Code 261. § (1) labels anyone a criminal who is a hírszerző (gatherer of information) for a foreign power or organization.

  14. Fidesz is open to a ‘grand-coalition’ with MSZP says Zoltan Lomnici, jr, lawyer of CÖF, the civil society front organization of Fidesz.

    Not that this was ever a question, really.

    MSZP would be open to anything now that the coffers are empty.

    It is terrible to be on the losing side for years on end (especially for younger politicians who are extremely frustrated to have bet on the wrong horse, i.e. MSZP instead of Fidesz back when they started their careers), so I guess their price would be rather cheap (MSZP’s price always is).

    http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/16/a_bkemenetesek_szerint_kormanykoaliciora_lehet_lepni_az_mszp-vel/

  15. This issue in the United States is even more complex than Tappanch presents it. Because in the USA we also have the Foreign Agents Registration Act (22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.) passed in 1938 requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a “political or quasi-political capacity” disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate “evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons.” The law is administered by the FARA Registration Unit of the Counterespionage Section (CES) in the National Security Division (NSD) of the United States Department of Justice.

    So a spy or operative can also be arrested under this Act in the USA, several Chinese agents have in the recent past been deported using FARA because they did not register. While I was in the military I was given a list of registered agents for foreign powers living near where I was based for whom I was required to notify military intelligence if any attempted contact was made by these people. Failure to do so could have resulted in charges brought against me under the military code of Justice. The situation is of course even more complex for US forces stationed in Europe, but that is all together a different issue.

  16. OT but fascinating. It is about an employee of one of the ministries who is barely literate and who was caught plagiarizing earlier when she applied for a job as a school principal. Now, she is trying again. It looks as if she again copied others’ applications and the sentences she herself wrote are close to incomprehensible.

    http://atlatszooktatas.blog.hu/2014/05/07/ujra_schmittelt_palyazattal_probalkozik_a_tavaly_a_kolcseyben_sikertelen_jelolt

    And here is a comment on the affair from HVG:

    http://hvg.hu/velemeny.nyuzsog/20140516_Seggen_csuszik_az_igazgato#rss

  17. May 17, 2014 at 9:11 am
    OT but fascinating. It is about an employee of one of the ministries who is barely literate and who was caught plagiarizing earlier when she applied for a job as a school principal.
    _________

    It looks to me that the parts we believe she did not plagiarize were taken from English or German online sources and put into Google Translate. The semantics and the missing accents make me believe that.
    At any case, is she waits long enough she can open one of Orban’s new stadiums, just like Schmitt did. There is no such thing as failure as long as a Fidesz buddy.

  18. Thank you for the link to the HVG. Hilarious if it would not be so sad to know that probably an entire generation will be taught by ignoramuses.

  19. Please bear with me. This is most likely not going to be the final shape of Hungarian Spectrum. I’m still searching for a theme with quote function.

  20. At the moment I’m thoroughly frustrated.It turned out that only certain themes have quoting abilities. I even managed to find a wordpress list of themes that was supposed to have this feature. It took me a long time to find one from the list that wasn’t too bad. Bingo, I thought. Well, wordpress lied, The theme “Skeptical” has no quote function.

    In addition, at the end of comments now we have superfluous repeated widgets which are already in the sidebar. And as of now I still don’t have any idea how to remove them.

    So, all that for nothing! Sorry about that.

  21. Well, the look is not too bad – but the list of recent comments is much too short!

    I don’t know much about wordpress, sorry, but that list should be long enough so one doesn’t miss too many recent comments.

    But it’s up to you, Eva – or is there anyone her who knows more about those “themes” and can help?

  22. Wolfi, the most that can be shown is 15. It was also 15 on the old theme. But at least I managed to remove the junk from the end of the comments. I will write to WordPress and will ask them point blank whether or not they removed these features completely, from all themes. It would be nice to receive a straight answer.

  23. Yes, now I see it’s the same number of comments – just differently arranged. But I don’t see any numbers for the comments, just the author and the timestamp.

    Now back to Hungary:

    http://pusztaranger.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/eu-flagge-vom-ungarischen-parlament-entfernt/

    Pusztaranger (the German language site) reports that the EU flag that was taken away from parliament by Jobbiks will not be shown in the new parliament session – “there is no legal requirement for that” ???

    But the Székler flag will be shown …

  24. Fidesz claiming Russian spy? Search for that monster grain of salt–there’s more here to meet the eye. If the Fideszers offer this anti-Russian piece it is only to show that they are vigilant in protecting the homeland, even against Russia. Not so. This is classic mis-direction.

    Who’s to know what greater figure(s)–should this Russian-spy-business not be put to rest–will be discovered to be in the service of the great bear?

  25. Wolfi: Pusztaranger (the German language site) reports that the EU flag that was taken away from parliament by Jobbiks will not be shown in the new parliament session – “there is no legal requirement for that”

    That seems to be the case. According to a young conservative who appeared on ATV’s “A tét” apparently checked the flag’s presence on different parliament buildings and the custom varies. According to him, the older members use it more than the new ones. Apparently, the Hungarian law doesn’t specify the parliament building. So, Kövér is very happy that he doesn’t have to use it.

    I think E14 members are offering an amendment to the law. Just wait until the majority will vote it down.

  26. Petofi says:
    “If the Fideszers offer this anti-Russian piece it is only to show that they are vigilant in protecting the homeland, even against Russia. Not so. This is classic mis-direction.”

    Nearly so.
    In my opinion they’re vigilantly protecting their own Russian interest, their own possibility to sell their homeland to the Russians, before someone else – Jobbik – may grab this chance.
    Remember, there is no political-, moral- or any other principles involved here, only interest. It is figh over the biggest chunk of bakhseesh, nothing to do with homeland or national interest.

    Principles and straight spine for loosers as Gyurcsány, the “winners” don’t bother with such overly useless commodities as honor and patriotism, just to name a few.
    No dear. They’re going for the dough, hard an merciless, the hell with those outdated ideas…

    But we love them soooo much anyway, aren’t we?

  27. Any nationalist thinking Hungarian will jump to stamp ANY opposition as traitor or spy.

    When you actually come across a real potential spy you just cant take the accusation seriously. Particularly when Fidesz is becoming very paranoid about Jobbik.

    As the past court action indicates 99% of Fidesz accusations have proved to be legally drummed up charges…

    As to what happens behind the doors of the official government secret agency, you’ll never know for sure.

    It’s a sure way Fidesz uses to entrap anyone who they deem a political threat.

    God help even anyone who becomes too friendly even with the USA !!!

    For Orban the word Friend and Enemy is SYNONYMOUS… in case the friendship is not from his chummy college days….

  28. Actually as you write; this is really obvious thing that there are some spies just some people and maybe sides dont want to believe this. But everybody knows that Russia and Hungarian parliamentary’s members have some appointment.Also few months ago they sign an agreement about nuclear power plant. All of us know that it is really dangerous and also need taking risk. I hope Everyone can notice immediately it and they inhibit it.

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