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.
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.