Jobbik MEP Béla “KGB” Kovács to be Charged with Spying on the EU for Russia
Tom Szigeti 2017.12.06.
Today, Hungarian authorities announced criminal charges against Béla Kovács, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) of the far-right Jobbik party. The Hungarian politician, who has for years been under investigation for his ties to Russian intelligence services, has been charged with espionage, financial fraud, and use of false personal documents.
In response, Kovács announced he was leaving Jobbik (which has made an effort to move toward the center in recent years), so that his “baseless” case wouldn’t drag the party down during the upcoming 2018 parliamentary elections.
The right-wing politician has long been known for his close ties to Russia, to the extent that he is referred to as ‘KGBéla’, a reference to the Soviet Union’s feared intelligence service, even by his (now-former) Jobbik colleagues.
Thanks in part to an in-depth investigation by Hungarian news site Index, though, it became clear that Kovács’ ties to Russia were far deeper than a simple cultural affinity rooted in his family background (his biological father, who he never made, was a Soviet officer) and his years of study in the country. Rather, as the article and subsequent official investigations seem to show, Kovács became involved with the KGB itself through his wife, the Russian Svetlana Istoshina, who he married in 1986 (and who has a rathe suspicious background, with two prior marriages in the 1970s and 80s, one of which was supposedly undertaken purely for the purposes of gaining an Austrian passport).
After working in Russia and Japan for decades, Kovács moved back to Hungary in 2003, and quickly became involved with Jobbik, eventually becoming an MEP in 2009. One of the reasons this otherwise unknown figure was welcomed into the then-radically racist and anti-Semitic party was due to his supposed “valuable international connections.”
At this time, Kovács was one of Jobbik’s most generous donors, donating millions of forints to the party. As Index notes, “no one asked where the money came from or what he had done in the past.”
At this point, criminal proceedings against Kovács slowed down significantly, to the extent that it has now taken over three years since allegations first emerged about his pro-Russian espionage activities for the MEP to be charged with a crime. Many commentators have argued that this had more to do with politics than with the law, that keeping Kovács’ case unresolved provided Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party with additional ammunition against Jobbik (you can read an excellent Index article on the ties between Hungary and Russia, as well as on Kovács’ case, here)
This past summer, after a hearing in which the Jobbik politician was questioned by Hungary’s central investigating prosecutor, Richárd Simon, deputy spokesman for the central investigating prosecutor, told journalists that Kovács was accused of having signed “fictitious” internship contracts with four private individuals in 2012-2013 for four-month and six-month periods. The European Parliament transferred 28,000 euros to Kovács in connection with the contracts. According to Simon, the prosecutor’s office had concluded that the interns did not exist.
In a statement, Jobbik welcomed news of the charges, claimed it had been waiting since May of 2014 for the truth to come out. The party also argued that the reason it had taken so long for charges to be filed was that the Fidesz government wanted to keep Kovács in the public’s view in order to damage Jobbik.