Béla Kovács, the far-right EU parliamentarian accused of espionage, said this week that a report into his wife's habit of collecting husbands — and nationalities — had turned their lives "into a spy movie script".
It certainly reads like one.
The man reportedly known as K.G.Béla to colleagues in Hungary's Jobbik party has consistently denied spying for Russia since the Hungarian government charged him with treason in May. However the revelation that his Russian wife Svetlana Istoshina is married to several influential figures including a Japanese nuclear physicist and an Austrian career criminal with links to the Soviet secret services, suggests that she was a KGB running agent, who caught Kovács in a "honey trap" for almost three decades.
When index.hu journalist András Dezso confronted him with Japanese newspaper archival evidence of his wife's marriage to Masanori Omiya, Kovács denied all knowledge of her secret life. "I think I have as many questions for her as you do," he said, insisting that he has never worked for any intelligence agency.
Kovács has never made a secret of his Russian sympathies, habitually calling for closer EU-Russian relations in his speeches at the European Parliament, where he is one of three Jobbik members (MEPs). He employs two Russians as interns, one of them his wife's nephew. President Vladimir Putin even invited him to serve as an election monitor for the dubious Crimea referendum in March.
There is growing evidence that Putin has backed Jobbik from its infancy, as the Russian leader seeks to undermine the EU — its main regional rival — with the help of far-right parties in former socialist states. One former member of the Hungarian national security committee has called Jobbik "a phony nationalist party that merely serves Russian interests."
Péter Krekó, the director at the Political Capital Institute, wrote a report on Putin's mission to increase Russian influence via the European far right in 2009, and is about to release another on its far-reaching social media campaign. "Russia's influence over the far right and far left in Europe has become stronger following the Ukrainian crisis. There have been four or five votes in the European Parliament voting against the association agreement with Ukraine," Krekó said, referring to the trade pact whose rejection by former Ukrainian president and Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych precipitated the Maidan uprising.
Kovács always had an emotional bond to Russia. He was reportedly born the illegitimate son of a Soviet soldier stationed in Hungary in 1960, and later adopted by Béla Kovács Sr and his wife. His adoptive father worked as a caretaker for the Hungarian diplomatic corps and was posted to the Hungarian embassy in Tokyo in the 1970s, bringing the teenage Kovács over to Japan in 1976.
According to Kovács, he and Istoshina met on a boat, while his father says he recalls them meeting at Sophia University in Tokyo. What he did not know at that time was that she had already been married to Omiya for four years. Istoshina was born to an average Moscow family and had met Omiya at the elite Moscow Institute for International Relations. Her marriage to the nuclear physicist was the legal basis of her Japanese citizenship.
Kovács's father told index.hu that Ishotina was a KGB courier, and that a Hungarian intelligence officer had confirmed this to him in 1980.
Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, who was a KGB leader in Tokyo from 1980-85, told Dezso that the habit of securing foreign papers and traveling on them is the classic behaviour of a "running agent". Japan was one of the most important centers of such activities for the Soviets. The Japanese secret service was known to be one of the world's most porous after the Second World War, and was comprehensively infiltrated by the Soviets, he added. At at this time Soviet citizens could not travel abroad without the permission of the KGB or the Main Intelligence Directorate GRU, Preobrazhenskiy notes.
Kovács and his spouse moved to Vienna in 1980, a city which headquarters many major international organisations. Istoshina managed to obtain Austrian citizenship through a marriage to an underworld figure in 1986, while still living with Kovács. The couple then moved to Budapest in 2003.
Kovács joined the nascent far-right party Jobbik in 2005 and rapidly rose up through the party ranks, despite having no previous connections with Hungarian nationalists. At the time of Jobbik's first major international success in the European Parliamentary elections of 2009, Kovács had become a celebrated fundraiser within Jobbik, and was given control of the far-right party's finances. He also organized party leader Gábor Vona's trips to Moscow, where they met far-right Kremlin ideologues such as Konstantin Malofeev and Aleksandr Dugin.
In 2010 he was chosen to replace a Jobbik MEP in Brussels. By then he had become highly valued within Jobbik for the amount of funding he had raised for the party.
Krekó recalled: "Even Jobbik's leader Gábor Vona has admitted on television that one of the reasons for his rapid rise was that he could put money into the party when they really lacked finances. Now they are a middle class party and also get party state funding, but then it was important. We didn't know where it came from but the more we know about Béla Kovács, the more likely it seems that the money came from Russia."
Kovács's own finances took a huge upswing too: at the time of his appointment he had been living in a small flat in downtown Budapest, but within two years had upgraded to a villa in scenic northern Hungary. His networking and language skills were valuable too. A polyglot - he speaks Hungarian, Russian, English, German, French, Polish and Japanese - Kovács established connections with leading far right figures Europe-wide, even masterminding the foundation of the Alliance of European National Movements.
Observers in Hungary suspect that its ruling party Fidesz has allowed the new allegations to come to light ahead of next month's local election, in order to hurt Jobbik's chances at the polls. A last-minute addition to the new Criminal Code that extends the scope of espionage to include EU institutions also seems strangely convenient for the ruling party. "It was obviously designed for that," Krekó said.
Kovács is awaiting trial on suspicion of "betrayal of the homeland," an offence which includes "maintaining a contact with a foreign government or organization in order to violate the constitutional order or the independence of Hungary." It is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment. Jobbik deputy leader Elod Novák issued a statement insisting that "even if the story is true, he's just an innocent victim in this case."
Kovács meanwhile took to his Facebook page to address the reports on Tuesday evening, saying this "information is disinformation, which originates from the secret services," and calling the report "the Hungarian version of The Hound of the Baskervilles."
Krekó concluded: "I am pretty sure that KGBéla is not the only player. There are other Béla Kovács around, maybe not so obvious, or with this story like an action movie, but I think this is not just one isolated case."
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