Our man in Moscow: Szilárd Kiss

The big news in Hungary is still the financial collapse of the Quaestor Group, which may involve the loss of 150-200 billion forints to those who used the companies’ services. The consequences of the bankruptcy might be far-reaching, including a loss of trust in Hungary’s financial institutions.

The more we hear about the details of Quaestor’s ventures the clearer it is that the Hungarian government was heavily involved in the business affairs of Csaba Tarsoly, the CEO of the firm. As the story unfolds, it looks as if two ministries in particular are implicated: the ministry of foreign affairs and trade and the ministry of agriculture. A closer look at the cast of characters reveals that there was one man who had a close working relationship with Tarsoly as well as the two ministers: Szilárd Kiss. Commonly described as an adventurer of dubious reputation, Kiss may have posed, and in fact still may pose, a national security threat to the country.

I wrote about Szilárd Kiss once, but here I would like to say a few words about the likely relationships between Kiss and Csaba Tarsoly; Péter Szijjártó, minister of foreign affairs and trade; and Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture. Today, a month after I wrote a post on Kiss, I believe that he had a much more important role to play in Viktor Orbán’s “eastern opening” than I suspected earlier.

As we know, Kiss has been living in Russia at least since 1990, where he moved in the hope of exploiting business opportunities. His specialty was agricultural products. Eventually, he worked as an unofficial lobbyist for Hungarians who wanted to do business in Russia. But how did Péter Szijjártó and Sándor Fazekas come to know Kiss? I suspect through Csaba Tarsoly, whom Kiss most likely tried to entice into some Russian business venture. Their relationship goes back to 2002 and 2003, way before Viktor Orbán ever dreamed of any “eastern opening.” Szilárd Kiss could be persuasive. As early as 2003 he was named to the board of Quaestor Financial Consulting. Three years later, in 2006, he became a board member and part owner of Quaestor Energetics. He resigned both positions in April 2011 when he became a civil servant.

After the 2010 Fidesz victory and the announcement of the “eastern opening,” Szilárd Kiss’s time arrived. It must have been Tarsoly who called the attention of Péter Szijjártó, an old friend from Győr and the key person in the new foreign policy introduced and directed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to Szilárd Kiss, who allegedly had important connections in Russia with both businessmen and officials in the ministry of agriculture. Although at present Sándor Fazekas doesn’t want to remember anything about Szilárd Kiss, it had to have been the ministry of agriculture that named him agricultural attaché in the Hungarian Embassy in Moscow.

Szilárd Kiss / válasz.hu

Szilárd Kiss / válasz.hu

István Íjgyártó, the Hungarian ambassador to Russia between 2010 and 2014, knew about Kiss’s shady business dealings and even his brush with the law. And in September 2013 Kiss was about to be dismissed from his diplomatic post. What was behind this sudden decision when apparently both Fazekas and Szijjártó were satisfied with Kiss’s work? The foreign ministry, it seems, learned that Kiss had been vetted by the national security office and had failed the test. It had become evident during the investigation that Kiss had connections to the Russian mafia. His dismissal was not automatic, however, because the Orbán government had changed the law on the vetting of officials. An official’s superior can make his own decision about the dangers involved. Fazekas suggested to Kiss that he resign, thus avoiding the stigma of dismissal. In compensation, Fazekas immediately appointed Kiss commissioner of eastern economic relations. Why the change? Because the new appointment was based on a contractual agreement for which one didn’t need national security clearance.

Szilárd Kiss was also involved in a profitable “visa business” on the side, which he continued even while he was a member of the Hungarian diplomatic corps. All told, he was responsible for getting Hungarian visas for about 2,500 Russian citizens. Considering Kiss’s relations with the Russian underworld, it is very likely that some of his friends from the Russian mafia are today the happy owners of a Hungarian visa. Kiss was also known to be involved in human trafficking. Hundreds of prostitutes received visas through his good offices. How did he manage to acquire all these visas? It was fairly simple. He approached one of his influential Hungarian businessmen to invite Igor, Olga, or Natasha, and with this invitation he managed to convince the Hungarian consulate in Moscow to issue them visas. There was a 2011 case which came to light during a court proceeding against Kiss where a certain Yevgeny Dubrovin gave him 80,000 euros to acquire visas “for his friends.” At the exchange rate at the time, this transaction alone netted Kiss 20.8 million forints. Apparently Kiss had powerful backers in the government and the local officials could do nothing to stop his activities even if they wanted to.

Consulates in general are run quite independently from the foreign ministry, and the Moscow consulate was considered to be a hotbed of corruption. It was for that reason that some officials familiar with the situation in Moscow welcomed the idea of setting up a visa center. A lot of other countries had established such visa centers, all of them run by an Indian company, VFS Global. The Orbán government doesn’t like “orthodox” solutions, however, and therefore the Hungarian visa center in Moscow, VisaWorld-Center Szolgáltató, is owned by Csaba Tarsoly of Quaestor fame and Yelena Tsvetkova, wife or girlfriend of Szilárd Kiss. In addition, Index found out that Tsvetkova has a joint business venture with the same Yevgeny Dubrovin who earlier wanted to buy visas for his friends. There is a good possibility that both Kiss and Tsvetkova have friendly relations with the Russian secret service.

According to a well-informed source, the VisaWorld-Center in its present form may well be a hole in the “shield of Schengen.” In his opinion, it is impossible that the Russian secret service wouldn’t have a fair idea of what’s going on there. Altogether Hungarian consulates have issued more than two million visas since January 2008. The Russian share is staggeringly high: 400,000. That is, every fifth visa has been issued to a Russian citizen.

I think that even this brief description of the network that exists among politicians, businessmen, and the Russian and Hungarian underworld highlights the dangers the Hungarian government poses to the security of the European Union.

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Guest

The irony here is striking. Even the most cursory glance at Hungarian history will show that no good has ever come to Hungary from Russia. Quite the reverse in fact. Why anyone would think it different today is beyond me. Is it really in Hungary’s national or economic interest to have a close relationship with Russia? I don’t think so.

But then I suspect that people such as Szilárd Kiss care less for what is good for Hungary and much, much more what is good for them personally.

István
Guest
Eva I am exceedingly pleased that even in passing in relation to Szilárd Kiss that you discussed the Human trafficking issue and visas. Hungarian/ Russian prostitution rings operate here in the USA, in the UK, in France, Germany, even in the United Arab Emirates. Let us say it has become an infamous form of criminal activity by Hungarians linked to the Russia Mafia. In particular to Moguilevich the boss of bosses who married his Hungarian girlfriend Katalin Papp. Shortly before his death, Alexander Litvinenko alleged that Mogilevich has had a “good relationship” with Vladimir Putin since the 1993 or 1994. This trade that involves both younger Hungarian and other Central European men, women, even teenage boys and girls rarely is discussed in the Hungarian media and is deeply disturbing. It makes perfect sense that Kiss would have a hand in this lucrative and sick business. Victims are provided transportation and travel papers but are quickly stripped of identification once they arrive at their destination. Once the women or even boys realize they have been tricked into what some call modern-day slavery, they often fight or attempt to escape. Mafia thugs subdue the women and boys with violence and isolation. Narcotics… Read more »
Member

I wonder if any anrgumentation exists on behalf of Hungarian government explaining this case…

Webber
Guest

The Hungarian government has been remarkably quiet about Kiss.
By contrast, practically every member of the government expressed an opinion – generally a violent one – about the former rep. at the American Embassy, André Goodfriend who merely passed on his government’s communiques.

Gewürz
Guest

The US is far away, Russia is here.

Russians finance Orban personally and they have the tap — the US has nothing and is anyway playing a “reset” (aka appeasement).

So why oh why would fideszniks not pound on Goodfriend and why wouldn’t fideszniks be quiet about Kiss and other Russian KGB friends (and one has to assume that when the KGB is involved then their Hungarian counterparties are also involved, the Russians know how to do business).

Business as usual.

spectator
Guest

Or any, for that mater. In case if you don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either, that is.

I guess that its about time that the word “mafiosi” is engraved into the Hungarian notes and get the well deserved place on the National Coat of Arms too…

Not because of anybody has the chance to forget, only to pay due “respect” for the culture and the traditions.

Webber
Guest

Hungary’s Schengen membership should be suspended until these things are resolved to the satisfaction of all other Schengen members, without exception.

Guest

Again this shows that Fidesz with all their talk about “Christian family values” is just a mafia type organisation!
A bit OT:
This reminds me a bit of the scandal in the UK where it turned out that many high ranking politicians (and others like BBC personnel) were paedophiles – everybody including the police knew about it but looked away.
And of course the (former) high ranking French DSK comes to mind.
Politics really is a dirty business – but in Hungary it seems worst!
We talked with my wife’s relatives about this over Easter – it almost made me lose my appetite …

Tzu
Guest
This is not the issue. The issue is the citizenship machinery. By 2018 about 1 million people will have received Hungarian citizenship. Already numerous abuses were made public — nobody gave a shit. One needs some forged Ukrainian or Serbian documents to prove some Hungarian citizen relatives in the distant past and one can get the passport soon. How difficult can that be in a war-time Ukraine or Serbia which is almost like a Russian republic? We know that Russian “illegals” love to create fake identities so how many KGB officers received a Hungarian passport? Hundreds, thousands? I guess many will just use the Hungarian passport to settle in Germany or the UK, but in any case there are many who are now real Hungarians who will operate in Hungary or use the citizenship for their children (one never knows when such a passport may come in handy). Come to think of it, when people check monthly political polls they tend to forget that in 2018 some 700-800k ethnic Hungarians will vote too or their votes will be somehow canvassed by Fidesz’ Romanian and Serbian political machinery. They will all vote Fidesz, last time they voted Fidesz 98% of the… Read more »
Webber
Guest

If you live in any other Schengen country, the news that Hungary was selling Schengen visas to Russians certainly is the issue.
And I believe it’s an issue for most Hungarians, too.

Ferenc
Guest

Visas are for short term. Citizenship is for ever. I think the (tens maybe even hundreds) of thousands of fake Hungarians are a much bigger issue for the EU than short-term tourists.

One should not underestimate the incentive for a dirt poor Ukrainian (Russian) or Serbian (Bosnian) to obtain fake papers to get Hungarian citizenship.

I would think 10-15% as the ratio of totally fake “Hungarians” is a conservative estimate. Long after the Moscow hole will be plugged these people will still be living in the EU.

But the EU never said anything, and never cared. This was a legal loophole, an error in the architecture. Maybe if the EU cared a bit more, but it just doesn’t.

As an FT oped by Robert Kaplan argues: Why should Washington defend a continent that will not defend itself? The EU can’t fight, doesn’t want to, it’s totally enfeebled and people like Orban use this fact to their advantage to remain in position and amass insane fortunes.

Guest

Yes, the EU is a kind of open society – so it doesn’t really matter whether you come to Germany (or other member states) as a refugee from Syria or Africa, as a Hungarian or Romanian or as a fake Hungarian …
If you can integrate, are willing to work and find a place to work – that’s fine with me and most other EU citizens I’d say.
So we just have to wait and see …
Maybe you can’t send them back – but you can always send them to jail if they don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t matter where they come from.

Guest

Re: Hungary’s dangerous pivot to Russia

The closer they get the more the political, social and economic poisons will rise. It will infect Hungary internally and its relations with Europe.

Russia appears to be a shrewd pool shark setting the table for more shenanigans in Europe. She’s already got the Greeks looking in her direction for help with their debt troubles and shaking some trees in the EU.

Russia has to love the situation. I can see them scheming even more to burrow in Hungary’s eco affairs perhaps with a dangling ‘moneybags’ routine. Nothing like Putin to get the country and its relations with Europe where he wants them…behind the eight-ball.

Guest

@Rikard:
Do you think that Russia will be able to help Greece (and Hungary …) financially? They are not in such a good condition themselves.
I can’t imagine that Putin will really invest a lot of money there – it’s all words and no action in the end.

Guest

That is true. Yet I think Vlad will avail himself of all opportunities where he can interfere in Europe to help Russia’s interest. If there’s a semblance of wiggling in Europe even just a little, like the Four Tops, he’ll ‘reach out ‘and be there!

Indeed we did see Mr. Tsipras come home apparently with ‘nothing’ from Vlad. No moolah perhaps now but I’m sure Vlad scribbled down some notes in his book.

Vlad no doubt didn’t empty his wallet there with Greece but in any case we can be sure that he’s got all sorts of money supporting his far-flung clandestine ‘eye and ear’ operations. The coffers will always be full there.

Lorry
Guest

Greece and Hungary sign up to Russia gas pipeline.

No matter how much money it takes (actually the more the better), no matter how much effort it takes, no matter how controversial the project is, Hungary will build the pipeline.

It was decided by Orban and he will build it. Or as some famous person said: if you will it, it’s no dream.

He is also spending 100bn on the Castle District and another 100bn on the Museum project, (the two projects are connected). Orban wants to leave a mark, a legacy, a physical result of his era. The lefties never cared about buildings, symbols, legacies and marks — they were clueless and without vision and ambition. And they lost.

Orban decided he wants to spend (and steal) on buildings (and rule from high above the city) and nobody can stop him.

https://euobserver.com/energy/128261

famáka
Guest

Teflon Viktor.

Given that the last weeks were loud from the Questor corruption case, Fidesz only lost 3 points in a months, so apparently fideszniks contained the problem successfully.

Fidesz could have taken 5-8-10 points off of MSZP’s popularity in a similar situation — but MSZP is financed by Fidesz, and the other lefties are completely impotent so this is not such a big surprize after all.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/04/08/melyponton_a_fidesz_tamogatottsaga/

spectator
Guest

Unfortunately it isn’t the question whether or not “the lefties” were able to grab the advantage, (otherwise incompetent bunch, no question about it) but if the country really goes into slavery on its own free will – as is let the Viktor sell them to be Putins little helpers conquering the West – or has some spine left to resist and throw out the trash.

Because that’s what actually going on and only a precious few cares at all.

After all, quite a lot of them former Russian teachers can reactivate themselves and it will look great on the statistics, isn’t it?

The rest really is uninteresting: one more Russian satellite, this time without war, one more local vassal who get filthy rich selling out his homeland, nothing to be upset about.

Member

I wonder why the left has not blown these corruption scandals wide open, I would be screaming from the mountain tops if I was a party leader. This needs to be spread far and wide so the people know exactly what is going on, since they are the only ones who can do something about it.

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