“Visa shopping” in Moscow: The case of Szilárd Kiss

A young man phoned György Bolgár’s popular call-in show, “Let’s Talk It Over,” on Klub Rádió this afternoon. He was agitated over the latest public row within the ranks of the fractured opposition. “Don’t they realize that we are in big trouble? Don’t they realize that if they don’t unite, Viktor Orbán will be the ruler of this country for life just like Putin and Erdogan? It’s all very nice that LMP’s Bernadett Szél managed to get some documents out of the government, but what does she achieve with that? These politicians should try to figure out how to get rid of a dictator.”

It was only a little later that I realized that the caller was talking about documents that Szél has been trying to get from the ministry of foreign affairs and trade for almost two years. The documents were the result of an investigation into the wholesaling of Schengen visas to thousands of Russians without any vetting by a man officially employed by the Hungarian government.

When I read the details of this latest government scandal, my first reaction was: “But this is not a new story.” Two years ago I wrote two posts on the villain of this story, Szilárd Kiss, agricultural attaché in the Hungarian Embassy in Moscow, who was able to extract thousands of visas from the Hungarian consulate in the Russian capital for his friends, business partners, and even prostitutes. At the time that I wrote my first post on Kiss, he was being held in pre-trial detention for defrauding a credit union in Hungary. He had been in trouble with the law in Russia earlier.

A lot was known about Kiss already in 2015. We knew that he moved to Russia in 1990, hoping to establish himself as a successful businessman dealing with agricultural products. He was especially keen on exporting Hungarian wine to Russia, but somehow all his business ventures failed. Meanwhile he developed a wide network of Russian businessmen and high-ranking politicians through his Russian wife or girlfriend of long standing, Yelena Tsvetkova.

After 2010, with the arrival of Viktor Orbán as prime minister, Kiss thought his time had come. After all, Orbán was keen on establishing strong political and economic ties with Russia. Through his influential Hungarian friends, like Csaba Tarsoly, the CEO of the Quaestor brokerage firm that a few years later went under, Kiss was introduced to Péter Szijjártó, the current foreign minister who was then an undersecretary in the prime minister’s office. Szijjártó was impressed and sent Kiss on to Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture, who without further ado appointed him agricultural attaché in Moscow.

In 2014, however, the Hungarian ambassador was about to dismiss Kiss because he had failed to pass the vetting process by the national security office. During the investigation it became evident that Kiss had connections to the Russia mafia and perhaps even to the Russian secret service. In addition, it was discovered that Kiss had been involved in a profitable “visa business” on the side. It was known already in 2015 that he had secured Schengen visas for at least 2,500 people without the standard vetting. In 2015 Index learned that Hungarian consulates had, in total, issued more than two million visas since January 2008. The Russian share was staggeringly high: 400,000. That is, every fifth visa had been issued to a Russian citizen.

We knew all that two years ago, yet the Hungarian media and public act as if this revelation is brand new. I sympathize with the caller who said that politicians could spend their time more profitably than fighting for the release of documents. It took two solid years to get the documents, which only confirmed everything that Index had reported two years ago. Of course, it is good to have the proof as well as more details, which “give a frightening picture of what was going on in Moscow.”

Source: Index / Graphics: Szarvas

As a result of the newly available documents we know that half of all Schengen visas issued in 2013 were requested by Monte Tokaj Kft, Szilárd Kiss’s company. We are talking about 4,000 visas, not 2,500 as we thought in 2015. Moreover, these visas were issued to “Russian citizens with ill-defined financial backgrounds and professions” and “without any apparent documented control.” The Hungarian authorities were not even aware of the addresses of these people, their requests were granted within hours, 50% of the applicants had no references, and they didn’t even have to visit the embassy for a personal interview. What Kiss and his accomplices were doing was what we call “visa shopping.” I should add that it is likely that none of these people spent even as much as a full day in Hungary.

Without the consuls’ cooperation Kiss couldn’t have conducted this visa racket. It looks to me as if they tried to defend themselves by claiming “dishonest influence peddling, pressure, or even threats” against them. Are they talking about pressure and threats from Russian mafia bosses? Perhaps, but the internal investigation doesn’t address this topic.

What is also interesting about this case—something we already knew in 2015—is that although the foreign ministry asked the ministry of agriculture to get rid of Kiss, he was not fired outright. Fazekas worked out an arrangement that allowed Kiss to remain with the ministry. He was asked to resign from his diplomatic post, thereby avoiding the stigma of dismissal. In compensation, Kiss was appointed “commissioner of eastern economic relations.” Why the change? Perhaps because the new appointment was based on a contractual agreement for which one didn’t need national security clearance. Kiss thus remained a public servant until January 2015, when he was arrested because of his role in defrauding a credit union.

By now Kiss is free again, awaiting trial. The last time his name showed up in the media was when he was spotted using a car with a diplomatic plate.

The foreign ministry now claims that they filed a complaint with the police regarding the case. If that happened at all, it must have occurred only recently, under pressure from a court order for the release of the report of the internal investigation that took place four years ago, in 2013.

Although it’s good that we know more about the case than we did two years ago, I’m sure the story will be forgotten within days just it was in 2015. In fact, I would be surprised if there were a police investigation at all. Kiss’s visa racket will be at best a footnote in a history book.

The Hungarian government has every reason to downplay this case. Although Szijjártó claims he never worked with Kiss, he can be seen cutting the ribbon at the opening of the visa center in Moscow with Yelena Tsvetkova, wife/girlfriend of Szilárd Kiss, partial owner of the company. It is also unlikely that the Hungarian government would be too keen to investigate the deal Fazekas made on behalf of his friend Szilárd Kiss in the ministry of agriculture.

So yes, we now know more lurid details of the visa scandal, but given the present government’s stranglehold on the police and the prosecutor’s office nothing will ever come of it. I agree with the caller to “Let’s Talk It Over.” Opposition politicians should slowly turn the job of investigative journalism over to the professionals and instead focus on the daunting task of becoming an unbeatable political juggernaut.

February 8, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Hardy
Guest

Good to see that more and more intellectuals join the discussions here.

Guest

This is really scandalous – thesevisa obviously are a “door into the EU” for those criminals.

Why doesn’t the EU react to this?

PS:
Those lunatic comments by “Horthy” will be deleted asap I hope – though they show the intellectual level of the “Tiszta Magyar” very nicely!

I have to confess that I’ve given up hope that Hungary will leave the Fidesz swamp in the foreseeable future – there are just too many profiting from all of this and the others don’t count in the Hungarian class society.

bimbi
Guest

Fidesz government, rotten to the core.

Fazekas, Minister of Agriculture signing up a gangster. Szijjarto, cutting ribbons with the gangster’s moll at the ‘visa centre’ in Moscow. What does Mr. Five-a-Side say? He was intending to increase the flow of Russian tourists to Hungary? No mention of money yet. I guess Mr. Rogan (Mr. Rent-a-Residence) still has the lead in that field.

Fidesz government. Rotten to the core.

wrfree
Guest

A while back when the Russians ‘left’ it sure looks as if Magyarorszag said goodbye and fixed that ‘broken window’. Looks as if it’s busted again and now they even leave a light out for them. The country needs to pay attention again to ‘broken windows’.

e-1956
Guest

I counts very little what most Hungarians want while the Russian agents use Hungary as a base against the West, and find enough collaborators for the job.

Guest
bimbi
Guest

Yes indeed, La La Land is right here on your doorstep, folks. The case stems from the take-over by thugs of the town of Gyongyospata and the subsequent harassment of the Roma population by these slime-balls. That was back in 2011! May we not ask how the hell it takes the Curia up to 6 years to reach any sort of verdict on this case? Is this not “justice denied”? – it sure looks like it. And then they decided that “in their haste” the first verdict was wrong so they changed it in the afternoon!!!

At least get government Kontrol out of the judiciary. Hungary deserves better than this!! Disgraceful, sorry.

Observer
Guest

This episode by itself is an enormous scandal. The official “explanation” is absolutely ridiculous – because it was a written ruling that was read out and all the judges were listening without a flinch. Even the Viràg elvtàrs episode is milder since there the ready verdict was given to the judge without asking “to correct his mistake”.
It’s fascism light, my friends.

bimbi
Guest

And while we are dealing with the theft and corruption by Hungarian government appointed officials, let us look at the result of this corruption:

1) Hungary is third from the bottom of a list of 35 countries in spending on health care on a per capita basis. Hungary is among the worst of those countries in terms of cancer survival.

2) Hungary’s wealth/household is second lowest among the Eurozone countries at 22,7% of the EU average, only undercut by Latvia.

(Data from Budapest Beacon)

So, Orban, Lazar, Rogan, Szijjarto and Fazekas, THAT is what your government’s corruption does to Hungary’s population – the one beyond the bounds of your gated communities that is.

Guest
Re healthcare: My wife just told me two stories. A friend of hers (also a pensioner with not too much money) asked her doc for help because her blood pressure was irregular. He sent her to the hospital, after two days they said: here’s your medicine, go home – that was on Friday. She said, please let me stay here over the weekend, I have no help at home and I have diarrhea (probably from the new pills)! The hospital doc said: You go home immediately, we can’t have diarrhea here, get a taxi! A provincial hospital not too far from the Balaton is shutting down on relatively short notice – the docs and nurses weren’t informed beforehand. And now for the good news: Someone in Austria got the info, came to the hospital and told them: We need qualified people on short notice – so if you’re interested and speak some German, there are jobs and apartments waiting for you all! More than 10 people already left … Almost forgot: My wife’s gynaecologist said he’s closing down his office soon – his two sons are also docs – somewhere in Western Europe, not interested in returning and taking over… Read more »
petofi
Guest

“..five times as much..”

Yes, but how will the Hungarian doctors get over the habit of putting their hand out for ‘halapenz’?

petofi
Guest

@Bimbi

Do you think that O/L/R/S and F/ really ? The more you scream, the more they like it…

For Hungarians, corrupting to profit is only a part; what they truly enjoy is to let the neighbours know how they screwed them.