Russian bank accused of being ‘den of spies’ relocates to NATO member Hungary

Nikolai KosovA Russian-backed development bank, which is accused by its critics of being an intelligence front for Moscow, has relocated to Hungary, a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The International Investment Bank (IIB) was founded in 1970 by the Soviet Union as a multilateral development banking institution. Its purpose was to assist in the economic development of the Soviet Union’s allies under the umbrella of the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Like other Soviet financial institutions with foreign branches, it was suspected by Western spy agencies of being used by Moscow to station intelligence personnel under non-official cover.

In 1991, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, the IIB entered a period of stagnation, as did many Soviet institutions of the Cold War period. But in 2002 Russian President Vladimir Putin spearheaded a government-led effort to revive the bank. Today the Russian government has a 47 percent stake in the IIB, with the remaining 53 percent owned by its other member-countries. These are all communist of former communist states: Cuba, Vietnam, Cuba, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Each of these member states is represented on the IIB with an official who speaks for his or her government.

Some critics express concerns that the IIB continues to serve as a front company for Russian intelligence. Some point to the IIB’s director, Nikolai Kosov, whose parents were officers in the KGB and served in several European countries, including Hungary, during the Cold War. Such criticisms resurfaced earlier this year, when it was announced that the IIB would move its headquarters to Budapest. The Hungarian government said it would host IIB’s 100 personnel and granted the IIB building privileges that are usually extended to diplomatic facilities. For instance, Hungarian authorities will not be able to enter the IIB premises without prior authorization by the bank.

The Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that the IIB’s relocation to Budapest will further-strengthen Hungary’s relations with Russia and help promote the former Soviet ally as a growing financial hub in Europe. But one critic told the Al Jazeera news network that the IIB “is more likely to make Budapest a Russian intelligence center than a financial hub”. Another critic, referred to by Al Jazeera as a “diplomatic source”, said that NATO has limited its sharing of classified information with Hungary “due to fears it leaves the door open to Russia”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2019 | Permalink

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Hungarian media accuses Russia of working with far-right militia

Hungarian National FrontMedia in Hungary have accused the Russian government of funding and training one of Hungary’s most notorious far-right organizations. The Hungarian National Front (MNA) was founded in 1989 as the Hungarian National Socialist Action Group. After the end of communism in Hungary, the organization began to espouse an openly neo-Nazi ideology, led by its leader, István Győrkös, a self-styled unreconstructed fascist. Győrkös, who idolizes Hungary’s wartime anti-Semitic Arrow Cross movement, set up links with similar groups in Central and Southern Europe. He served several prison terms in the 1990s for illegally possessing weapons and explosives and openly espousing pro-Nazi ideas. On November 6, Győrkös was taken to custody after opening fire against officers from the National Bureau of Investigation, who tried to enter his house to search for weapons. One officer was killed in the shootout.

Following Győrkös’ arrest, Hungarian police have conducted several raids throughout the country, targeting MNA members’ homes and offices. According to a report in the London-based Financial Times newspaper, the raids have uncovered weapons stockpiles that are more sizeable and technologically advanced than expected. And, according to the paper, some Hungarian media now allege that the MNA has been armed, funded and trained by Moscow. Emails exchanged between MNA members, which were leaked to the Hungarian press, allegedly show that the party’s leadership consciously cultivated a pro-Russian strategy in recent years, including an outright support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Győrkös also allegedly used party funds to set up a Hungarian-language website with pro-Russian information about the war in eastern Ukraine. Some unnamed Hungarian officials have claimed in the press that the government has evidence of joint training exercises between members of the MNA and Russian intelligence officers in eastern Hungary.

The Financial Times article quotes Hungarian investigative reporter András Dezső, who has written extensively about the Hungarian far-right, as saying that the Kremlin will work with whichever Eastern European political groups can help destabilize local politics, regardless of ideology. It also quotes Hungary’s former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who argues that the current government in Budapest has turned the blind eye to Russian intelligence activities in the country, which has effectively “turned Budapest into a ‘Little Moscow’”. The country’s current Prime Minister, conservative Viktor Orbán, has kept a moderately friendly stance toward Russia, having argued repeatedly at European Union meetings that Brussels should not impose economic sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 November 2016 | Permalink

Soviet memoirs suggest KGB abducted and murdered Swedish diplomat

Raoul WallenbergThe recently discovered memoirs of a former director of the Soviet KGB suggest that a senior Swedish diplomat, who disappeared mysteriously in the closing stages of World War II, was killed on the orders of Joseph Stalin. The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is one of the 20th century’s unsolved espionage mysteries. In 1944 and 1945, the 33-year-old Wallenberg was Sweden’s ambassador to Budapest, the capital of German-allied Hungary. During his time there, Wallenberg is said to have saved over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documents, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He also reportedly dissuaded German military commanders from launching an all-out armed attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto.

But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as the Soviet Red Army descended on Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. According to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s.

But the recently discovered memoirs of Ivan Serov, who directed the KGB from 1954 to 1958, appear to support the prevalent theory about Wallenberg’s demise in 1947. Serov led the feared Soviet intelligence agency under the reformer Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Joseph Stalin in the premiership of the USSR. Khrushchev appointed Serov to conduct an official probe into Wallenberg’s fate. Serov’s memoirs were found in 2012 by one of his granddaughters, Vera Serova, inside several suitcases that had been secretly encased inside a wall in the family’s summer home. According to British newspaper The Times, the documents indicate that Wallenberg was indeed held for two years in the Lubyanka, where he was regularly interrogated by the KGB. The latter were certain that the Swedish diplomat was an American spy who had also been close to Nazi Germany’s diplomatic delegation in Hungary. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin considered exchanging him for Soviet assets in the West. But eventually Wallenberg “lost his value [and] Stalin didn’t see any point in sending him home”, according to Serov’s memoirs. The KGB strongman adds that “undoubtedly, Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947”. Further on, he notes that, according to Viktor Abakumov, who headed the MGB —a KGB predecessor agency— in the mid-1940s, the order to kill Wallenberg came from Stalin himself.

In 2011, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg, in which he said that most of the Soviet documentation on the Swedish diplomat had been systematically destroyed in the 1950s. But he said that historical reports of Wallenberg’s survival into the 1980s were “a product of […] people’s imagination”, and insisted that he was “one hundred percent certain […] that Wallenberg never was in any prison” other than the Lubyanka. An investigation by the Swedish government into the diplomat’s disappearance and eventual fate is ongoing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2016 | Permalink

EU parliament member loses immunity over claims he spied for Russia

European ParliamentIn a historic first, the parliament of the European Union (EU) has waived the immunity of one of its elected members over “reasonable suspicions” that he may have spied for Russia. The member of the European Parliament (MEP) is Béla Kovács, 55, who belongs to the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary. Founded in 2003, the party, known as Jobbik (movement, in Hungarian), has called for Hungary to leave the EU and instead join the Eurasian Union, an economic and political alliance led by Russia. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Jobbik won just over 20% of the popular vote, placing third nationwide. The result was a marked difference from its performance in 2006, when it had barely received 2.2% of the vote share.

The party’s ideological proximity to Moscow, as well as its radical views on minorities and Jews, have added to its notoriety, causing many to denounce it as the EU’s most far-right political grouping. The party’s troubles grew further in September 2014, when the Hungarian public prosecutor officially requested form the European Parliament that it suspends Kovács’ immunity so that the Budapest-born politician, whose father is Russian, could be investigated for alleged ties to Russian intelligence. The EU parliament said it would consider the matter.

Meanwhile, Hungarian media published several allegations about Kovács’ alleged ties to Moscow, which, some reports suggested, date to the late 1970s. Other reports stated that Kovács’ Russian spouse, Svetlana Izstosina had been an agent of the KGB during the Cold War and that she operated as a courier for Moscow. In another bizarre twist, one report suggested that Izstosina was legally married to two other men, one of whom was a nuclear physicist working at the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Some Hungarian newspapers alleged that the government in Budapest was in possession of secret recordings of conversations between Kovács and Russian diplomats, which allegedly took place in the past six years.

An EU Parliament spokesperson told Bloomberg last week that the waiver of Kovács’ immunity did “not entail […] a judgment as to [the Hungarian MEP’s] guilt or innocence”. She added that she knew of no other cases where an MEP had been stripped of his immunity over allegations of espionage. If found guilty of spying for Moscow, Kovács could face up to eight years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #669

Raoul WallenbergBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK admits using fake rock to spy on Russians. Britain has admitted for the first time that it was caught spying when Russia exposed its use of a fake rock in Moscow to conceal electronic equipment. Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but Britain has not publicly accepted the claims until now. Jonathan Powell, then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, told a BBC documentary it was “embarrassing”, but “they had us bang to rights”. He added: “clearly they had known about it for some time”.
►►New book examines forgotten CIA officer Jim Thompson. The CIA’s longtime man in Southeast Asia, Jim Thompson, fought to stop the agency’s progression from a small spy ring to a large paramilitary agency. Now a new book, The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantzick, examines the life and exploits of the man known as “Silk King” Jim.
►►Sweden to probe fate of WWII hero Wallenberg. Raoul Wallenberg (pictured) was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. He was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. He was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, and his fate is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. Now Sweden says it will open a new probe into his disappearance.

Spy archivist discusses fate of Swedish diplomat abducted by KGB

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. The 33-year-old Wallenberg was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. During his time in Budapest, he was able to save over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documentation, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He is also reported to have managed to dissuade German military commanders from launching an all-out attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto. But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as Soviet forces descended on Axis ally Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. But according to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s. Earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg to the Associated Press. Read more of this post

Soviet KGB may have killed Albert Camus, claims paper

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Albert Camus, one of France’s most revered intellectuals, who died in a mysterious accident in 1960, may have been killed by Soviet intelligence, according to an article in one of Italy’s most reputable newspapers. Camus, a philosopher, novelist and journalist, who won the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature, died on January 4, 1960, during a road trip from Provence to Paris. Camus had initially planned to accompany his wife and children on a train ride to Paris, but changed his mind at the last minute, after his trusted friend and publisher, Michel Gallimard, offered him a ride in his car to the French capital. That evening, as Gallimard and Camus were driving through the small town of Villeblevin, Gallimard’s Facel Vega FV3B rammed into a tree at high speed. Camus was killed instantly, while Gallimard died in hospital several days later. But an article published last week in one of Italy’s oldest newspapers, Corriere della Sera, claims that the two men may have been killed after Soviet intelligence agents sabotaged Gallimard’s car. The allegation is based on Italian literary scholar Giovanni Catelli, who reportedly unearthed a written testimony by Czechoslovakian author and translator Jan Zábrana. The testimony is included in the Czech-language edition of Zábrana’s personal diary, in which he claims that “a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources” had told him that Camus’ assassination was “ordered personally” by Dmitri Shepilov, who was the Soviet Union’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1956 to 1957. Read more of this post