Monday

27th Feb 2017

MEPs to lift immunity of alleged Russian spy

  • Kovacs (l) will remain an MEP, but can be interrogated by Hungarian authorties (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

MEPs on Monday (12 October) voted to lift the immunity of Bela Kovacs, a Hungarian far-right MEP accused of spying on EU institutions for Russia.

Members of the legal affairs committee voted, in a closed session, on a draft report by Polish centre right MEP Tadeusz Zwiefka which recommended the waiver.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Sources said it passed by a simple majority, with two deputies, from France's far-right National Front party saying “Non”, and two others abstaining.

An EP mini-plenary is expected to endorse the decision on Wednesday.

If the plenary confirms the committee vote, Kovacs’s immunity will be lifted but he will still remain an MEP.

It will then be up to Hungarian authorities to investigate the allegations.

The only restriction is that Kovacs cannot be detained during the investigation until there is a final court verdict and sentence.

Hungary’s chief prosecutor Peter Polt, in July, told the EP committee that his office still needs to gather information to substantiate its case. He said it can only do this, for instance, by interrogating Kovac, if he loses international protection.

The chief prosecutor’s office in Budapest, which requested Kovacs’s immunity to be lifted in May 2014, could not comment on ongoing investigations, it said in an emailed statement to EUobserver.

The legal affairs committee earlier held a hearing with Kovacs himself, who repeatedly denied the allegations.

Russia's proxy?

It is the first time an MEP is accused of spying on EU institutions for a foreign power.

But rumours had long circulated in Brussels on Kovacs’ ties with Russian intelligence, earning him the nickname KGBela, by reference to the Soviet Union's KGB spy agency.

Kovacs was one of several MEPs who observed the Crimea independence referendum in March 2014. He considered the vote legitimate, while the EU and the UN condemned it.

His party, Jobbik, is also accused of having received financing from Russia, which it denies.

The allegations come amid wider suspicion of Russian support for anti-EU parties on the far left and far right. The National Front, for one, has admitted to taking millions of euros in Kremlin-linked loans.

Peter Kreko, the head of Political Capital, a think tank in Budapest which studies Russian influence in European politics, told this website that the Kovacs case could be a precedent.

“So far, neither the EU, nor the member states have done enough to unravel the Russian link, and react to them diplomatically or in any other way”, Kreko said.

“Now everything points to the existence of an institutional influence exerted by forces close to the Kremlin on a European party”.

Details on what Kovacs is said to have done are hard to come by, however.

The evidence on his alleged spying activity, sent to Brussels by the Hungarian authorities last year, is classified.

Sources familiar with the case say the evidnce is most likely be circumstantial, for instance, that he met with Russian contacts in a secretive manner.

Kreko expects the Hungarian authorities to remain cautious in their inquiries on Kovacs, because of the Hungarian right-wing government’s friendly relations with Moscow.

There are also suspicions that prime minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party leaked Kovacs information to press ahead of last year's EU elections in order to damage Jobbik's campaign.

Kovacs is also under investigation by Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, the Hungarian media earlier reported, on suspicion of misusing funds provided for hiring assistants.

Olaf’s press office could not confirm if the investigation exists, citing house rules on cofidentiality.

Focus

Jobbik MEP accused of working for Russia

Hungary’s Prosecutor’s Office has requested the European Parliament to waiver the immunity of far-right Hungarian MEP Bela Kovacs amid allegations he is working for Russia.

Juncker envisages EU of core groups

Commission head Juncker say EU states which want deeper integration should press ahead in core groups, in reaction to the UK’s departure.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

Le Pen used 'fake' EU parliament jobs

A leaked EU anti-fraud office report says French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, had her bodyguard and personal assistant paid by the EU parliament for jobs they did not do.

EU commission drops anti-corruption report

Transparency campaigners are livid after the EU commission scuppered plans to publish an EU anti-corruption report amid unfolding corruption scandals in Romania and France.

News in Brief

  1. Trump and Brexit drew on same resources
  2. Romanian protestors form EU flag at anti-government rally
  3. Over 3,500 attacks on refugees in Germany: report
  4. Merger of London and Berlin stock exchanges in doubt
  5. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  6. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  7. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  8. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Brussels on March 6th
  2. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  3. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  4. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  5. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  6. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  7. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  8. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  9. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market