Tuesday

22nd May 2018

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.

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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.

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