Saturday

19th Aug 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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

Europeans more optimistic about EU since Brexit vote

Perceptions of the EU have increased significantly in France, and Europeans generally feel more optimistic about the future of the bloc since last autumn - despite Brexit and a surge in populism.

Investigation

Inside the Code of Conduct, the EU's most secretive group

The informal group of national officials that is in charge of checking EU countries' tax laws is now working on the first EU blacklist of tax havens, amid critiques over its lack of transparency and accountability.

Ombudsman asks for more details on Barroso case

Emily O'Reilly has asked the EU Commission to say what former commissioners should be allowed to do after they leave office and explain why it took no decision over its former president's controversial new job.

Opinion

Setting course for strong and focused EU

From strengthening the internal market to completing the energy union, the prime ministers of Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland set out their vision for the EU.

Europeans more optimistic about EU since Brexit vote

Perceptions of the EU have increased significantly in France, and Europeans generally feel more optimistic about the future of the bloc since last autumn - despite Brexit and a surge in populism.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides