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31/07/2016

Parliament lifts Hungarian MEP’s immunity over Russia spy probe

Europe's East

Parliament lifts Hungarian MEP’s immunity over Russia spy probe

The European Parliament on Wednesday (14 October) agreed to lift the parliamentary immunity of Béla Kovács, a member of the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party, amid allegations he has spied for Russia.

The motion to suspend his immunity rights as an MEP was approved by a show of hands in the Strasbourg assembly, and means Kovács can be investigated and questioned by the Hungarian authorities.

The 55-year-old politician, a frequent visitor to Moscow, is suspected by Hungarian prosecutors of regularly meeting covertly with Russian diplomats.

>> Read: Hungarian far-right MEP suspected as Russian spy

If convicted of spying, Kovács could face a prison sentence of between two and eight years.

Kovács denies the allegations, which emerged in a pro-government newspaper prior to European Parliament elections in May last year, and has told reporters he does not want to “hide behind” his immunity.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing party Fidesz was re-elected for a second term in 2014, Jobbik has grown in support to become Hungary’s second most popular party.

Jobbik said Wednesday it welcomed the vote.

“At last the actual accusations will be revealed, until now all we know about the case has been the governing party’s gossiping,” the party said in a statement.

Background

The Hungarian chief prosecutor sent an official letter to the President of the European Parliament in May last year, requesting that Béla Kovács MEP be stripped from his parliamentary immunity.

Kovács, who is from the far-right party Jobbik, is under investigation over suspicions of spying for Russia. He is reported to have had frequent contacts with Russian diplomats and has been travelling to Moscow once a month.

According to the European parliament website, Kovács was a member of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and, a member of the delegation to the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committees, and for relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia.

The Hungarian MEP was also the treasurer of the far-right Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), according to its website.