In Russia Spy Case, European Parliament Member Loses Immunity

  • EU Assembly forces Hungary's Kovacs to face investigation
  • Hungarian prosecutors motivated by `reasonable suspicions'

The European Parliament stripped one of its members of his immunity so Hungarian prosecutors can pursue an inquiry into whether he spied for Russia.

The European Union assembly lifted the immunity of Bela Kovacs, who belongs to Hungary’s radical nationalist Jobbik party. A spokeswoman for the EU Parliament said she knows of no other immunity case in the assembly’s history involving espionage.

“The request for the waiver of the immunity of Bela Kovacs is made in order that investigations can be carried out, on the basis of reasonable suspicions, to see whether a charge will lie against him with regard to the offense of espionage against the institutions of the European Union,” the 28-nation Parliament said on Wednesday in Brussels. “Waiver of immunity does not entail in any way a judgment as to the member’s guilt or innocence.”

The verdict by the 751-seat Parliament ends more than a year of deliberations over the immunity case, which has coincided with a deterioration in EU-Russia relations because of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine. The assembly announced in July 2014 that Prosecutor-General of Hungary Peter Polt had requested the lifting of Kovacs’s immunity.

“According to the information provided by the prosecutor general, Mr. Kovacs’s covert contacts with Russian intelligence officers were first detected in 2010 by the Hungarian Constitution Protection Office in the course of its investigation into the activities of certain foreign nationals,” the EU Parliament said in its waiver decision on Wednesday. “The prosecutor has made it clear that the investigation and any subsequent indictment for which the waiver of immunity is sought are limited to events having occurred after Jan. 1, 2014.”

Kovacs has denied being a Russian spy. According to the EU Parliament, Kovacs says the surveillance against him was illegal, the principle of the presumption of innocence in the case has been violated and the “whole case is unlawful and unreasonable.”

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