The European Parliament voted by a show of hands on Wednesday to suspend Hungarian MEP Béla Kovács’s immunity from prosecution so that he can face charges of spying for Russia. The move clears the way for Hungarian authorities to prosecute the Jobbik MEP.
In the run-up to European Parliament elections in Hungary last year, the government accused Kovács of spying on the European Parliament for Russia. Hungary’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution formally requested the European Parliament suspend Kovács’s immunity from prosecution in May last year. However, as the European Parliament was no longer in session at the time, and the new parliament was only seated in September last year, it has taken some 18 months for the matter to go before the EP general assembly.
According to various media reports, the Hungarian authorities requested the EP suspend his immunity on the grounds that Hungary’s counter-espionage authorities observed the Jobbik MEP regularly met with Russian diplomats “in a conspiratorial manner” and travelled to Moscow on a monthly basis.
Kovács has repeatedly denied that he is in any way connected with Russian intelligence. The EP’s legal committee reportedly studied the request on the part of the Hungarian authorities for several months to determine whether there were adequate grounds for suspending his immunity. At one point, Hungarian chief prosecutor Péter Pot went before the committee to testify.
As is customary in cases affecting national and European security, the proceedings took place behind closed doors.
On Monday the committee formally recommended that the matter be put on the agenda for Wednesday’s EP plenary session.
When voting, the EP did not examine whether there were any grounds to the charges, as the EP has no jurisdiction in such matters. Because EP rules prevent individual MEPs from voluntarily suspending their own immunity from prosecution, the matter had to be put to a vote.
Among the Hungarian MEPs, Democratic Coalition (DK) representatives Csaba Molnár and Péter Niedermüller knew beforehand that they would vote in favor of suspending Kovács’s immunity, even before the matter went before the EP, announcing that “in light of the serious charges of espionage, we are convinced that a thorough examination is warranted”.