On Wednesday, three and a half years after the Fidesz government first accused Jobbik MEP Béla Kovács of espionage, Hungary’s prosecution service formally indicted him on charges of spying on European Union institutions and fraud, among others. The indictment may signal the start of Fidesz’s campaign against Jobbik for the 2018 national election.
Shortly after the prosecution announced that it was filing the criminal charges, Kovács released a statement via MTI, Hungary’s state-run news wire, announcing that
- he had committed no crimes,
- he trusts in the independence of Hungarian courts,
- the case against him is an attempt to tarnish the reputation of Jobbik in the run-up to the 2018 national election, and
- he is resigning from the party to shield Jobbik.
In April 2014, Hungary’s Constitutional Protection Office filed a criminal complaint against Kovács for spying on the European Union. The following month Hungary’s prosecution service formally requested that the European Parliament suspend his immunity from prosecution (which the EP finally got around to doing in October 2015).
Commonly known as “KGBéla” to his colleagues in Jobbik, Kovács is generally considered to be a Russian spy. That said, the Orbán government’s especially cozy relationship with the Kremlin makes this case a peculiar one.
Hungary happens to be an EU Member State and NATO ally where both the ruling party, Fidesz, and the largest opposition party, Jobbik, are unapologetically pro-Kremlin.
When Kovács was very publicly accused of spying for the Russians in 2014, it was widely held that Hungary’s prosecution service, ever loyal to the ruling party, would delay indicting him until the following national elections. Experts suggested that the loud nature of naming Kovács in a counter-espionage investigation before actually indicting him did more harm to the case than good.
Many journalists, experts and analysts believed the accusations leveled at him were politically motivated and intended to be used by the ruling Fidesz-KDNP political alliance as a political weapon against Jobbik.
Ferenc Katrein, a former operations director with Hungary’s spy agency, recently told VSquare.org that he thinks Kovács will be let off the hook.
“In my opinion this is no longer a spy affair since the secret operations were turned into an open proceeding,” Katrein told VSquare. “And there were no arrests and immediate actions, such as searches and seizures of documents, which is required in these situations. No one was caught by surprise in the act. As far as I followed the news, everyone who might have been involved – suspected agents, intelligence officers etc. – are still at large, and had plenty of time to cover their tracks. For this reason, I just can’t see Kovács being sentenced to prison for espionage.”
Péter Krekó, director of Political Capital, a Budapest-based think-tank and consultancy, tells the Beacon it is quite interesting that the statement released by the prosecutor’s office makes no mention of Russia.
According to Krekó, playing the spy card against Jobbik in the election campaign may only have a marginal effect. Jobbik’s support levels are stagnating and the party has spent the past few years distancing itself from Kovács.
“This indictment shows that the prosecutor’s office in Hungary is a weapon in Fidesz’s campaign arsenal,” Krekó says. “It will not be difficult for Jobbik to frame this as a show trial.”
Rumors have circulated for years that foreign intelligence agencies have been pressuring Hungarian authorities to address Kovács’ activities. According to Krekó, if these rumors are true, a deliberately slow and mismanaged investigation would create the perception that some form of action is taking place, but would also give ample opportunity for all trails to be covered.