Hungary's European Parliament member Bela Kovacs charged with spying for Russia

Hungarian prosecutors have charged Bela Kovacs of the far-right Jobbik party of spying on EU institutions for Russia. Kovacs, who serves as a member of the European Parliament, rejected the charges as "fantasy."

The 57-year-old Bela Kovacs has been charged with "engaging in espionage in the interests of a foreign state," Hungarian authorities said on Wednesday. The state in question is Russia, where Kovacs had lived for a decade in the 1980s and the 1990s.

Politics | 03.02.2017

Kovacs is the member of the nationalist Jobbik party and has served as a deputy in the European Parliament since 2010. He has consistently rejected the allegations of procuring information on EU institutions for Moscow.

Hungarian authorities first reported the suspected espionage in April 2014 and filed for the lawmaker's immunity to be lifted. Prosecutors say Kovacs also used forged private documents while working for the Russian secret service.

The EU Parliament stripped Kovacs of his immunity in October 2015.

On Wednesday, Kovacs told the Reuters news agency he was looking forward to exonerating himself on the trial.

"I am very happy that we finally made it to this point and I can clear my name in court and put an end to this saga," once again dismissing the charges as "fantasy."

The trial date has yet to be announced.

Read more: Russian banker senteced to prison in US for espionage

Kovacs and his associates are also suspected of defrauding the EU parliament of  €21,076 ($24,910) and fictitious employment of interns.

Fidesz v. Jobbik


From KGB to Kremlin

Putin joined the KGB, the former Soviet Union's security agency, in 1975. In the 1980s he undertook his first foreign posting as a KGB agent to Dresden, Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin returned to Russia and entered Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin. When Yeltsin announced that he wanted Putin as his successor, the way was paved for him to become prime minister.


First presidency

On his appointment, Putin was virtually unknown to the general public. This changed when in August 1999 armed men from Chechnya invaded the neighboring Russian territory of Dagestan. President Yeltsin appointed ex-KGB officer Putin to bring Chechnya back under the central government's control. On New Year's Eve, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and named Putin as acting president.


Tough guy in the media

During an exhibition hockey game in Sochi, Putin’s team won 18-6, with the president scoring eight goals.


Limited freedom of speech

A protester wears a tape over his mouth reading "Putin" during an opposition rally. In 2013 the Kremlin announced that the state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti, was to be restructured and placed under the control of a pro-Kremlin figure known for his extreme anti-Western views. Reporters without Borders ranked Russia as 148 in its list of 178 countries in terms of press freedom.


Putin's Image: A man of action

Putin's image as a man of action, boosted by his having been a KGB spy, has long been part of his appeal in Russia. It is carefully maintained by means of photos where he is seen bare-chested on horseback, or tossing opponents onto a judo mat. In Russia, Putin has earned praise for restoring stability but has also been accused of authoritarianism.


Stifling democracy

When President Putin's United Russia party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 2007, critics described the vote as neither free nor democratic. Dozens were detained as riot police broke up protests by demonstrators accusing President Putin of stifling democracy. In this rally the poster reads: "Thank you, no!"


Orchestrated events

In Sevastopol, Crimea, Putin looks through the window of a research bathyscaphe in the waters of the Black Sea. This dive in a mini-submarine was only one of his adventurous stunts; he has also been seen tranquilizing wild tigers and flying with endangered cranes. It was also aimed at cementing his image as an adventurer, and demonstrating his control of the annexed territory of Crimea.

Hungary's right-wing strongman Viktor Orban from the ruling Fidesz party has promoted close ties with Moscow in recent years, even as most other EU leaders distanced themselves from the Kremlin over the Ukraine crisis.

Related Subjects

Read more: Putin arrives in Budapest to talk sanctions, energy

Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Kovacs speculated that the case against him could be part of a larger political ploy to deflect the accusations of Russian links from Fidesz to Jobbik, as Hungary prepares for the next parliamentary election in 2018.

"I am almost positive this has a political relevance," Kovacs said. "It is no coincidence that it was brought up before elections. Now the court dates will probably fall in the thick of the election campaign, and clearly will be used to attack my party."

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

dj/jm (Reuters, AFP)