EU Waives Immunity of Hungarian MEP Accused of Being Russian Spy

The European Parliament voted to lift the immunity of a Hungarian Member of European Parliament (MEP) on Wednesday, amidst suspicions that he spied on EU institutions for the Russian government.

The Hungarian prosecutor's office can now open an official investigation into the case and determine whether or not Kovács, from the far-right party Jobbik, spied on the EU for Moscow.

The case of Béla Kovács (nicknamed KGBéla by tabloids) shocked Hungary last year after public prosecutor Péter Polt raised suspicion about Kovács holding regular meetings with Russian diplomats and frequently visiting Moscow for unclear purposes.

"According to the information provided by the prosecutor general, Mr. Kovács'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 European Parliament said in a explanatory note circulated prior to Wednesday's vote.

Kovács has been one of the most vocal supporters of Russia during parliamentary debates and was one of the MEPs who observed the Crimea independence referendum in March 2014. He denies acting as a Russian spy and both he and Jobbik welcomed the EU's decision to allow an investigation, claiming this would allow him to clear his name.

Only two MEPs voted against lifting Kovács's immunity, both of whom were from Marine Le Pen's Front National party.

The European Parliament's note about the vote highlighted that if found guilty, the MEP could be face up to eight years in jail, but underlined that the decision to lift his immunity was not in any way a judgment on whether or not he is guilty.

A recent Newsweek investigation found that Russian spying in Europe had returned to the levels last seen during the Cold War, while former Czech intelligence chief Andor Šándor told Newsweek in March that Russia sees its former allied states as a "springboard" to EU and NATO intelligence.