Hungarian prosecutors have filed charges against a member of the European Parliament from the radical nationalist Jobbik party, in a probe into alleged spying for Russia.
Bela Kovacs is accused of “engaging in espionage in the interests of a foreign state,” prosecutors said in a statement on Wednesday.
The charges, filed at a Budapest court, comprise “spying against EU institutions,” as well as fiscal fraud and falsification of documents leading to substantial financial losses to the European Parliament institutions, it said.
Prosecutors’ office spokeswoman Katalin Kovacs declined to confirm to AFP that Russia was the “foreign state” named.
But Kovacs, a frequent visitor to Moscow, has reportedly been suspected by prosecutors of regularly meeting covertly with Russian diplomats.
If convicted of spying, Kovacs, 57, could face a prison sentence of between two and eight years.
In 2015, the European Parliament voted to lift the politician’s parliamentary immunity, allowing the Hungarian probe to begin.
Kovacs has consistently denied the allegations, which were first made by the Hungarian authorities prior to European Parliament elections in 2014.
He announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down from Jobbik in order to prevent the affair damaging the party.
But he added that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing party Fidesz was “using” him to attack Jobbik.
The charges have been “deliberately timed” ahead of elections expected in April 2018, Kovacs said. Orban is expected to win the elections comfortably.
A Fidesz spokesman told a press conference that the charges were a “serious European-level affair” and have been made against Kovacs “as a Jobbik politician.”
Since Orban, known himself for his friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was re-elected for a second term in 2014, Jobbik has grown in support.
It is now Hungary’s second most popular party after Fidesz, according to opinion polls.
Jobbik said in a statement it “welcomes” the charges “after the case had been dragged out for three and a half years by the Fidesz state machinery.”
Kovacs will finally be able to prove if he is “the victim of a political show trial” or not, the party said.
No date has yet been announced for the trial.