Justice Minister Varga refuses to meet EP's PEGA Committee

February 17. 2023. – 02:27 PM


Justice Minister Varga refuses to meet EP's PEGA Committee
Hungary's Justice Minister Judit Varga attends to the General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on September 20, 2022 – Fotó: John Thys / AFP


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Justice Minister Judit Varga will not meet a delegation from the European Parliament's special committee on the Pegasus spying software. The delegation will arrive in Budapest on Monday. At a hearing of the European Parliament's special committee on Thursday, it was said that the Hungarian victims of the wiretapping scandal can only seek redress from international institutions.

Two Hungarian victims of the Pegasus wiretapping scandal were heard by the European Parliament's special committee on illegal surveillance (PEGA) on Thursday morning. The committee's delegation will pay a two-day fact-finding visit to Hungary next week, and the exchange of views was held in preparation for the visit, the Hungarian daily Népszava reports.

The delegation would have liked to meet Judit Varga, but four days before the planned visit, they had not yet received a reply from the Minister of Justice whether she would be willing to receive them. The committee already visited Poland, Greece and Cyprus in February, as well as the headquarters of the Pegasus spy software company NSO in Israel.

The Ministry of Justice told Népszava that Judit Varga responded to the Pegasus committee on Thursday. According to the newspaper, the minister wrote in her letter that national security is the exclusive competence of the member states, but that the parliamentary special committee exceeded its powers, which she said was also pointed out by the European Commission. The Orbán government is opposed to this practice and therefore does not cooperate with the body.

The programme sent out by the European Parliament's Information Office only states that the MEPs "have also approached members of the government for a meeting". The delegation will meet the members of the National Security Committee of the Parliament, the chairman of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Attila Péterfalvi, journalists and representatives of NGOs.

What was said during Thursday's hour-and-a-half session suggested that both the parliamentary committee and the victims are in the dark as they are trying to uncover exactly who used the Pegasus spy software against hundreds of people and why. Since the scandal emerged, the Hungarian authorities have not contacted the victims or apologised to them.

Sándor Rónai, the opposition party DK's MEP and vice-president of PEGA, told the meeting that parliamentary minutes had been classified for decades, and the Hungarian data protection authority's investigation found nothing illegal in the use of Pegasus against journalists, businessmen and politicians.

Two of PEGA's invitees, journalist Dávid Dercsényi and Canadian-Belgian national Adrien Beauduin, were both targeted by the Hungarian services in 2019. Both were informed from a list published by international fact-finders that Pegasus spy software had been installed on their phones. And both were surprised at how much money had been spent to intercept them.

About the Pegasus case

The Pegasus spying scandal broke out in mid-July 2021 in the framework of an international investigative project involving 17 newspapers, in which Direkt36 from Hungary participated. At the time, it was discovered that the Israeli spyware – which the manufacturer claims is only made available to state agencies – was used in several countries not only for its original purpose (i.e. to expose terrorists and criminals), but also to monitor or attempt to monitor journalists, activists, lawyers and politicians.

The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) investigation found that Pegasus was used by the National Security Service on several people whose names appeared in the press. Political activists, journalists, lawyers and entrepreneurs were also involved. Hundreds of cases have been investigated by the NAIH, all of which met all the legality criteria. National security risks were cited as the reason for the surveillance.

The investigation was launched ex officio by the data protection authority. According to Attila Péterfalvi, chairman of NAIH, the investigation did not reveal any information indicating that the persons requesting and conducting the surveillance had violated any laws or regulations, nor did they violate the criteria set by the Pegasus manufacturer, as the spy software can be used on the grounds of national security risk. There is no doubt that they complied with the contractual terms and conditions and the Hungarian laws in force. The NAIH's investigation covered only those cases that had received press coverage. The information presented in the National Security Committee of the Parliament was classified for 30 years.

The European Parliament decided in early March to set up a Pegasus Committee of Inquiry. Sophie in't Veld, the author of the report of the EP's special committee, will present its non-final recommendations to the EU institutions and the Member States concerned on Tuesday.

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