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Transparency International condemns investigation of its Hungarian chapter by Sovereignty Protection Office

Transparency International condemns the groundless investigation launched by the Sovereignty Protection Office (SPO) against its Hungarian chapter and the investigative journalism non-profit Átlátszó.

On 18 June 2024, the SPO formally notified Transparency International Hungary that a comprehensive investigation into their activities has been launched, based on false allegations that they have used foreign funding to influence voters.

This follows the Hungarian Parliament adopting the Protection of National Sovereignty Act in December 2023, which has been widely criticised as unconstitutional. The Act established the SPO and granted it the ability to gather information on any groups or individuals that benefit from foreign funding and influence public debate. While the SPO has the power to access information held by Hungary's secret services, individuals and organisations subject to its investigations do not have access to any legal remedies against SPO decisions.

In March, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission noted that it did not see the need for establishing the SPO and questioned the legal basis for its creation.

The Act and the SPO appear to have been created to silence and intimidate citizens and civil society organisations that are critical of the government, making it at odds both with the Constitution of Hungary and with the fundamental values of the European Union.

In light of the SPO’s baseless accusations, Transparency International calls upon the European Commission to take action in line with its oversight role and to accelerate the infringement procedure initiated in February. We also urge the Commission to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union, requesting interim measures to suspend the enforcement of the Protection of National Sovereignty Act and protect civil society organisations and others working in Hungary who may face similar intimidation tactics.

François Valérian, Chair of Transparency International, said:

"For two years in a row, Transparency International has ranked Hungary the most corrupt country in the European Union in our Corruption Perceptions Index.

As an organisation committed to fighting corruption and speaking up about abuses of power, the targeting of Transparency International Hungary by the SPO is clearly an act of retaliation by the regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. We express complete support to our Hungarian chapter in the face of an unjust and entirely meritless investigation.

With Hungary taking over the EU Council presidency today, we are concerned that SPO action against organisations fighting corruption is indicative of the approach that Viktor Orbán's government is likely to promote on the EU stage over the next six months. It is key that EU institutions and member states are vigilant to prevent any potential action that goes against rule of law and the use of the EU Council presidency for Orban’s own strategic interests."

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