Hungary drops investigation into graft case leak that sparked protests

FILE PHOTO: Hungary holds European Parliament elections

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian prosecutors have closed an investigation into a case in which a former government insider accused aides of a cabinet member of interfering in a bribery probe, saying on Thursday they had found no evidence of a crime.

The accusations were made in March by Peter Magyar, who has since become leader of Hungary's biggest opposition party, posing a rare challenge to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's 14-year rule.

Magyar, whose new party received nearly 30% of the vote at the European Parliament election this month, called Thursday's press conference by prosecutors "surreal" in a Facebook post and said that what they said was "partly a lie".

The original case centres on former justice ministry state secretary Pal Volner, who was charged in 2022 with accepting bribes from the former head of the Court Bailiffs, Gyorgy Schadl. Both have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors are seeking jail terms for the pair.

In March Magyar published a recording of a conversation with Judit Varga, then his wife and Hungary's justice minister. In the recording Varga detailed an alleged attempt by aides to Orban's cabinet chief to alter documents in the case.

Thousands took to the streets to protest after the recording was published.

"In order to manipulate the investigation's huge volume of the documents, such a high a level of coordination would have been necessary that would have been impossible even with insider help," Chief Prosecutor Furcht told the press conference.

Magyar said the prosecutors "intentionally misread" his ex-wife's words in the recording.

A prosecution spokeswoman said that they did not want to comment on Magyar's statements.

The investigation into Magyar's allegations came at a politically sensitive time for Orban in March, a little more than a month after a sex abuse scandal that brought down two of his key political allies - the former president and Varga.

Orban's Fidesz came top in the election, but saw its support dented by an economic downturn and the scandals.

(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Alison Williams)