The decision by lower courts to release on bail the Ukrainian captain of a Viking Cruises riverboat that collided with a sightseeing boat in central Budapest in May 2019 was unlawful, the Kuria, Hungary’s supreme court, announced in a non-binding resolution on Monday, July 29.
On May 29, 2019, Viking Sigyn collided with a sightseeing boat with 33 South Korean passengers and 2 Hungarian crew. 7 passengers were rescued from the water and the rest died.
A binding ruling handed down by a municipal court set the Ukrainian captain’s bail at 15 million forints (EUR 45,800). It obliged him to remain in Budapest and appear twice per week in person before the authorities investigating the collision.
The 64-year-old captain of Viking Sigyn was taken into custody on June 1, 2019, on suspicion of criminal misconduct.
In its justification, the Kuria said that even the lower courts had said the grounds for placing the ship's captain under criminal supervision were not met, which, it noted, only applied if the suspect posed a flight risk, but not to the risk of evidence tampering. The court said that a suspect can only be released on bail in case they are being placed under criminal supervision. However, if the lower courts decided not to place the captain under criminal supervision, they had no grounds to release him on bail.
The case went to the supreme court after the prosecutor asked Kuria to declare the bail release of the captain unlawful, arguing he posed a flight risk and Hungarian authorities had no information about his place of residence in Hungary. The prosecutor underlined the risk of evidence tampering and pointed out that the captain had deleted data from his mobile phone following the collision.
The defense countered saying that the place of residence of the captain was in fact known to the authorities and he had not deleted data from his phone. The attorney of the captain said that his client had been “made a public enemy” despite the right to enjoy a presumption of innocence.