Czech PM fraud probe due to be dropped
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (pictured) appears set to be cleared of fraud allegations that have dominated his political career and prompted protesters to demand his resignation.
The Slovak-born billionaire was suspected of fraudulently obtaining 50 million korunas (€2 million) of European Union subsidies for a company building a conference centre near Prague called Stork’s Nest.
Babis has failed in attempts to quash a ruling in his native Slovakia that he was an informer for the feared secret police in communist Czechoslovakia.
The firm that received the investment was later merged into Babis’ agriculture and chemical conglomerate, Agrofert, a network of about 250 subsidiaries that employ around 34,000 people.
In 2016 Babis admitted the firm was owned by his two children and a business partner’s relative.
The Czech prosecutor in charge of the case yesterday (Monday) said the charges would be dropped. The decision could be reversed by a superior and the opposition claim there has been political pressure.
“Much of society will not believe that such a decision would also be made in an ordinary citizen’s case,” tweeted Petr Fiala, the leader of the main opposition Civil Democratic Party.
Babis, 65, denied exerting influence on the prosecutors. The prime minister said that “if anyone influenced the state prosecutor, it was the protestants at the Wenceslas Square”. He added that the prosecutor’s office worked under pressure from the media and interest groups.
Babis still faces a European Commission audit that could force Agrofert to pay back tens of millions in subsidies because of his conflicts of interest in distributing the funds.
Czech unemployment has fallen to 2 per cent, the lowest level in the EU, there was relatively healthy economic growth of 2.4 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter and a balanced budget.
Babis’ Ano party has failed to win an outright majority in parliament, unlike Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz or Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party in Poland. The Slovak populist is therefore incapable of the authoritarian overhaul of the justice system that has been seen in Hungary and Poland.
The Czech media landscape is still highly competitive and the opposition has more opportunities to be heard than in Poland and Hungary.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Picture credit: Wikimedia