Czech PM faces protests over conflict of interest probes

Czech PM faces protests over conflict of interest probes

Protesters congregated in Prague on Sunday against the Czech Republic’s tycoon prime minister, Andrej Babis, and restrictions on public institutions.

Babis, the previous owner of the Agrofert food, chemicals and media empire, faces Czech police charges over European Union subsidy fraud.

He is accused of illegally obtaining around €2 million in EU subsidies in 2008 for his Stork’s Nest resort.

In December, at least 50,000 people gathered in Prague (pictured) to demand Babis’ resignation as Czech prosecutors reopened their fraud investigation after it was initially suspended.

Brussels has investigated a potential conflict of interest over his roles as prime minister distributing European subsidies and as a business owner receiving them.

An earlier audit by the European Commission found Babis had a conflict of interests over Agrofert, that is under trust control. 

The populist premier was charged over fraud and misuse of European funds. 

The Brussels report found Babis still had connections with Agrofert while having influenced decisions on European subsidies the businesses received. The Czech Republic might be required to repay the EU funds.

Babis condemned six MEPs from the budgetary control committee who visited Prague last week to assess EU fund management.

Babis at the weekend described Czech MEPs in the delegation visiting Prague as “traitors” and referred to the committee’s chairwoman as “insane”. He questioned the European Parliament’s use of public funds to pay for the trip.

Committee chair Monika Hohlmeier said Babis was employing dangerous “hate speech” and one of the committee members might seek police protection.

The protesters in Prague demanded Babis resign. 

“We are here to oppose the Agrofert-isation of our country, an abuse of political power and targeted destruction of important democratic institutions,” said Mikulas Minar of the Million Moments for Democracy organisation, which set up the protest.

“If this goes on, we might end up at the level of Hungary and Poland,” he said in reference to two populist-run neighbouring countries which are under investigation by Brussels. 

The appointment of Stanislav Krecek, 81, as the Czech Republic’s ombudsman sparked the protest. He was nominated by President Milos Zeman, a Babis ally.

Krecek’s appointment has made controversial statements, including that he would not extradite Babis for prosecution.

Protesters chanted “Babis is a thief” and “shame”. 

One demonstrator wore a face mask and held a sign saying, “Attention, Babis virus!” as the country reported its first three coronavirus cases.

The minority Babis government of his populist ANO movement forms a weak majority with the left-wing Social Democrats and far-left Communists.

A former Communist, Babis was identified as a secret police collaborator during the 1980s.

 

 

December’s protest in Prague. Picture credit: YouTube 

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