Czech tycoon-PM Babis faces fresh graft probes

Czech tycoon-PM Babis faces fresh graft probes

A probe into whether the Czech Republic’s populist prime minister, Andrej Babis, illegally used EU funds will be reopened, the leading state prosecutor has announced.

Prosecutors decided in September not to pursue criminal charges over the alleged misappropriation of €2 million in funds for the controversial Stork’s Nest farm and conference centre outside Prague a decade ago. 

Babis, the fourth-wealthiest Czech citizen according to Forbes magazine, has denied concealing his ownership of the enterprise to qualify for an EU small-business subsidy. 

The farm’s ownership was transferred from the Babis-owned Agrofert conglomerate of approximately 250 firms to members of Babis’ family. The subsidies were meant for mid-sized businesses and Agrofert would have been ineligible. Agrofert later regained ownership of the farm and eventually returned the subsidy.

Pavel Zeman, the chief Czech prosecutor, said the allegations against the ethnic Slovak Babis and an associate justified a further investigation.

A leaked European Commission audit also says Babis has a conflict of interest as he still controls Agrofert, one of the country’s largest employers.

The report suggests Babis’ company should return around €17.6 million in EU and government subsidies.

The Czech opposition has questioned Babis’ dual role in government and the sprawling Agrofert empire.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing, saying he had transferred the Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding into two trust funds under Czech conflict-of-interest law.

Opposition leader Petr Fiala tweeted: “I expect Andrej Babis to start sorting out his own personal problems so as to put paid to any doubts. That means that until he solves all his personal problems he should not be prime minister. 

“It is serious news that affects the whole political scene. Prime Minister Babis should step down to solve his problems and not burden the Czech Republic with them.”

Babis said the audit could not be considered final until the government sent Brussels its response to the findings. The 65-year-old billionaire denied that the state would be liable to repay subsidies that could reach €17.6 million.

“I fundamentally reject the idea that the Czech Republic would have to return money because of my former company,” Babis told Pravo newspaper. 

The charges have sparked trouble for Babis. After he won the 2017 general election, Babis faced difficulty forming a government because other parties were reluctant to enter a coalition with his ANO party.

He managed to form a coalition with the left-of-centre Social Democrats with Communist support, giving the far-left a role in government for the first time since 1989. 

 

An impressive likeness. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

 

 

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