Czech MPs strip PM’s immunity
Czech parliamentarians have stripped Prime Minister Andrej Babis of his immunity to let prosecutors renew fraud charges in a case that has hampered the billionaire politician’s efforts to create a government after his Eurosceptic party ANO (Yes) secured the most seats at last year’s election.
He is accused of removing a farm from his Agrofert conglomerate in 2007 to make it eligible for €2 million in EU subsidies, before later putting it back in the holding.
Babis, 63, who rejects allegations that he misused European Union funds through the company he once owned, said the charges on Friday were an organised attempt to block his political career.
Babis’ minority government collapsed after losing a parliamentary confidence vote on Tuesday.
Babis and one of his executives, who is also a senior ANO member, asked parliament to lift their protection from prosecution ahead of the parliamentary vote.
“The problem of this false political case is that I have entered politics… However, I won’t give up,” Babis told parliament.
ANO won the October election but lacked a majority and Babis’s preferred partners refused to work with anyone who may face prosecution.
Babis has raised the possibility he does not need to lead the government, a condition of the mainstream parties like the Civic Democrats, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.
The party created by Babis in 2011 holds 78 of the 200 lower house seats and has not been able to form a working administration.
MPs voted 111 to 69 to strip Babis of parliamentary immunity. Babis himself voted to lift the ban.
“It’s an order by the mafia that has stolen billions here,” Babis told parliament before the vote. “We live in a country where you can order prosecution and probably get someone into prison.”
His immunity had already been lifted by MPs once, but Babis regained it in when he won the October election.
The case, which has been investigated by the EU’s OLAF anti-fraud office, has not undermined the popularity of the second-richest Czech citizen, who remains the country’s most popular politician.
A police spokeswoman told Czech Television: “We reject that it would be possible to order prosecution.”
The case could also influence a tight presidential run-off between incumbent Milos Zeman, who backs Babis, and academic Jiri Drahos, who says it is unacceptable to have a prime minister facing criminal charges.
The presidential vote in the country of 10.6 million will be held on Friday.
Andrej Babis and his wife, Monika Babišová. Picture credit: Wikimedia