bne IntelliNews – Babiš conflict of interest row will spice up Czech presidential race

Czech Agriculture Minister Zdenek Nekula told Czech radio that former Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ holding company Agrofert will have to return agricultural subsidies worth up to 4.5 billion Czech crowns (about 183 million euros), and he indicated that more aid could be requested by other ministries.

Nekula’s comments follow the official conclusion by the European Commission of the billionaire’s conflict of interest investigation, already triggered by Babis’ first ministerial term in the cabinet of Social Democratic Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (2014- 2017), then his own government 2017-21.

During his tenure in government, Babis’ agrochemical holding company continued to seek project grants, although according to the EU he still exercised effective control over the holding company and was therefore in a conflict of interest. The EU has refused to reimburse the Czech government for monies paid to Babis when he was in a conflict of interest, leaving it to the government to recoup mis-spent grants from Agrofert, the country’s largest private grant recipient. country.

Nekula expects Agrofert to oppose his department’s decision and prepare for legal battles ahead. Agrofert is likely to base its case on the looser ownership standards and, therefore, conflicts of interest under then-existing Czech law. Current opposition leader Babis and his fellow ANO politicians have in the past dismissed the ANO leader’s conflict of interest investigations as politicized.

Babis’ ties to the Agrofert holding could well become one of the headlines of the Czech presidential campaign, whose election is scheduled for January 13-14. Babis’ fraud trial in the Stork’s Nest case is also set to begin this fall.

Babiš has been traveling Czech regions as part of his “Times were better when Babis was in power” contact campaign for several weeks, although he has so far not confirmed his candidacy for the presidency, possibly in an effort to not make touring campaign expenses count. towards the caps of the presidential campaign. Readers of the ANO website are invited to make an appointment with Andrej Babis at one of the upcoming stops across the country.

According to a Median poll published on August 1, if the election were held now, Babiš would win the first round with 25.5% of the vote, former Czech army chief of staff Petr Pavel in second place with 21%, with union leader Josef Stredula trailing a distant third.

According to IPSOS poll data, analyzed by Czech DenikN, Babis is the campaign favorite with 31.7% support, followed by Pavel with 23.8% support and former Masaryk University Chancellor Danuse Nerudova with 10.8% support.

Data from the same poll suggests that Babis would benefit from being the candidate for his populist ANO and being acceptable to the far-right SPD electorate, which together elected 92 deputies to the Czech parliament from 200 lawmakers, while Pavel and Nerudova along with other Liberal candidates often fight for the same largely urban-centric electoral base. The campaign should be in full swing later in the fall.

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