Czech prime minister slammed for report on EU conflicts of interest

PRAGUE: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (pix) came under fire on Saturday after the European Commission released a report claiming his roles as both politician and entrepreneur constituted a conflict of interest.

The billionaire populist and the fifth richest Czech made his fortune as the owner of the huge agro-food holding company Agrofert.

Babis insists he transferred the stake in two trust funds in February 2017, while he was finance minister, under an anti-corruption law tailored to his case dubbed “Lex Babis”.

But documents available to the public show that he is still the beneficial owner of Agrofert.

The Commission came to the same conclusion in its final audit released on Friday evening, which is an update to an earlier version made public in 2019.

The Commission concluded that “Mr. Babis currently has a decisive influence on trust funds ”.

“The impartial and objective exercise of the functions of Mr. Babis … was compromised by the fact that he was involved in decisions which also affected the Agrofert group,” the report states.

“The companies in the group should not have received any grants,” the Commission said, adding that all grants awarded after February 2017 – when Babis transferred Agrofert to the funds – are considered irregular.

“A financial correction of 100% should be applied to all related expenditure already declared to the Commission for these operations”, the report reads.

Babis denied having had a conflict of interest in a tweet, calling the audit “purpose built and manipulated”.

“I have always respected the law,” he added.

Ivan Bartos, leader of the main pirate opposition party, said Babis should immediately ask Agrofert to return the subsidies to the Czech state and its citizens.

“According to our analysts, that’s 20 billion crowns (9.8 billion RM),” the dreadlocked politician said in a tweet.

Polls suggest Bartos could oust Babis in the October general election.

The European Commission report is another blow to Babis, who is already in disgrace with voters because of his government’s chaotic handling of the Covid-19 crisis. – AFP

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