Czech Police Seek Prosecution of Billionaire Election Winner

Updated on
  • Police request that lawmakers strip Andrej Babis of immunity
  • Babis says fraud case is political attack by his opponents

Andrej Babis

Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg

Czech police are seeking to reopen the prosecution against billionaire Andrej Babis in a fraud case tied to European Union subsidies, potentially complicating his efforts to create a government after his ANO party dominated October elections.

Police filed a request to parliament to strip Babis of his immunity on Tuesday. Prosecutor spokeswoman Stepanka Zenklova declined to name the billionaire, but said the request was linked to the case in which Babis and one of his closest allies were charged before the elections renewed their protection from trial. Babis lashed out at his political rivals, repeating that he has done nothing wrong and saying the case was fabricated to stop him from taking power.

The request, filed a day after parliament opened its inaugural session, shows the peculiar position for Babis in his effort to take power. Mainstream parties have rejected cooperating with him because of the criminal investigation. While the case failed to dent his support among voters before the elections, he has been forced to try to form a minority cabinet that may rely on backing from fringe parties including the anti-Muslim SPD or the Communists.

“All police steps, including today’s quick filing, convince me that this is purely a political case,” Babis said. “The speed at which they’re going after me is again only proving how much the corrupt system fears me.”

The police demand raises a hurdle for Babis as he’s trying to deliver on a pledge to run the country of 10.6 million like a business. After winning unconditional support from President Milos Zeman - who said he’ll name Babis as prime minister - the tycoon is still trying to find allies in parliament to win a confidence vote.

“Of course they could use the police charges as currency in their negotiation with ANO,” said Pavel Saradin, a political scientist at Palacky University in Olomouc. “There’s a chance some lawmakers could try to profit that way.”

Read more about Babis’s difficult road to forming a government

The assembly will also vote on a request to allow the prosecution of Jaroslav Faltynek, a deputy chairman of ANO and a former executive at Babis’s main company, Agrofert. Faltynek similarly denies wrongdoing. So far none of the other eight parties in parliament have said they would vote against stripping the two lawmakers of their immunity.

Babis, who rejects comparisons with Donald Trump and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has built his support by attacking traditional Czech parties that have rotated in power since the fall of Communism in 1989 as incompetent and corrupt.

While his campaign echoed the anti-establishment sentiment that has led to gains by populist forces across Europe, Babis has been presenting himself as a pro-European leader since winning the elections. He says the Czech Republic has no other alternative but membership in the EU, although he opposes efforts for closer economic integration within the bloc and and is against euro adoption.

The probe’s focus is on the alleged misuse of a 50 million-koruna ($2.3 million) EU aid subsidy at the Stork Nest recreation center that belonged to Babis’s business empire. He told a parliamentary hearing last year that it was owned by his children and brother-in-law when the subsidy application was filed. 

“The big question is whether Babis will want to go through with it and clear his name at the court, or whether he will insist that it’s a politically motivated witch hunt,” Saradin said. “In case of the latter, he will obviously try to negotiate immunity with those willing to support or tolerate his minority government.”

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