• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Babiš under fire after publication of Commission audit – POLITICO

PRAGUE – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš suffered two blows as he prepares for re-election in the fall, after the European Commission confirmed his accusations of conflict of interest against his business empire and the country’s president undermined its firm stance against Russia.

Friday, the European Commission published the final results of a multi-year audit process on EU grants awarded to the founded agricultural conglomerate Agrofert Babiš. He concluded that he still controlled the business and the disbursement of the grants, although he placed his assets in trusts.

As a result, Babiš was found to be in violation of EU conflict of interest law and her company has to repay around 11 million euros, the sum of EU grants she has received since February 2017. , when its assets were placed in two trusts. funds.

Then on Sunday, Czech President Miloš Zeman questioned the findings of Czech intelligence service BIS that Russian military intelligence officers GRU were responsible for an attack in 2014 on an ammunition warehouse on Czech soil that resulted in two dead. Babiš’s administration expelled 18 Russian diplomats on the basis of the findings, sparking geopolitical tensions. He is expected to expel 63 other Russian embassy staff by the end of May.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that Zeman “absolutely supports” the evictions and the withdrawal of Russian energy company Rosatom from the tender for a lucrative nuclear power construction project as punishment for what Babiš called it “terrorist attacks”.

Both setbacks come as Babiš’s ANO movement slipped to second place in opinion polls behind an alliance of anti-establishment Czech hackers and Liberal Mayors and Independents (STAN).

Babiš again denied doing anything wrong with Agrofert and accused the opposition of interfering in the audit. “This is a deliberate and manipulated audit artificially induced by professional whistleblowers from the ranks of the Pirates,” he told the news server. Denik N via SMS, adding: “I have always complied and continue to comply with all legal regulations.”

The Pirates and STAN have seized the final report of the Commission to send a letter Sunday to the ministries of finance, agriculture and local development, demanding that they “finally stop breaking the law and start recovering illegally allocated taxpayer funds.”

Pirates chairman Ivan Bartoš said “Agrofert must obey the law just like an ordinary citizen”. He said the actual sum to be repaid was over € 770 million, though government contracts, which he said were illegally awarded to Agrofer, are included in the calculations.

“Come to think of it, it’s theft in broad daylight,” said STAN chief Vít Rakušan. “He is gradually privatizing this state and using it for his private affairs. “

Billionaire Babiš was forced to transfer ownership of Agrofert – the country’s third-largest company in terms of revenue – before taking office in 2017. Agrofert is a holding company of 230 companies in a variety of sectors, from food and agriculture to forestry, energy, as well as mass media.

According to the Commission’s audit, Babiš retains ownership of the company and could potentially influence the distribution of EU grants to its benefit.

Also on Sunday, Babiš’s putative political ally Zeman dropped a bomb when he appeared on television to question the findings of his own intelligence report holding Russian operatives responsible for two bombings. in 2014.

He said there were two versions of events: the results of the initial investigation, which accused improper handling of explosives, and the intelligence conclusion.

“I take both versions seriously and want them to be fully investigated,” Zeman said, adding that the police and the attorney general’s office have full confidence in carrying out such an investigation.

His comments have been attacked by all political parties, including the ANO, with the exception of the far-right SPD. Babiš has not yet commented.