Prague, Nov 28 (CTK) – The Agrofert group, formerly owned by ex-finance minister Andrej Babis, unlawfully uses 1,700 hectares of land which it does not own, Czech Radio Radiozurnal station said today.
According to Radiozurnal, the 1,700 hectares of land do not have a clear owner. Agrofert neither owns nor leases the land but still receives subsidies from the European Union (EU) for most of the land, the radio station said.
Radiozurnal has calculated the size of the land in question using data in publicly accessible databases.
According to information from Agrofert’s website, land plots whose ownership is uncertain make up about 1.5 percent of the total area of land farmed by the group.
Agrofert spokesman Jan Pavlu did not deny the situation but told Radiozurnal that the Agrofert was trying to remedy it.
The group is trying to find the real owners of the land and is ready to “react duly” if it turns out to be necessary to return the land to the owners, he said.
According to Pavlu, individual companies of the Agrofert group use the agricultural land in compliance with laws.
“While exercising the rights to use (the land) it (Agrofert) unavoidably comes into contact with historical agreements made in vicinity (of the land) by other farmers. The Agrofert group is not the only one in the Czech Republic to find itself in such situation given by historical circumstances, but unlike others, it is trying to remedy the situation,” Pavlu told the radio.
Agrofert claims on its website that using land whose owner is not known is not illegal.
According to lawyers addressed by the radio, the company most likely committed the criminal offences of unlawful enrichment and fraud or even subsidy fraud.
Earlier this year, Babis transferred his Agrofert shares to trust funds due to the law on conflict of interest.
According to Radiozurnal, the unlawful use of the land concerns also the time when Babis was the owner of Agrofert and deputy minister and finance minister at the same time, the radio station said.
Agrofert is not the only company to farm on land with unclear ownership structure, the Agrarian Chamber says it is a common practice which concerns 3 to 5 percent of all agricultural land. The Agriculture Ministry sees it as a legislative problem, the Agrarian Chamber and Agricultural Ministry told CTK in press releases today.
These plots of land, used for farming in the past, would otherwise have to stay idle. They could have belonged to people who died, emigrated, are not interested in them or, for example, these can be plots of land divided in inheritance proceedings, said Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka.
All owners of real properties where the owner is not clear have to claim these properties by 2023, otherwise the land will remain in state hands.