Police investigators have proposed pressing charges against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and several members of his family over suspicions that he and his associates illegally tapped into a 50 million crown EU subsidy ten years ago. If the prime minister stands trial and is found guilty he could face a jail sentence of between five and ten years.
The Stork’s Nest affair, which the police have been investigating since 2015, is once again making headlines in the Czech Republic and raising questions regarding the future of the Czech government.
Andrej Babiš, who ran a billion crown business conglomerate before entering politics, is suspected of having manipulated the status of the Stork’s Nest farm and conference centre in order to gain a 50 million crown EU subsidy reserved for small and mid-sized businesses. He passed ownership rights to his family and soon after receiving the money brought the farm back into the fold of his conglomerate. Babiš claims that what he did was not illegal and says that the investigation is a political plot against him.
“All I can say is that this affair is politically motivated. How else would it be possible for journalists to have more information about it than the people involved? I have said from the beginning that this is a concerted political conspiracy against me.”
The police have proposed that the prime minister and five others, including his wife Monika, be charged with EU subsidy fraud and damaging the financial interests of the EU. Whether those charges will be brought depends on the state attorney dealing with the case. After studying the police files he may decide to file charges, ask the police to investigate further, which has happened in the past, or halt the proceedings altogether. There is no set time limit by which such a decision should be made.
The news that the police have, for a second time now, proposed filing charges against the prime minister, has stirred the political scene. Opposition politicians are calling for his resignation on the grounds that the “presumption of innocence” principle does not apply to politicians.
However the prime minister’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats, who entered into a coalition with him with the knowledge that his might happen, are sitting tight. Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček said his party would wait for the decision of the State Attorney’s Office before reaching any conclusions. The Communists, who have been reaping political benefits from supporting the minority government, say they will not judge the prime minister and will await the verdict of an independent court.
The coalition agreement framing this minority government has a paragraph pertaining to the possibility of a criminal investigation involving the prime minister. It states that the coalition would end if the prime minister were to be found guilty, even in a legally-not-binding verdict. The prime minister’s ANO party also has an ethical codex according to which any member of the party must resign from his/her post if they commit a criminal offense linked to public office. That, quite obviously, would not apply to the prime minister, since he is being investigated for something he did before entering politics.
Any decision on the prime minister or the government’s future is thus in the hands of the man himself and his supporters. For the time being at least they seem ready to ride out the storm.