Prague, Aug 3 (CTK) – The Transparency International (TI) the Czech Republic organisation sent today the first of its two motions concerning a suspicion of conflict of interest in the case of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO), TI has said in a press release.
TI is of the view that Babis still controls the giant Agrofert holding, including chemical, food-processing and agricultural firms and media outlets, and violated law by owning media.
Babis owned Agrofert until last year when he transferred it to trust funds to avoid conflict of interest.
The municipal office in Cernosice near Prague, under which Babis’s permanent residence falls, will deal with the TI report on a suspicion of committing a misdemeanour in his case.
If the office finds out that Babis violated law, he will face up to a 250,000 crown fine, TI writes.
Babis called the TI statements nonsense. He said TI Czech Republic head David Ondracka was leading an expedient campaign against him.
In June, TI pointed to a document in the Slovak register of public sector partners, showing that the Slovak-born Babis figured as one of the five people controlling Agrofert companies. Babis is the founder of the AB private trust I and AB private trust II funds to which Agrofert was transferred. At the same time, he is the beneficiary of the trust funds, that is the person for whose benefit they are supposed to work.
“I put my firm into a trust fund in compliance with the law that the Chamber of Deputies passed only because of me, and thereby gave up the whole firm. TI has no evidence to prove that I have influenced the firm or the media in any way, and it cannot have any such evidence as nothing like that is happening,” Babis wrote to CTK.
Babis also accused Ondracka of bias.
“Mr Ondracka has long been telling nonsense about me. He wanted to be the interior minister for our movement after the 2013 election, which we rejected, because he got the offer before the election , but had no courage to accept it then. So he became part of the political fight against me,” Babis said.
“The prime minister should explain why he is not observing law and why he has got rid of Agrofert for appearance’s sake only. I was expecting furious personal attacks, they are easy to refute. He (Babis) only wants to divert attention,” Ondracka wrote to CTK.
Commenting on the situation in 2013, he said it had been the opposite. Babis proposed him for interior minister, but he (Ondracka) made it conditional on the agreement of the other coalition parties, Ondracka said, referring to an article on the iDNES.cz server.
TI received money from several ministries in the past, Babis also said.
“The highest sums went from the ministries headed by our political competitors. It got 8.34 million crowns from the interior, foreign affairs and labour and social affairs ministries,” Babis said, referring to 2015-2017 when the Social Democrats (CSSD) headed these ministries in the previous coalition government of the CSSD, ANO and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).
“The European Commission and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) sent almost 5.66 million crowns to TI in the same period. This is completely unacceptable. TI should be independent, it should not accept money from state administration and European offices. Mr Ondracka is leading an expedient political campaign against me and he is lying. Through the money from the state and the EC, he is easy to influence and cannot be independent,” Babis said.
Agrofert owns the operators of the Ocko TV channel and Londa radio station as well as the Mafra publisher of periodicals, including the national dailies Lidove noviny and Mlada fronta Dnes.
Transparency International reminds that the conflict of interest law bans the government members from owning firms operating TV and radio stations and publishing papers.
“We sent the motion today and we want to give the office the necessary space to study all arguments thoroughly without external influences,” TI says in a press release.
TI will publish the whole wording of its report after it is informed how its motion was handled.
TI is also preparing the second motion to be addressed to the European Commission in Brussels, in which it will focus on the rightfulness of drawing European subsidies by the Agrofert holding.
“There is a substantiated suspicion of violation of Czech and European regulations. This is why it is immensely suitable that the respective bodies decide on these matters,” David Kotora, head of the TI fund-raising and communication section, said.
Babis is prosecuted on suspicion of an EU subsidy fraud in the case of the Capi Hnizdo farm and conference centre. The Farma Capi Hnizdo firm, a part of Agrofert, is suspected of having left the holding expediently in order to gain a 50-million-crown EU subsidy designed for small firms, and rejoining Agrofert a few years later.
Agrofert is number one in the Czech agriculture and food industry, number two in the Czech chemical industry and a big player in wood processing. It also owns media outlets. The holding had some 33,000 employees, 22,000 of whom in the Czech Republic, and a consolidated profit of 4.8 billion crowns last year.