A medieval Czech legend has it that King Wenceslas will return from the dead with a group of knights to save the Czech people in their darkest hour. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary this week: instead, citizens took it upon themselves to stand up for change when more than 120 thousand of them gathered on the square named after King Wenceslas in Prague calling for Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to resign.
The protests came after the European Commission (EC) confirmed Babiš’s significant conflicts of interest regarding his private businesses, following the complaint from our chapter, TI Czech Republic (TI-CZ).
Already last year, TI-CZ revealed that one of Babiš’s many companies, Agrofert, had received millions in EU agricultural subsidies. In 2017, Babiš had put the company into two trust funds but remained the ultimate beneficiary of these funds, hiding behind an additional layer of secrecy.
In Czechia, beneficial owners of companies like Agrofert are not publicly known, but in neighbouring Slovakia they have to disclose them when participating in public procurement. Thanks to this important distinction, and because Babiš’s companies had bid for government contracts in Slovakia, TI-CZ found that the Prime Minister was the ultimate beneficiary of the company that received millions of Euros in subsidies.
This is a big win for citizens in Czechia and Europe. To make amends, the company must repay the over US$19 million (€17 million) of taxpayer money it received over the past two years.
Babiš’s case also demonstrates the immense value of open registers of beneficial ownership and civic monitoring in public procurement — causes we are strongly committed to.