Babis 'definitely' has conflict of interest – EC report

According to the European Commission, the Czech Prime Minister should step down, or it will cost the country millions.

ČTK

Written by ČTK
Published on 01.12.2020 08:20 (updated on 01.12.2020)

Several Czech MEPs said yesterday that the conclusions of a European Commission report confirm Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's indeed has a conflict of interest, EC representatives told EP committee members yesterday.

The Czech version of the report is to be sent from Brussels to Prague in January.

Reports from EC auditors asserting the preliminary conclusions regarding the conflict of interest after the European Commission submitted its initial report with Czech authorities, has appeared in the media before.

Babis has denied the allegations. The Regional Development Ministry has been trying to convince the EC that he has resolved his conflict by transferring his Agrofert holdings to trust funds.

"The report is final, definitively saying that Andrej Babis has a conflict of interest," MEP Tomas Zdechovsky (KDU-CSL) said.

The information was confirmed by another MEP who took part in yesterday's closed hearing of the committee.

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(photo: ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons)
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The EC also said that it would not pay any subsidies to the firms associated with Agrofert since summer 2018, when stricter EU rules for conflict of interests for government officials came into effect, Zdechovsky said.

Based on the conclusions of the preliminary audit report, discussed by Czech authorities and the EC over the past year, the Czech Republic may have to return about CZK 450 million to the EU budget.

Back in May, the EP controlling committee passed an unbinding recommendation asking Babis to either to step down from the government or to stop receiving money from the EU budget through the companies connected with Agrofert, if his conflict of interest is proven.

Babis asserts that he has fulfilled the rules set out in an amendment to a 2017 Czech law in which he subsequently transferred his property to trust funds.

However, the auditors argue that Babis continues to control Agrofert. Reacting to the EC report, Babis told journalists yesterday he was not and could not be in conflict of interest and does not control or manage Agrofert holdings.

"Regarding the EC's findings, you will have to ask the Regional Development Ministry. I have not received any EC report and I do not know what is in it either," Babis said. "No one has negotiated with me at all [regarding the business]! When it comes to the shares of Agrofert, I transferred them to Lex Babis trust funds in February 2017 and since then, I do not control them. I neither control nor manage Agrofert," he added.

"This is why I have continually repeated that I do not have, nor could I have any conflict of interest," Babis said.

Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlicek (ANO) said the government was acting in absolute harmony with Czech legislation which does not address conflict of interest in this case.

"I do not know what the EC has confirmed. We are guided by Czech law. We can only act according to Czech law. In our view, we are in complete compliance with them," Havlicek said. He dismissed the notion that his position was determined by loyalty to Babis.

Several MEPs said today EC representatives told the controlling committee that the conclusions of the audit had confirmed Babis's conflict of interest.

The Czech translation of the final version of the report relating to the subsidies from structural funds for Agrofert is to be sent by Brussels to the Czech Republic in January.