Alleged StB links could keep Babiš out of cabinet

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

Informal talks are underway on forming the country’s next government, with a coalition between the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats seen as the most likely outcome. But these plans could run into a very serious obstacle. ANO leader Andrej Babiš is listed as a collaborator of the former communist secret police – legally preventing him from becoming a government minister.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
The leader of ANO, Andrej Babiš, received nearly 19,000 preferential votes in the Czech general elections eight days ago, becoming the sixth most popular candidate. His party, meanwhile, won over 18.5 percent of the vote, and became a key player in talks about forming the next Czech government.

Of all possible permutations, a centrist coalition of the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats appears most likely. But Mr Babiš, who has said he would not mind taking over the Finance Ministry, could be barred from holding a cabinet seat.

Under Czech law, nobody who collaborated with the communist-era secret police, the StB, may hold top public office, including the post of minister.

But Mr Babiš might not be able get a security clearance certificate. According to documents released by the Nation’s Memory Institute in his native Slovakia, the StB registered him in 1980 as a confidant, and two years later, he became an agent under the code-name Bureš. The Slovak daily SME has reported that Mr Babiš met with StB officers in a clandestine apartment in Bratislava.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
In the 1980s, Mr Babiš worked for a state company that was in charge of foreign trade in chemicals. According to his file, he met with StB officials 17 times before being given a placement abroad in 1985, and provided reports on at least one colleague in an operation named Oko.

The ANO leader has consistently denied having consciously worked for the secret police, and took the Slovak institute to court, demanding to be removed from the list of collaborators. In September, he spoke to the news website about the allegations.

“I myself was under investigation over why we weren’t importing phosphates from Syria. StB investigators blackmailed me over the fact that [my father’s brother and his son] illegally left the country. So I was a victim; I never signed anything, I did not cooperate. I have sued the Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute. We have evidence that it was all made up and the file was kept without my knowledge.”

A court hearing, which was to take place two weeks before the Czech elections, was postponed due to Mr Babiš’s absence. The next hearing has been scheduled for January.

The multi-billionaire claims he can prove that the StB kept his file without his knowledge, and that they fabricated evidence pointing to his collaboration. However, historians are sceptical. Radek Schovánek is a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the Czech counterpart of the Nation’s Memory Institute’s.

Radek Schovánek,  photo: Vilém Janouš
“They would also have to fabricate records from the secret apartment; they would have to fake another file, that of the Operation Oko, as well as other documents including minutes from meetings during which agents reported their activities to their bosses. So are these materials fake, too? That could lead to assumptions there was no StB after all.”

Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka told reporters on Monday that, for the time being, Mr Babiš’ past is not a problem. But it soon could become one: if he fails to get clearance, his party would either have to join the coalition without its leader, or, alternatively, back a minority government. Either scenario, however, could undermine the next government’s stability.