Czech PM’s conflict of interest, EU subsidy misuse to cost country ‘hundreds of millions’, opposition MEP says

Andrej Babiš, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

The Czech state will be forced to return “hundreds of millions” of crowns due to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s ongoing conflict of interest and improper disbursement of EU funds, a Czech opposition MEP on the European Parliament’s budget control committee says, citing the final European Commission audit.

Brussels is not due to send Prague the official Czech translation of the confidential audit released this week until January, but the writing has long been on the wall, Christian Democrat MEP Tomáš Zdechovský says.

The audit outlines in great detail Mr Babiš’s conflict of interest regarding the sprawling Agrofert conglomerate that he founded and EU subsidies paid to it, MEP Zdechovský told Czech Radio’s flagship station Radiožurnál.

Tomáš Zdechovský,  photo: Dandieczech,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“The relevant Czech authorities received the report have long ago. Unfortunately, they have systematically tried to blur the picture. Ministers from his ANO party have repeatedly lied that they can reply to charges. But they cannot, as this is the final report.

“I have been dealing with the misuse of European funds for a very long time and the resulting conflicts with member states over fraud. But the Czech Republic is truly an exceptional case in terms of the extent to which individual cabinet ministers knowing lie and spread misinformation about an audit.”

Andrej Babiš, a Slovak-born billionaire turned politician, placed Agrofert into two trust funds in 2017 in compliance with a new Czech law on conflicts of interest nicknamed “Lex Babiš”. He insists that they are blind trusts and has no role in Agrofert’s business.

However, the European Commission has determined that the Czech premier continues to exert control over the conglomerate. Furthermore, according to the trust funds’ statutes, which are not publicly available, Mr Babiš is also the sole recipient of the Agrofert profit and cannot be recalled from his position. MEP Zdechovský again:

Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“There is no question that funds will have to be returned, as there are literally hundreds of documents which show that Andrej Babiš is not telling the truth. I will not get into the specifics about the business and government documents… But he continues his work for Agrofert, to go to its seat. There are dozens of witnesses to this.”

The EU financial review further identifies a conflict of interest in Mr Babiš’s handling of the disbursement of European structural and investment funds. It also finds that Agrofert received three grants from the European Regional Development Fund in breach of Czech law and the EU’s relevant common provisions regulation.

MEP Zdechovský told Radiožurnál that he expects that ultimately Brussels will have to reimbursed “hundreds of millions of crowns”. A preliminary auditors’ reports estimated the Czech Republic will have to return around 450 million crowns.