Embattled ANO leader comes closer to facing charges of EU subsidy fraud

Andrej Babiš, Jaroslav Faltýnek, photo: CTK

The immunity and mandate committee of the lower house has recommended stripping ANO leader Andrej Babiš and his right-hand man, deputy chair Jaroslav Faltýnek of their immunity to release them for criminal prosecution. If the assembly acts on this recommendation, the man widely expected to win October’s general elections will face charges of subsidy fraud and harming the EU’s financial interests.

Andrej Babiš,  Jaroslav Faltýnek,  photo: CTK
The investigation into the so-called Stork’s Nest affair has been underway for months and just when it seemed that Andrej Babiš would weather this scandal as he has weathered all others without losing public support, the clouds gathered around the successful billionaire-turned-politician.

Just two months ahead of the elections the police said they had evidence that Babis had orchestrated a plan to reach a 50 million crown EU subsidy which should technically have been out of his reach – and requested the lower house to release him for prosecution.

On Wednesday the immunity committee recommended that he and ANO deputy Jaroslav Faltýnek be stripped of their immunity. A defiant Andrej Babiš faced the press with accusations of slander, saying it was a police provocation, made to order to discredit him ahead of October’s general elections.

“This affair is an attempt to influence the outcome of the parliamentary elections. It is an attempt to undermine our position and the public support we enjoy. The aim is for us to take a beating in the elections and for the traditional parties to set up a government without us.”

Stork’s Nest | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
The case of the Stork’s Nest farm subsidy has been filling the papers for months, not just in the Czech Republic since the European Anti-Fraud Office is conducting an investigation into the matter as well. The farm which belonged to Babiš's Agrofert Holding was transferred to bearer shares in order to gain anonymity and under the guise of a small firm to reach a 50-million-crown EU subsidy, which a firm of the size of Agrofert Holding could never have hoped to get. It retained this status for a few years, and later re-joined Babiš's conglomerate.

Billionaire-businessman Babiš who in February transferred his multi-billion crown conglomerate, including some media outlets, to trust funds in order to comply with an amended conflict of interest law, claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing and merely worked within the bounderies of the law to his firm’s advantage. He and members of his ANO party say that the timing of the police request just ahead of the parliamentary elections is extremely suspicious.

His critics counter that the police had little choice but to act in view of the fact that the 10 year statute of limitations on the suspected crime will soon expire and waiting until after the elections, when Babiš could be prime minister, would destabilize the country even more.

The head of the mandate and immunity committee in Parliament Miroslava Němcová told reporters she was convinced this was not a police provocation.

Mandate and immunity committee,  photo: CTK
“From what I saw I was not under the impression that the police were withholding information or that this was an attempt to manipulate us.”

The final decision on whether the two deputies will be released for prosecution will be made next week at a session of the lower house. Babiš says he expects to face charges and will fight to clear his name.

However since the likelihood that this could happen before the elections is small, his many supporters will have to make up their minds whether to trust him blindly as they have on many previous occasions. For his part Andrej Babiš will do everything in his power to convince them he is the victim of an orchestrated political campaign organized by “the establishment”.