Embattled Czech PM ready to face allegations of fraud in top post

Andrej Babiš, Jaroslav Faltýnek, photo: CTK

The embattled Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, who is seeking a vote of confidence for his minority government, has asked lawmakers to lift his parliamentary immunity so that he may defend himself in court against charges of EU subsidy fraud. The scandal surrounding Babiš is hampering his efforts to form a viable government since political opponents say they will not support a prime minister who is charged with fraud.

Andrej Babiš,  Jaroslav Faltýnek,  photo: CTK
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was in fighting spirit as he faced journalists early on Tuesday shortly before he was due to appear before a hearing of parliament’s immunity committee. Standing alongside his right-hand man, ANO deputy chair Jaroslav Faltýnek, who also faces charges in the case of the Stork’s Nest Farm and conference centre, the prime minister denied any wrong doing, saying that the charges against him had been fabricated by political opponents.

“This is a fabricated case made on political demand – a case meant to discredit me, hurt my party in the elections and one that was to prevent me becoming prime minister. This complot was organized by the mafia which has robbed this country of billions of crowns. Now I am standing in their way.”

Mr. Babiš’ claim of a mafia complot was to have been at the centre of a hearing of Parliament’s immunity committee to which representatives of his ANO party invited a certain former investigator, Jiří Komárek. It was due to speculation regarding what his testimony might bring that the lower house last week interrupted a debate on a confidence vote in the minority government. However the prime minister’s hopes that it might aid his case were dashed by the fact that the interior minister failed to lift the former investigator’s oath of secrecy which would have allowed him to speak freely. Whether the man had anything pertinent to say or whether his summons were part of ANO’s procrastinating tactics remains a matter of intense speculation.

In any case, Prime Minister Babiš says he is ready to defend his name in court and confident that he will be able to do so.

Stork Nest | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
“There was never any question that I and my colleague Faltýnek would ask to be stripped of our immunity. We are ready to defend ourselves in court and I hope that as the investigation and court case proceeds it will finally bring to an end the attacks against my person.”

The prime minister, who is suspected of briefly transferring the ownership of his Stork’s Nest farm in order to acquire a 2 million euro EU subsidy that would have been technically out of reach, made no mention of withdrawing from top politics until he had cleared his name and it would appear that he believes he can stand trial as prime minister. This is something that all other parliamentary parties have a problem with and several of them have indicated that even if Andrej Babiš gets a second chance to form a government it would not win a vote of confidence with him at the helm.

Although, even without support from the lower house his cabinet can continue to rule in resignation mode, its future depends on the outcome of the presidential elections due to be decided in a tight run-off next week. If the incumbent president, Miloš Zeman, who has staunchly supported Babiš, is beaten by his rival Jiří Drahoš, then the prime minister’s days in top politics would be numbered.