German MEP says Finance Minister Babiš faces conflict of interest

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš faces a serious conflict of interest which could put strain on the Czech Republic’s cooperation with the EU, according to German MEP Ingeborg Grässle. The Christian Democrat European deputy, who is in Prague to review the Czech Republic’s use of EU funds, has also called on Czech lawmakers to investigate rampant abuse of EU money.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Ingeborg Grässle, a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, told a news conference in Prague on Thursday that she and her colleagues were seriously concerned by the conflict of interest within the Czech government.

Ms Grässle, who came to the Czech Republic to check the country’s auditing of EU funds, said companies owned by Andrej Babiš had received 2.6 million euros in EU grants. But in his role as finance minister, he oversees the distribution of these funds in the Czech Republic. The European deputy said this was an obvious conflict of interest which casts doubts on the country’s auditing systems.

The German Christian Democrat also noted this could put strain on the Czech Republic’s cooperation with the European Union, and suggested Mr Babiš sell or transfer his business empire which includes food, agricultural, chemical, and media firms.

In a reaction, Mr Babiš said he was responsible to his voters rather than MEP Grässle, who he added, did not have accurate information. The finance minister insisted his activities were not in breach of Czech legislation addressing conflict of interest, and added he had no plans to give up any of his companies.

The head of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, German Social Democrat Jens Geier, later said Ms Grässle was expressing her personal opinion rather than an official position of the committee.

MEP Grässle also questioned the Czech system of drawing EU funds which, she said, allowed for massive fraud and abuse. She noted that auditors had consistently failed to supervise EU-funded projects and that Czech authorities had never attempted to investigate who benefited from the flawed auditing system. Ingeborg Grässle called on Czech lawmakers to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate who benefited from fraud and corruption in the distribution of EU funds. “I have been on this committee for 10 years, and have done many reviews. But this is the first time I’ve felt the system allowed such massive fraud,” MEP Grässle said.