PM insists European Commission audit allegedly finding him in conflict of interest not final, despite Commission saying otherwise

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová

A European Commission audit has found Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to be in a conflict of interest over EU subsidies paid to the Agrofert holding he founded and placed in a trust fund two years ago, the weekly magazine Respekt reported on Sunday. The European Commission has told Czech Radio this is the final version of the audit first leaked in preliminary form earlier this year. However, Mr. Babis and his regional development minister insist it is not.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová

The audit, whose leaked preliminary version suggested the Czech state may have to return some CZK 450 million originally paid out from EU cohesion funds to Mr. Babiš’s companies, arrived at the Ministry for Regional Development last week.

Klára Dostálová,  photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio
Despite calls from Transparency International and opposition politicians, the ministry has refused to release it publicly, highlighting that it is officially confidential.

However, on Sunday evening the weekly magazine Respekt published a story on its website saying that the audit does find the Czech prime minister to be in a conflict of interest, quoting two independent sources.

Regional Development Minister Klára Dostálová of the ANO party refused to comment on whether the audit found the Czech prime minister to be in a conflict of interest, but she also insisted that this was “definitely not the final form of the audit”.

However, asked by Czech Radio, a European Commission spokesperson reacted to Mrs. Dostálová’s statement by saying that this is indeed the final audit. Adding that a Czech translation was still to be sent and that, thereafter, Czech authorities would have two months to send a report to Brussels on how they are fulfilling the audit’s recommendations.

Mr. Babiš himself has dismissed Respekt’s story and echoed Mrs. Dostálová’s statement that this is not the final form of the audit.

The opposition meanwhile has begun to mobilize.

Ivan Bartoš,  photo: archive of Pirate Party / Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0
On Monday, Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartoš told Czech Radio that he was worried there were attempts to hush up the report and that he has called for a joint-meeting of all parties, excluding Mr. Babiš’s ANO.

“I called on the leaders of parties that are in parliament, including the Social Democrats[ANO government coalition partners], to attend a sort of coordination meeting that should take place before tomorrow’s Chamber of Deputies session, in order to agree on how to proceed.”

The Social Democrats have not yet commented on whether they would be willing to attend the cross-party meeting.

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, who is also the deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said that the Regional Development Ministry should brief the government about the results of the European Commission audit and what it intends to do next.