President Zeman pledges to halt prosecution of PM Babiš over Stork’s Nest ‘if necessary’

Miloš Zeman

President Miloš Zeman has said he would halt a criminal investigation into the so-called Stork’s Nest case that has dogged Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) for years. His talk of a possible ‘pardon’ has been widely condemned as an attempt to undermine the judiciary – and contradicts a vow he made before being re-elected president.

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio
The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office has yet to accept or reject a decision by the Prague state attorney, a subordinate, to halt the criminal investigation into whether Mr Babiš illegally acquired 2 million euros in EU subsidies for his Stork’s Nest complex a decade ago.

Regardless of the outcome, President Zeman told the commercial station TV Barrandov in his regular weekly interview airing on Thursday that he would exercise his constitutional authority to halt the process – by so-called “abolishment”.

“The president has the constitutional right to do it when necessary. While I believe that won’t be the case, I would use my constitutional rights”.

It is not the first time President Zeman has used those rights to help Mr Babiš, a Slovak-born billionaire whose ANO party swept into office on a pledge to root out government corruption.

Last year, the President broke protocol and gave the technocrat centrist a second chance to form a government, rather than turning to another party, after Mr Babiš failed to get a parliamentary majority.

But during a debate on Czech Television in late January 2018, shortly before winning re-election to the presidency, asked if he would ever try to halt the Stork’s Nest investigation, Mr Zeman gave an emphatic ‘No’.

“For God’s sake! Under no circumstances. No! Because he [Mr Babiš] must clear his name himself.”

The debate moderator then asked if Mr Zeman was quite certain he would not later change his mind.

“First of all, in my five years as President, I have never done that [halted an investigation]. And I would not change my mind – because I would be absolutely ridiculed.”

That prediction has proved prescient. Opposition politicians and commentators have called him out for hypocrisy and accused the president of trying to undermine the rule of law.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
For his part, Supreme Public Prosecutor Pavel Zeman – no relation to the president – said through a spokesman that his office will continue its independent assessment of the merits of continuing the criminal investigation. A decision to confirm or annul the suspension must come within three months.

Should Pavel Zeman decide to annul the decision of his subordinate, and President Miloš Zeman “abolish” that decision, the constitution stipulates that the prime minister must sign off on “abolishment” – in effect, Mr Babiš would co-sign his own “pardon”.

The irony was not lost on Constitutional Court judge emeritus Stanislav Balík, who told Czech Television such possibility probably did not occur to the authors of the Constitution.

“There is no historical precedence. But of course, it’s ridiculous – as if a soldier announced, ‘I command myself’. Without a doubt, this is quite an odd and paradoxical situation. But the Constitution does not provide for the eventuality of such a double role.”