Top court rejects challenge to conflict of interest law “targeting Babiš”

Jan Filip, Pavel Rychetský, photo: ČTK/Igor Zehl

A three-year legal battle came to an end on Tuesday when the Czech Republic’s highest court rejected a challenge to a conflict of interest law. The legislation was dubbed “lex Babiš” for seeming to target the billionaire prime minister. However, judges denied it placed excessive restrictions on Mr. Babiš or other public officials.

Jan Filip,  Pavel Rychetský,  photo: ČTK/Igor Zehl
On Tuesday afternoon Constitutional Court chief Pavel Rychetský announced the rejection of a challenge to a conflict of interest law popularly known as “lex Babiš” due to the perception it was designed to rein in the billionaire prime minister.

The legislation prevents any company more than one-quarter owned by a cabinet member from applying for public contracts or subsidies and bars ministers from owning newspapers or radio or TV stations.

After it was approved in January 2017 the bill was challenged by President Miloš Zeman, who said it was discriminatory, and a group of MPs mainly from Andrej Babiš’s ANO party; they said it excessively interfered with the property rights of members of the government and restricted their right to do business.

The Constitutional Court justice Jan Filip explained the decision to reject the petition against the bill.

“Public law has to establish rules for the execution of public power. And that needs to be in part transparent and in part functionaries must be seen as really serving that public function. And this must be, as our constitution states, in the interest of all citizens and not in their personal interest.”

Mr. Babiš’s lawyer Michal Bartončík gave this response at the Brno courtroom where the verdict was read out.

“Naturally I’m a bit disappointed that the Constitutional Court didn’t uphold the objections of the president, or of the group of MPs in our petition. Nevertheless, the verdict is final and there is no alternative but to respect it.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
Responding to the court’s long-awaited verdict, PM Babiš himself said nothing would change as far as he was concerned – and that he too respected the legislation.

“That law was passed as ‘lex Babiš’ so I would leave politics, so they could chase me out of politics. Naturally I respect the law and I have acted according to it… I can’t have a conflict of interest if I’ve acted in accordance with a law that was approved in order for me to not be in politics.”

However, the story is not over. Though Mr. Babiš responded to the 2017 bill by placing his enormous Agrofert conglomerate into trust funds, the European Commission says he still wields effective control over it.

Opposition leaders warn the PM’s possible conflict of interest could cost the Czech state hundreds of millions of crowns in EU funding.