Czech PM facing pressure to step down over son's kidnap claim

Czech PM facing pressure to step down over son's kidnap claim
Pressure builds on Czech PM Babis to resign over allegations he kidnapped his son
By bne IntelliNews November 15, 2018

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is coming under intense pressure from both the opposition and the public to resign following the revelation that his son Andrej Babis junior claims his father kidnapped him and held him captive in the Crimea to prevent him from testifying in a corruption case. The leaders of six opposition parties with 92 votes of the 200-member parliamentary lower chamber between them have been pushing for a no-confidence vote in the government. A public protest against the PM has been called for November 15.

Babis faces the crisis that could cost him his job after investigative journalists from Seznam.cz spent a year tracking down his son's whereabouts. They then interviewed him in connection with the so-called Stork's Nest corruption case last week. Babis pleads innocence in the matter and says he does not see any reason why he should resign. He has claimed that his son is mentally ill and on strong medication, although the extent of the mental health problems of his son has been disputed.

Babis met with political leaders on November 14 to explain his son’s testimony. He spoke with party heads including Jan Hamacek, chairman of his junior minority coalition partner, the Social Democrats (CSSD), Communist party chairman Vojtech Filip and the leader of the neo-fascist Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party Tomio Okamura.

"It is important that he [the prime minister] is able to tell the public all the facts. The more he says, the better," the Social Democrats said in a statement. The issue of Babis’s resignation is not currently a subject of talks, they added. Babis and CSSD representatives are to meet again on November 15.

Okamura, who together with five other opposition parties actively called for a no-confidence vote a day earlier, offered to replace the Social Democrats in the ruling coalition with an SPD program. "I immediately used the opportunity because I can see there is some tension in the government," Okamura said.

Okamura stated that the SPD could not join a government coalition involving someone connected to an unresolved case like the Babis junior affair, but he suggested that his party's program could be implemented by a government of experts previously proposed by ANO. Okamura agreed to meet again with Babis next week.

More than 50% of Czech citizens believe that the Seznam.cz report that broke the story is credible, according to a survey from the Median Agency, the Czech News Agency reported on November 14. They believe the prime minister has been trying to prevent his son from giving evidence in the Stork's Nest case in which Babis is accused of abusing his office by misappropriating EU funds for the benefit of one of his companies. Exactly half of those surveyed also expressed confidence in the reported claim from Babis junior that he signed the documents related to the Stork's Nest conference centre and rural retreat outside Prague without knowing what he was signing.

Babis described the Seznam.cz report as a manipulation. “To film a mentally ill man, secretly and in this way, that is heinous and revolting. This entire campaign is only aimed at putting pressure on the investigators in the Stork's Nest case. It is also used by the opposition,” Babis said in a statement.

The prime minister added that he wonders who gave the journalists information about his son's residence in Switzerland. "I do not know if you realise this but the Stork's Nest case is a live file," he said, indicating that the information was leaked.

Meanwhile, Russia's Rosbalt news agency reported, citing the Czech opposition, that “a holiday stay” of the Czech prime minister’s son in the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula probably could not take place without the direct involvement of Russian intelligence agencies, Hospodarske Noviny wrote on November 13.

Babis was charged with fraud last year in the Stork's Nest case after MPs voted to lift his parliamentary immunity. The case is centred on a €2.3mn EU subsidy obtained a decade ago. Back in 2016, in advance of obtaining the subsidy, Babis said the Stork Nest's company and property was owned by his adult children and his brother-in-law.

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