The Czech branch of Transparency International (TI) urged the European Commission to launch an investigation into graft allegations against the Czech populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis (Ano). TI claims that Babis is in a conflict of interest over his agricultural empire Agrofert.
Transparency said that Babis is in fact still the owner of Agrofert, which at the same time drew a significant amount of money from the EU budget.
TI said earlier, in June, that Babis is still the controlling shareholder and beneficial owner of Agrofert that used to belong to Babis until February 2017.
Babis, who is under investigation for fraud relating to EU funds. transferred Agrofert into a trust fund, but it is clear that Babis is still in de facto control of the company.
“On one hand he is sitting in EU meetings, where he decides about subsidies that will end up in his pocket,” said David Ondráčka, director of Transparency International in the Czech Republic as cited by the Guardian.
“And at the same time, he uses these subsidies to fund his political career, where he is dominating over his opponents,” he said.
Babis responded to the Czech News Agency (CTK) that all the allegations are false, and TI is just part of the political fight.
“TI doesn’t have any evidence that I could influence the company [Agrofert], because they just can’t have them, this is not happening. I am respectful of the laws and I don’t pay attention to my previous company. I don’t even have time,” Babis wrote to CTK.
But Agrofert is still big recipient of EU money. Parts of the company have received the largest possible amount of EU subsidies (CZK75mn) to support innovation and the production of cheese as well as for “optimization and innovation of the jointing and packing process of poultry.”
“Given that the European Parliament has previously decided that firms owned by the politicians should not receive EU subsidies, there is a question of whether Agrofert’s eligibility to use public funds should be re-examined,“ said David Ondráčka earlier.
Agrofert is the number one company in agriculture and food processing industry, number two in the chemical industry, and a very important player in the forestry industry and media. It employed 33,000 people in 2017.
Part of the concern is also Mafra, a publishing house that owns popular newspaper titles including Lidove Noviny and MF Dnes, which is also part of the empire.