The intrigue over the Andrej Babis junior affair threatening the position of the prime minister in the Czech Republic thickened on November 15 when local media outlets reported experts as saying that the PM’s son would have had to go through the most rigorous pilot licensing tests that would have revealed the schizophrenia his father claims he suffers from.
The chances that the 35-year-old son of Prime Minister Andrej Babis developed the illness at a later date than those tests took place were low, according to cited experts.
At the end of last week, investigative journalists of Seznam.cz, who spent a year tracking down the whereabouts of Babis junior, reported on the son’s allegation that he was kidnapped at the instigation of his father prior to being held captive in Crimea to prevent him from testifying in the ‘Stork’s Nest’ EU subsidies corruption case pursued against the prime minister. The news outlet on November 16 printed what it said was an email from Babis junior in which he stated that his father crossed a red line by saying he must be under constant supervision. It was a lie that impacted on his personal liberty and he is not at all under supervision in Switzerland, where he presently lives and is free, he added. According to the printed email, he wants to get into phone contact with the Czech police investigating his case.
Thousands on Wenceslas Square
Several thousand people demonstrated on Wenceslas Square in Prague on the night of November 15 to demand Babis resign. A Median survey found that 60% of respondents want the government or at least the PM to quit. A separate survey from Median concluded that that half of respondents do not believe some of the prime minister’s explanations in the Babis junior affair. Babis told daily Pravo that he has not considered resigning even for a millisecond and that he was continuing to explain the situation to his coalition partners.
The PM has claimed that his son is mentally ill with schizophrenia and on strong medication.
Babis junior was a transport plane pilot for Czech airline group Travel Service. Czech media reports outline how in 2015 he had to go through a very strict medical check-up in relation to obtaining his commercial pilot’s licence. To acquire that licence, he would have needed to pass extremely demanding health tests, including psychological tests.
"The… so-called commercial pilot licence, which Babis junior, if I am not mistaken, already had, means you are a professional pilot. Also, you have reached at least 150 to 200 flying hours, mostly in smaller aircraft. For this, you need to acquire a first class medical certificate,” a Czech transport plane pilot was reported as saying by the Hospodarske noviny daily.
“Operational memory, spatial orientation and stress resistance are assessed. In all these criteria he would have had to succeed or achieve the required values,” Andrej Gorcos, head of psychiatry at the Institute of Aviation Health in Prague, told the newspaper.
A serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, would, according to Gorcos, certainly have been revealed by initial tests. "Pilot training is long and has to demonstrate a lot, so if he had serious psychological or psychiatric problems, they would not have got past the first screening. Bipolar disorder and other illnesses may occur at any time during life. But such occurrence is quite exceptional. I personally have never encountered such a case," aviation doctor David Melechovsky was cited as saying.
Babis has come under intense pressure from both the opposition, Senate and the public to resign following the revelations about his son.
His minority government is run according to an agreement between his Association of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) populist party and the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD). To obtain the parliamentary vote of confidence that allowed it to come into power, the coalition relied on the cooperation of the Communists.
In remarks from the prime minister reported by Hospodarske noviny on November 16, Babis said that if people want to topple the cabinet and throw the country into chaos, they should explain to voters why a government that is putting up pensions, raising salaries and delivering more capital investment should fall. And, he added, what is meant to come next? “Do they want early elections?”
President Milos Zeman said on the evening of November 15 on TV Barrandov that if the government fell, he would ask Babis to form a new government. Some voices in CSSD, such as vice chair Martin Netolicky, have said Babis should resign. The indefensible cannot be defended, he said on Facebook.
CSSD leader Jan Hamacek was reported by Pravo on November 16 as saying that the opposition has no Plan B and does not know what would happen if the government were given a vote of no-confidence. He reminded people that by entering the coalition his party wanted to prevent a government that involved the support of the neo-fascist party Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD)—a party that Zeman has not been shy of treating as a perfectly legitimate part of the political spectrum. Hamacek also said that he saw no sign of a security risk or a connection to Russian intelligence in the Babis junior affair. There have been some claims that Babis junior could not have been taken to the Crimea in the fashion that he was without the awareness of the Russian intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported that the Senate has passed a resolution that opposition senators say amounts to a vote of no-confidence in the government. The resolution states: “The Senate of the Czech Parliament considers the participation of Andrej Babis in the government to be unacceptable until the end of the investigation of the suspicion of subsidy fraud in the matter of the company Capi hnizdo [Stork’s Nest].”