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26th Sep 2022

Former Czech PM Babiš goes on trial for misuse of EU funds

  • Former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš was indicted earlier in March after parliament stripped him of his immunity (Photo: Consilium)
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The trial against former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš opened on Monday (12 September), over his alleged role in the misuse of EU funds worth €2m.

Babiš's opponents gathered in front of the court. with a makeshift prison cell across the street. in protest against the former prime minister.

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Babiš was indicted earlier in March after parliament stripped him of his immunity.

The case involves a farm called Stork's Nest that received EU funds after its ownership was transferred from the Babis-owned Agrofert media and agriculture conglomerate in 2007.

Later, Agrofert, which would not have been able to claim the subsidy due to its size, again took ownership of the farm. Agrofert eventually returned the €2m worth of EU funds.

Babiš, 68, the fifth-wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine, served as prime minister from 2017-2021. His former aide Jana Nagyova is also charged.

The prosecution asked for three-year suspended sentence and fines, Bloomberg reported. The trial is expected to last until October, and the verdict can be appealed.

Babiš denies wrongdoing and argues that the process is politically-motivated ahead of the presidential election in which Babiš is expected to run for the largely ceremonial position.

"I am glad all will see this, my arguments against this untrue charge," Babiš said as he entered the court building, according to Czech Television footage.

Babiš is leader of the opposition populist party ANO, which he founded in 2011, and which narrowly lost last year's general election in October.

A three-party centre-right coalition led by the current premier, Petr Fiala took over then.

But ANO currently leads opinion polls, with 30.5 percent support in a Kantar CZ poll for Czech Television, published on Sunday.

Fiala's centre-right Civic Democrats are second on 19.5 percent. The government is struggling with soaring inflation and increasing energy prices.

Babiš was also — separately — found to be in conflict of interest by an EU Commission audit as his Agrofert group was given large development subsidies while he was in power. He had denied any wrongdoing.

The Czech government eventually withdrew some of that subsidy, as the commission said it would not reimburse them.

MEPs on the budget control committee also investigated the case.

The Czech member of the committee received death threats and was put under police protection after Babiš called him a "traitor". Several other MEPs on the trip to the Czech Republic in 2020 were also targeted.

MEPs on the budget control committee argued then that Babiš should not take part in the negotiations on the next seven-year EU budget with other EU leaders because of his potential conflict of interests and possible misuse of EU funds.

Babiš, a close ally of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán, has followed an anti-migration agenda, arguing that migration is not the solution to demographic issues.

Opinion

Why doesn't Babiš get same focus as Hungary and Poland?

In comparison to other EU members, the Czech government has escaped relatively unscathed. The populist governments in Hungary and Poland are facing serious consequences for testing EU tolerance on core democratic values.

Testimony from son rocks trial of ex-Czech PM Babiš

In a fraud trial relating to €2m in EU subsidies, Andrej Babiš son testified his signature on share-transfer agreements was forged. He claims his father transferred the shares to him without his knowledge, making him a front man for scheme.

Opinion

What von der Leyen's 'State of Union' didn't mention

Ursula von der Leyen barely noticed that European democracy is under attack not only from external threats, but from within. Two of the world's leading autocratic countries are EU member states.

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