Czech PM Babis calls EU report on him an attack against country

June 4, 2019

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis fought back on Tuesday against a proposed European Commission report into his possible conflicts of interest, calling it an attack against the Czech Republic.

Babis, a billionaire businessman-turned-politician, has been facing growing protests in recent weeks as he fights a police investigation into suspected European Union subsidy fraud and also allegations of conflicts of interest because of his former business empire.

A European Commission audit showing preliminary results that leaked last week determined that his former company, conglomerate Agrofert, should not have access to EU development funds because Babis remained a beneficiary.

The report raises the possibility of the country needing to return EU funds.

Babis, speaking in parliament on Tuesday, said the country would not lose EU funds, which have been a boon for both development and budget management.

“A doubtful audit, an attack on the Czech Republic and I again repeat, nothing will be returned,” Babis told lawmakers.

A spokeswoman for the EU’s executive commission said it respected all rules in the audit process.

Tens of thousands of people have protested against Babis and his new justice minister since the end of April, over worries of meddling into a case against Babis in which police have recommended he could face trial. Around 100,000 were predicted to turn out again on Tuesday evening.

The case involves allegations he received a 2 million euro EU subsidy for a farm and convention center more than a decade ago by hiding its ownership – which Babis denies. Prosecutors have yet to decide on whether the case will go to court.

Babis placed Agrofert, a conglomerate of more than 200 companies in food, agriculture, chemicals and media, into trust funds in 2017 to comply with Czech legislation.

He has said repeatedly he has followed Czech and EU rules.

Babis has been a pro-EU voice in an often standoffish central Europe region. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been at odds with the EU executive and has often said protests have been organized from outside.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Peter Graff)

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