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Police want Czech PM indicted for EU subsidy fraud

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Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis leaves after the second day of the EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on May 25, 2021. – European Union leaders took part in a two day in-person meeting to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, climate and Russia. (Photo by JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP)

Czech prosecutors said Monday that they are mulling charges against Prime Minister Andrej Babis after police urged them to indict the billionaire over alleged EU subsidy fraud.

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Police suspect Babis of having temporarily transferred the Stork Nest farm near Prague out of his sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding in 2007 to make it eligible for an EU subsidy for small companies.

The 66-year-old Slovak-born politician, who is the fifth wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine, has denied any wrongdoing.

“Documentation on the case labelled by the media as ‘The Stork Nest Case’ was submitted to the supervising state prosecutor today together with an indictment proposal by the police,” the Prague prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“The state prosecutor will now study the submitted documents to decide whether to indict, end the criminal proceedings or handle the matter in some other way,” it added.

Police already called for the prime minister to be indicted in 2019, but a prosecutor found the allegations to be unfounded and cleared Babis.

However, the country’s top prosecutor found flaws in the decision and reopened the case concerning Babis and his aide Jana Mayerova later that year.

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Babis, an ex-Communist who is listed as a secret police collaborator from the 1980s when the former Czechoslovakia was a Soviet satellite, is also facing conflict of interest allegations from the European Commission.

Babis insists he transferred Agrofert to two trust funds to steer clear of a conflict of interest, but public registries still list him as the beneficial owner of the group.

Babis leads a minority coalition government comprising his centrist populist ANO (YES) movement and the leftwing Social Democrats.

After topping opinion polls with 30-percent backing for years, ANO has recently fallen out of favour with voters over the government’s lukewarm handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Just over four months before the October general election, ANO came third in a poll by the Kantar CZ agency last weekend with 19-percent support, trailing two opposition coalitions.

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