The European Commission has rejected a request filed by the Czech government to delay its submission on how it plans to improve its control mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest, such as those for which billionaire premier Andrej Babis has fallen foul of EU rules.
The Czech authorities, which had asked for 60 more days to reply, now have to send a report by September 22, newswire iRozhlas.cz reported. This means it cannot kick the issue into touch until after the October 3 general election, though the Commission is unlikely to comment on the report until the election is over.
The European Commission is currently not reimbursing the Czech state for subsidies given to Agrofert and has threatened to stop reimbursing Czech spending on wider EU subsidies until the government clarifies its policy.
“We requested this postponement in order to take all steps to answer all the questions that the European Commission put to the Czech Republic. Also because the cooperation of several ministries and organs was needed, or is needed, including the Supreme Audit Office. That takes time, and that was the main reason for requesting the move,” said Daniela Grabmullerova, Director of the Department for Coordination of EU Funds and International Relations at the Ministry of Regional Development.
According to iRozhlas.cz, the EC is also requesting information on a due diligence review of 12 projects by subsidiaries of the prime minister´s Agrofert congomerate from October 2021. Agrofert is the largest private Czech recipient of EU funds, creating insurmountable conflicts of interest because of Babis' political power, according to critics.
Despite the EU refusal to reimburse the Czech state for EU subsidies given to Agrofert, the government has continued to send money to the conglomerate, the largest private Czech recipient of EU money, and is pursuing legal action against the EU for not reimbursing them.
Babis is separately under investigation by Czech police for alleged fraud over his use of EU funds for building his Storks Nest conference centre, 60km south of Prague. Prague criminal investigators, who have been gathering fresh evidence regarding the Stork’s Nest fraud case against Babis, have now submitted the investigation file to the Municipal State Prosecutor's Office in Prague, proposing filing new charges, a police spokesperson confirmed on September 20.
Despite five years of police investigations, at the beginning of September the Public Prosecutor Jaroslav Saroch returned the case to the police for further investigation, due to the uncovering of new information. He now has to decide whether to file new charges in the case, but it is unlikely to do so before the general election.
The public prosecutor's predecessor had resigned, complaining of interference by ANO’s justice minister, who had herself been appointed in place of an insufficiently loyal predecessor.
Both Babis and his family have been charged as part of the investigation into allegations of how €2.3mn in EU funds were allegedly falsely obtained by the Stork’s Nest conference centre, for which Babis' son Andrej Babis junior was one of the nominal owners. The EU funds were designated for small enterprises, while according to police and an EU investigation, the complex was in reality always part of the premier's Agrofert conglomerate.
Also earlier this month, Andrej Babis junior was questioned by police about his accusation of his father allegedly kidnapping him and holding him captive in the Crimea. to prevent him from testifying in the Stork’s Nest case in 2017.
Babis dismisses both the EU and Czech probes as political attacks.