Czech Premier under scrutiny in Strasbourg over conflict of interest
MEPs will hold a debate this week into the case of Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who has been accused of a conflict of interest over EU funds paid to his company.
Photo credit: Press Association
The parliamentary debate in Strasbourg will increase pressure on Babiš, who has been embroiled in scandal since taking office a year ago.
He has faced calls for his resignation over claims of a €2m subsidy fraud.
The allegations centre on EU funds paid in 2018 to his business empire, Agrofert, a conglomerate of 230 companies covering agriculture, food and chemicals.
The European Commission is investigating tens of millions of other grants handed to Agrofert since 2013.
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Transparency campaigners said Babiš was the beneficial owner of the conglomerate, which would be in breach of Czech and EU law.
A European Commission legal opinion, seen by several newspapers, reportedly states that Babiš is in a situation that “qualifies as a conflict of interest” because public officials and politicians should not benefit from EU funds they ultimately control.
The legal service opinion states that Babis has a conflict between his role as Prime Minister (in charge of negotiating and implementing EU funds) and his connections to the Agrofert group, which receive EU funds.
A Greens group spokesman said, “This is over €82m in fact and it's been going up since he [Babiš] entered government. We called for the debate. ALDE tried to delay because he's their pet oligarch.”
“There can be no justification for abusing the position of public office for private gain” Philippe Lamberts
Last weekend, the Guardian, Le Monde and Süddeutsche Zeitung published the leaked legal opinion.
Ever since these allegations were first raised by Transparency International Czech Republic, the Greens/EFA group have been calling for a full investigation into the extent of Babiš’s alleged conflicts of interest.
The Greens say, “Now that the Commission has confirmed that there is a conflict of interest, Andrej Babiš should sever all ties with the Agrofert group and resolve this conflict - failing that he must step down as Prime Minister.
“The Greens/EFA group has raised this issue with the European Commission on several occasions throughout hearings in the Budgetary Control Committee. The Commission had promised to look into the matter, but so far has refused to publish the now leaked legal opinion.”
PUBLIC OFFICE, PRIVATE GAIN
Philippe Lamberts, President of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament said, “There can be no justification for abusing the position of public office for private gain. The European Commission's own legal service has quite clearly found that Andrej Babiš has a conflict of interest and now the Czech Parliament and Commission cannot stand by and let this situation further denigrate the standing of the Czech government and the EU.”
"Mr Babiš cannot be allowed to remain both a beneficiary of Agrofert and head of the Czech government, he must sever any financial ties to Agrofert from which he might benefit through his role as Prime Minister.”
“All EU funds going to the Agrofert group must be suspended immediately, pending a full investigation. The European Commission should now publish all the documents related to Mr Babiš's case and explain exactly what steps they intend to take to remedy this outrageous situation.
"It would seriously undermine trust in the European political system if a sitting Prime Minister is negotiating EU funds that could end up in his own pockets" Bart Staes
Lamberts went on to say, “The Greens/EFA group have demanded a debate in the European Parliament and will ensure that the Commission fulfils its duty as guardian of the EU treaties to prevent such shocking abuses of power. Guy Verhofstadt and the ALDE group should really take a long hard look in the mirror and question whether they want to keep propping up their own pet Czech oligarch while he so brazenly undermines European values.”
Further comment came from Bart Staes, Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee , who said, "The European Commission's response to our questions on the alleged conflict of interest surrounding Czech PM Andrej Babiš and his involvement in the Agrofert group have not been adequate considering the gravity of the claims and the urgency of the issue.”
The Commission promised that they would look to conclude their investigation into this matter by mid-January, but this issue cannot be kicked into the long grass. Last Friday, a list of recent EU subsidies received by Agrofert, which could be in breach of conflict of interest rules, was sent to the Commission.”
“It is up to the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to look at all the evidence and decide if Babiš has a conflict of interest between his role as Prime Minister and his potential links to Agrofert. It would seriously undermine trust in the European political system if a sitting Prime Minister is negotiating EU funds that could end up in his own pockets. Any assets that could potentially constitute a conflict of interest must stop receiving any EU funds all together."
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