More than 120,000 citizens marched in Prague on Monday to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, following ongoing public discontent and a recent decision from the European Commission (EC) that Babiš has significant conflicts of interest related to his private businesses.
The decision follows an initiative from Transparency International Czech Republic (TI-CZ), which filed a complaint to the EC last year highlighting Babiš’s conflicts of interest.
The complaint resulted in an audit by EC officials in the Czech Republic, an analysis of the EC’s Legal Service and, ultimately, led to the Commission’s decision last week that Czech Republic repay 17 million euro of EU subsidies that Babiš’s company received over the last two years.
“It is good news not only for us as authors of the initiative, but mainly a victory for all citizens and taxpayers in the Czech Republic and Europe. Prime Minister Babiš’s unprecedented conflict of interest has been confirmed. Now the consequences of the conflict need to be resolved immediately so that the national and European budgets recuperate the costs,” comments David Ondráčka, Director of TI-CZ and member of Transparency International’s global Board.
“The EU decision highlights that the rules apply to everyone, even prime ministers,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International. “Political leaders should not be allowed to hide behind obscure, non-transparent structures, reaping the benefits at the expense of citizens,” she added.
Timeline of events
In June 2018, TI-CZ revealed that Prime Minister Babiš was a controlling entity of Agrofert, a company that operates in agriculture, construction, logistics, and other sectors. As the sole beneficiary of two trust funds that own 100 percent of the shares of Agrofert, Babiš received millions of euros in EU subsidies each year.
As a result of this discovery, TI-CZ uncovered another conflict of interest involving Babiš and filed a series of complaints with both Czech and EU authorities.
First, in August 2018, TI-CZ filed a complaint with the Czech authorities concerning the prime minister’s conflict of interest in relation to media ownership.
As part of its many holdings, Agrofert owns a publishing company called MAFRA. However, Czech law prohibits government ministers, including the prime minister, from owning or controlling any media outlets.
Second, in September 2018, TI-CZ sent a complaint and open letter to the European Commission concerning Babiš’s conflict of interest as a beneficial owner of Agrofert.
As a result, in December 2018, the European Commission suspended subsidies to Agrofert and last Friday, after a thorough review of the case, the EC confirmed that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš maintains significant conflicts of interest.
In addition, in January 2019, Czech authorities found the prime minister had a conflict of interest in relation to his media holdings. Babiš appealed and Czech authorities are currently reviewing the case again. TI-CZ urges Czech authorities to take into account the EC’s recent decisions regarding this case.