Czech cabinet shaky amidst conflict-of-interest scandal

EPA/HANS KLAUS TECHT

Czech Republic's Finance Minister Andrej Babis at a press conference after a meeting with counterparts from various European countries, in Vienna, Austria, 04 May 2015.

Two coalition partners refuse to support the third


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The senior coalition partner Social Democrat Party (CSSD) of the Czech government will support a bill that will ban cabinet ministers from holding a 40% or more controlling stake in any company while in office. Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), that is, the third junior partner of the three-party coalition government will also support the bill.

The law targets Finance Minister Andrej Babis, leader of the second junior coalition partner Ano and owner of Agrofert. Since January, Babis is under investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Unsurprisingly for the businessman-cum-politician, he came to power on an anti-corruption platform in what appears to be a recurring theme in European politics.

Allegedly, Babis tried to secure higher subsidies for products produced by his own company, Agrofert, which at the very least constitutes conflict of interest. Through his position as both a minister and an owner of the company, he was able to lobby in his own interest to secure higher subsidies. With a controlling stake in the Mafra media group, Babis is also a major stakeholder in the mass media, which also raises conflict of interest questions.

Agrofert is an agricultural and chemical group , which was the biggest Czech corporate recipient of EU funds in the 2007-2013 programme period, as well as the biggest employer in the Czech Republic.

The legislative initiative was taken by a minor conservative party called Top 09, but the CSSD wants to remove any stain on its image as conniving with business interests and tolerating corruption. At the same time, supporting the bill may come at the expense of the breakdown of the coalition. While the coalition is being put to the test, Babis seems to be finding a new ally in the face of the far right, euro-skeptic President Milos Zeman, who is also a vehement opponent of the Prime Minister.

(Pravo, Dotyk)

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