CZECH REPUBLIC: ‘Czech Donald Trump’ remains popular despite scandals

On 6 September, the Czech parliament voted to strip Andrej Babiš, the Slovak-born billionaire businessman and former finance minister, of his parliamentary immunity in order for police to charge him with fraud.

Babiš is the founder of the centrist ANO party, the junior coalition party, and he is the country’s second wealthiest man. He stands accused of fraudulently taking E.U. funds for small businesses amounting to EUR2 million and using them to build his luxury hotel and farm, Čapí Hnízdo (stork’s nest).

He is no stranger to such accusations: in Slovakia, Babiš is facing the largest fine in the country’s history – up to EUR640 million – for allegedly creating a monopoly of bakeries. In March, he came under fire for allegedly purchasing EUR55 million worth of tax-free bonds issued by his Agrofert conglomerate, which could amount to tax evasion.

The ‘Czech Donald Trump’ does not appear concerned by the allegations, ultimately voting to strip his own immunity to ‘clear his name’. Ahead of parliamentary elections on 20 and 21 October, Babiš and the ANO retain a comfortable lead in the polls.

A public spat between Babiš and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, leader of the centre-left ČSSD, caused a major political crisis in May 2017. Sobotka tendered the resignation of his entire cabinet, saying that it was ‘unacceptable’ for Babiš to remain as finance minister in light of the allegations surrounding Babiš’s use of the bonds. He refused to fire Babiš on the grounds that it would give his political rival more time to campaign for the upcoming election.

Having made the surprise move to resign, Sobotka quickly changed his mind when President Miloš Zeman, an ally of Babiš, said that he would only accept Sobotka’s resignation, keeping the rest of the cabinet intact. This was a major humiliation for the prime minister. Zeman eventually fired Babiš after being threatened with the constitutional court by Sobotka, but replaced the finance minister with another ANO politician, Ivan Pilný.

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