EU lawmakers push Czech PM Babis over conflict of interest

FILE PHOTO - Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session during a no-confidence vote for the government he leads, in Prague, Czech Republic, November 23, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

European Union lawmakers backed a resolution on Thursday calling on the EU’s executive to act against suspected conflicts of interest involving Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and halt funding to his former business empire.

Babis, the Czech Republic’s second-richest person, has battled accusations from opponents since entering politics in 2011. His fight expanded to Brussels after new EU regulations that deal with conflict of interest took effect in August.

European Parliament members approved a resolution on Thursday that calls on the Commission to follow up on an EU legal document that said a conflict of interest existed.

This included a measure to suspend all EU funding to Agrofert – the conglomerate spanning food, agriculture, chemicals and media that Babis founded in the 1990s – until the conflict of interest has been fully investigated.

Babis denies having any conflicts of interest. He placed Agrofert, which gets tens of millions of euros a year in farming subsidies and development programmes, into trust funds last year to meet Czech conflict of interest laws.

Critics, including Transparency International, say that was not enough, since Babis is still the main beneficiary of the trust funds.

On Thursday, Babis said political opponents have sought to move their political fight to the European Parliament.

“For me, this is a political affair. I am convinced it will be shown that I do not have any conflict of interest,” he said on Czech Television before the vote.

“I proceeded according to Czech law. Now we are in communication with the European Commission.”