Billionaire Czech Leader Dismisses Pandora Papers Report as Election Ambush
(Bloomberg) -- Czech billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed attacks from his political rivals over offshore transactions revealed in the Pandora Papers, saying the report about personal transactions was aimed at undermining his front-running position before this week’s national elections.
The unprecedented leak of financial records published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed Babis moved $22 million through offshore companies to buy a property on the French Riviera in 2009, two years before he entered politics by creating his party.
Babis, who built a chemical, agriculture and media empire with annual revenue of about $7 billion, acknowledged the transaction and said it was a loan from his personal money that was taxed and eventually returned to the Czech Republic. As opposition leaders called on him to prove where he earned the money, he called the report a political attack designed to hurt him in the ballot scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
“In 2009, I was a private citizen, a private entrepreneur,” Babis said in a debate of political leaders on Monday. “And now somebody is saying that I allegedly laundered money. That’s absolutely scandalous.”
Since taking power in 2017, Babis has clashed with the European Union’s executive arm after it conducted an audit finding him in conflict of interest because he maintained control over his holding company despite placing the ownership in trusts before taking power.
Czech police have accused him of committing fraud with EU subsidies more than a decade ago, and prosecutors are now deciding whether to press charges. Babis denies those allegations as a fabrication by his rivals.
Babis’s supporters have largely overlooked his legal tussles. The popularity of his ANO party dropped this spring when the country suffered one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the world, but it has since regained a comfortable lead in polls.
“The whole thing has come too late to have any impact on public opinion,” said Martin Buchtik, a sociologist and the head of the STEM pollster.
The prime minister’s campaign is focusing on the government’s economic record, highlighting rising pensions and public salaries as well as investment into roads and railways. Babis has also revived his anti-migrant agenda, which helped him secure his first election victory, and is promising to never accept undocumented refugees into the country.
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