Czech Prosecutors Delay Decision Whether to Charge Tycoon Leader
(Bloomberg) -- Czech prosecutors postponed a decision on whether to press fraud charges against billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis in a case that has fractured the country’s political landscape before October elections.
In May, police recommended a indictment against Babis after investigating how one of his businesses obtained a 50 million-koruna ($2.3 million) European Union subsidy over a decade ago. Babis, a media, agriculture and chemicals magnate who has a wide lead in opinion polls, has denied any wrongdoing and said the case has been fabricated by his rivals to force him out of politics.
The accusations have dogged the fourth-richest Czech since he rose to power by attacking traditional politicians as corrupt and incompetent. Most mainstream political parties have refused to rule with Babis since he won 2017 elections because of the allegations. He is also locked in a dispute with the EU’s executive arm after its auditors found him in conflict of interest over ties to his business empire.
The prosecutor handling the case returned it to police to conduct a further investigation until the middle of September, the office’s spokesman, Ales Cimbala, said on Tuesday. The reason for the decision was new information that appeared after the original investigation was closed, he said.
The potential outcome is still unclear after prosecutors shelved the fraud case two years ago. Their supervisor later overturned the decision and requested further investigation with Babis as a suspect. The head of the Prague prosecutors was quoted this month as saying Babis’s legal team was adding new evidence in moves that have prolonged the process.
The legal challenges and tussles with the EU have for years failed to dent Babis’s popularity. While his support dropped when the Czech Republic suffered one the world’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks this spring, his party has since regained a wide lead in opinion polls after the pandemic eased.
He has also revived a fight against accepting Muslim immigrants as a central theme of his campaign for the Oct. 8-9 general elections, and is touting his government’s decision to raise pensions and public salaries, as well as investment into new infrastructure.
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