PRAGUE (Reuters) - Andrej Babis, whose ANO movement is heavily tipped to win this weekend’s Czech national election, is his country’s second-richest man with an empire of chemicals, food processing, farming and media firms.
He also owns a restaurant on the French Riviera with two Michelin stars.
Forbes magazine puts his worth at $4 billion, behind only Petr Kellner at $14.2 billion. Babis said in an interview with Blesk daily this week he had valued his main asset Agrofert at $4.6 billion.
AGROFERT‘S ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
Babis set up fertilizer trader Agrofert in 1993 as the Czech unit of Slovakia-based and formerly state-owned trading firm Petrimex that had Babis worked for since the 1970s. He took control of Agrofert in 1995 and has since expanded it, often through acquisitions.
Babis moved ownership of Agrofert and his other main firm SynBiol to two trust funds at the beginning of this year. The step was required by new conflict-of-interest legislation that applied to him as finance minister at the time.
The two trust funds -- AB private trust I and AB private trust II -- are managed by long-term collaborators of Babis, Agrofert Chairman Zbynek Prusa and board member Alexej Bilek.
Babis’s firms receive national and EU subsidies, both regular farming payments and investment aid, have numerous business deals with the public sector, and also depend on government regulation in sectors such as biofuels.
Babis, finance minister from 2014 until May this year, has admitted being at some points in conflict of interest but has denied abusing the position.
Police charged Babis earlier this month over a 2 million euro EU subsidy awarded in 2008 to one of his projects, Stork Nest, and have also been looking into his past tax strategies which cost him the finance ministry in May. He denies any wrongdoing.
A group of over 250 firms and 34,000 employees, it has activities in 18 countries, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Hungary, focusing on chemicals, farming, food processing, forestry and media.
Agrofert had sales of 155.3 billion crowns ($7.16 billion) and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of 14.7 billion crowns in 2016.
It reported receiving subsidies, mostly EU farming funding, of 1.5 billion crowns last year.
- About 9,000 people work for a host of firms including Deza, Lovochemie, Precheza, Synthesia, Fatra, Slovakia’s Duslo and Germany’s Stickstoffwerke Piesteritz.
- Products include fertilisers, sulfur, aromatic reactants, phenols, tar oils, pigments, acids, salts, PVC, polymers, pesticides, urea.
- 103,000 farmed hectares
- grains trade, storage, seeds, feed, crop growing and livestock.
- forestry and timber
- 16,500 employees
- meat, poultry, dairy, bakeries
- operations in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany
- includes a large new bakery plant in Germany
- The largest Czech producer of rapeseed-based biofuels, which are by law mixed into motor fuels.
- Major supplier to state-owned fuels distribution firm Cepro.
- Babis’s most criticized acquisition, including 23 newspapers and magazines, 3 small TV stations and a national radio.
The main asset is MAFRA, the publisher of two national broadsheet daily newspapers, Mlada fronta Dnes and Lidove Noviny as well as free newspapers, magazines and a number of news and entertainment websites, which Babis acquired when he was running in the 2013 election.
MAFRA says it reaches 2.5 million print and 2.8 million internet readers.
The purchase sparked an exodus of staff who said they would not work for an owner who was a politician.
Babis has denied ever influencing content although a leaked tape earlier this year suggested he discussed coverage of opponents with a journalist. The journalist was fired.
Media holdings also include Radio Impuls, the largest private radio station by number of listeners.
Firm controlling other main investments.
Assets include FutureLife, a network of fertility clinics valued at over 100 million euros; smaller biotech, food and real estate investments.
An arm looking after real estate, some farming and other projects, including the conference center and mini-Zoo Capi Hnizdo (Stork Nest), the source of Babis’s biggest legal trouble.
Police charged Babis with hiding ownership of the project a decade ago so it qualified for a 2 million euro European Union development subsidy which was meant for small business. He denies any wrongdoing. He faces possibly years in jail if convicted.
A restaurant near Cannes, France, that has received two Michelin stars. It features dinner tasting menus costing 98 to 185 euros per head.
($1 = 21.6940 Czech crowns)
Reporting by Jan Lopatka; editing by John Stonestreet