PRAGUE (Reuters) - Andrej Babis, the frontrunner to become Czech prime minister after this month’s election, said on Monday he had been formally charged with fraud in a case involving a 2 million euro EU subsidy a decade ago.
Babis has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying the investigation was a plot by adversaries who want to prevent him from taking power and cutting corruption links between the EU member country’s incumbent politicians and business.
“I have received a decision on the commencement of criminal prosecution in the pseudo-case ... I immediately appealed this decision,” Babis said in a text message through his spokeswoman.
Spokesmen for the Prague prosecutor and police were not immediately available for comment.
The charges were expected after police asked parliament in August to lift parliamentary immunity of the billionaire businessman Babis, leader of the ANO movement, and ANO deputy chief Jaroslav Faltynek. Parliament voted to allow prosecution on Sept 6.
The ANO spokeswoman said Faltynek, former executive at companies owned by Babis, had also been charged with fraud. He also denies wrongdoing.
Babis is almost certain to win a new parliamentary mandate in the Oct 20-21 vote, which would renew his immunity. Parliament would have to vote again to lift it to allow the prosecution to go ahead.
ANO is expected to win the most votes in the election but fall short of an overall majority in parliament. Several potential coalition parties have said they would not join a government led by Babis personally due to the investigation.
The case involves an allegation that Babis hid ownership a decade ago of the farm and conference center, Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest), so it would qualify for a European Union subsidy that was meant for small businesses.
It would not qualify as part of Babis’s Agrofert group of companies which is the largest private employer in the central European country. Babis said it was owned by his family members when the subsidy was awarded. It was folded into Agrofert later.
Babis and Faltynek, a former executive at Agrofert companies, face potential prison sentences if the case is brought to court and if they are found guilty.
The Slovak-born Babis moved Agrofert and other assets into trust funds earlier this year to meet new conflict of interest legislation. He remains beneficiary of the funds.
Apart from police, the European Union’s anti-fraud unit OLAF has also been looking into the case.
Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams