December 4, 2019 / 9:17 AM / 4 days ago

Czech PM Babis: no reason to quit over EU audit on business conflicts - Pravo

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis sees no reason to resign over an ongoing European Commission audit into conflicts of interest related to the sprawling conglomerate Agrofert, Pravo newspaper quoted him on Wednesday as saying.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks during a news conference following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine, November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

Babis also said he ruled out the possibility of the state having to repay European Union subsidies given to Agrofert, the business empire he started in the 1990s and placed in trust funds in 2017 before becoming prime minister.

“There is not the slightest reason,” Babis told Pravo in an interview when asked if he would resign after media reports said a Commission audit determined the country may have to give back hundreds of millions of crowns in subsidies for Agrofert.

Three Czech news outlets reported on Tuesday that a final version of an unreleased Commission audit showed Babis had not sufficiently separated himself from the group.

Babis has repeatedly said he met obligations after putting Agrofert into two trust funds to meet conflict of interest laws.

The European Commission said last Friday it had sent the audit results to the Czech authorities, but that the contents were confidential as the audit procedure was ongoing.

Babis told Pravo the audit was not a final verdict and the country could still comment on it before the Commission dealt with it.

“I fundamentally reject the idea that the Czech Republic would have to return money because of my former company,” Babis said.

Babis, listed by Forbes as the country’s fourth richest person, has climbed to the top of Czech politics since 2014 but has had to fight opposition attacks over conflicts of interest.

In September, the Prague state attorney halted a criminal investigation into whether Babis, his family members and others had manipulated ownership of a farm and convention center to win an EU subsidy more than a decade ago.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing.

The Czech Republic’s supreme prosecutor was due to announce on Wednesday whether to maintain that decision or to re-open the case.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones

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