December 1, 2019 / 8:11 PM / 6 days ago

EU audit finds Czech Prime Minister Babis in conflict of interest: report

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A European Commission audit has confirmed that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is in a conflict of interest due to his former business empire that he has put into trust funds, weekly Respekt reported on its website on Sunday, quoting sources.

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

    Reuters could not immediately independently confirm the report, which Respekt said was based on two sources with knowledge of the document.

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

    A spokesman for Agrofert said the company had no information on the audit results.

    Companies in the Agrofert group, the core of Babis’s assets estimated at $3.5 billion by Forbes, are some of the largest recipients of EU subsidies, both for farming and for investment projects, in the central European country.  

They are run by two trust funds since 2017, an arrangement Babis made to meet local law on conflict of interest.

He reiterated in a television debate earlier on Sunday that he had met all legal obligations.

    The preliminary audit leaked in June had suggested the country may face calls to return millions of euros in EU aid that had been paid to Agrofert companies.

The EU probe was one of the triggers that brought hundreds of thousands of Czechs to rallies against Babis in the spring and autumn this year, the biggest protests since the end of communist rule 30 years ago. Babis’s ANO party however remains by far the most popular Czech political group.

    A spokesman for the Czech Regional Development Ministry, which is in charge of handling the audit, said that the report had been received.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Francesco Gauarascio in Brussels; editing by Louise Heavens

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