Andrej Babiš

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Andrej Babiš
MP
A Babiš Praha 2015.JPG
Minister of Finance
In office
29 January 2014 – 24 May 2017
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka
Preceded by Jan Fischer
Succeeded by Ivan Pilný
Leader of ANO 2011
Assumed office
11 May 2012
Preceded by Position established
Member of Parliament for Prague
Assumed office
26 October 2013
Personal details
Born (1954-09-02) 2 September 1954 (age 62)
Bratislava, Czechoslovakia
(now Slovakia)
Political party Communist Party (1980–1989)
ANO 2011 (2012–present)
Domestic partner Monika Babišová
Children 4
Alma mater University of Economics, Bratislava

Andrej Babiš (Czech pronunciation: [ˈandrɛj ˈbabɪʃ]; born 2 September 1954) is a Czech politician, entrepreneur and businessman of Slovak origin. From January 2014 to May 2017 Babiš served as Finance Minister of the Czech Republic and Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the economy in Cabinet of Bohuslav Sobotka. Babiš has led ANO 2011 party since 2012 when he founded it as a protest movement against established politics. Babiš, the second richest man in the Czech Republic, is a former CEO and sole owner of the Agrofert group[1] with a net worth of about $2.6 billion according to Forbes magazine.[2] He is considered to be one of the most popular politicians in the Czech Republic.[3]

Early life and career[edit]

He was born on 2 September 1954 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. His father, a diplomat and member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, represented Czechoslovakia during negotiations with the GATT at Geneva and as a consultant at UN.[4][5] He is nephew of Ervin and Viera Scheibner.[6][7]

Andrej Babiš spent a part of his childhood abroad.[citation needed] Later, he studied at a gymnasium in Bratislava and continued at the University of Economics, where he studied international trade. Following his studies, he worked as an employee of the Slovak communist controlled international trade company Petrimex in Morocco.[8] In addition to accusations that he was a "powerful agent" for the Czechoslovak secret state security service, StB, during the Communist era, he also has been accused of being a KGB officer in those years.[9]

He came back to Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution[citation needed] and resided in the Czech Republic after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. He became managing director of Agrofert in 1993[10] and gradually developed it into one of the largest companies in the country.[11] Agrofert had been a subsidiary of Petrimex while Babiš was on the Board. During his time on the Board, Agrofert was quietly recapitalised by an obscure Swiss entity, OFI (located in the same small Swiss town, Baar, where Marc Rich was located[12]), which took control of Agrofert from Petrimex. Petrimex later fired Babiš and sued him, unsuccessfully, for allowing the firm's stake in Agrofert to be diluted.[citation needed] Soon thereafter, Babiš turned out to be the 100% owner of Agrofert.[13] He originally focused his business activities mainly on agriculture,[8] but in recent years he has acquired a large empire of media companies. This has brought him criticism from parties who believe he is amassing far too much power, since the media outlets he controls publish very sympathetic coverage of him.[14]

Agrofert[edit]

Headquarters of Agrofert, Prague - Chodov
Babiš and Adriana Krnáčová (Mayor of Prague) serving fish soup for free at Old Town Square in Prague, December 2014

In January 1993 Babiš became managing director of newly established Petrimex's subsidiary Agrofert.[15] He had suggested establishing Agrofert while he was a Director at Petrimex, and he gradually assumed full control over the new company. The (foreign) source of the initial financing for his takeover of Agrofert from Petrimex was still undisclosed as of the end of 2014.[16]

The company started as a wholesale and trading firm, but acquired various agricultural, food processing and chemical companies later. In 2011 Agrofert Holding consists of more than 230 companies[17] mainly in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. It is the fourth largest company in the Czech Republic by revenue with revenue exceeding CZK 117 billion. When he entered politics he resigned on CEO but still remains sole owner.[17]

The history of Agrofert, detailed in a book by the journalist Tomáš Pergler, is closely linked to its control of the Czech petrochemicals industry. One reviewer of the book said the account “captures much of what has led Czechs to the conviction that they live in a corrupted, clientist country – and (paradoxically) then to vote for the ANO movement.”[16]

In 2013 Agrofert purchased the company MAFRA, publishing Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta DNES newspapers and operating the Óčko TV.[18] Agrofert also owns Radio Impuls, the most listened radio station in the Czech Republic (as of late 2014).[19][20]

Political activities[edit]

Babiš founded his party ANO 2011 "to fight corruption and other ills in the country's political system".[21] Political scientists noted in 2014 that Czech democracy is in decline, and that Andrej Babis is associated with that decline more than any other single person.[16]

I assure @ErikBest that I will never run for President. His work wouldn't have been fun for me and I neither have assumptions for it.

— Andrej Babiš on Twitter.[22]

His political motives have been questioned after his Agrofert purchased MAFRA, one of the largest and most influential publishing houses in the Czech Republic.[21] The party contested in Czech legislative election held in October 2013 and finished as second strongest gaining 47 seats (of 200) in the Chamber of Deputies. The American political consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland was credited with engineering the surprise victory.[23][24]

Babiš is the Minister of Finance in the coalition government of Social Democrats, ANO and Christian Democrats.[25]

Babiš has been linked closely to President Miloš Zeman since at least 2001, when Zeman was Prime Minister; and his business interests are alleged to have benefited from the association. In 2001, Zeman oversaw the sale of Unipetrol, a state-owned chemical company, to Babiš. Babiš pulled out of the sale, but later oversaw the sale of the firm to a Polish company. The sale was tainted by a massive bribery scandal, according to Polish reports, although Babis denies any bribes were paid.[14][26] The Unipetrol deal is often cited as evidence of a strong partnership between Babiš and Zeman that persists.[27]

Babiš with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, 13 February 2015

Babiš has a reputation for surrounding himself with senior police officers, security agents, and former Communist informers, to help him consolidate power.[13][14]

In May 2015, after the government's decision to extend reduced taxation of biofuels (a segment of the fuel market controlled significantly by companies in the Agrofert portfolio), the opposition decided to initiate a vote of no confidence against the cabinet.[28]

Babiš and Vladimír Dlouhý, the advisor to Goldman Sachs in Central Europe, in 2015

On 26 May 2015, Babiš has said while speaking to the Chamber of Deputies that he was forced to enter politics because of 'corrupted opposition' (referring to the ODS) which 'created him'.[29]

Andrej Babiš has been many times quoted saying that he would like to be the next Prime Minister of the Czech Republic If ANO 2011 had led the government.[30]

Controversies[edit]

Alleged KGB connection and StB cooperation[edit]

Babiš has been called a career communist who used his background with the StB (the Communist-era Czechoslovak secret police) to enrich himself. Babiš denies that he was an agent of the KGB or StB—he says he was a victim that was forced to cooperate—but his close associates still include Libor Široký, now chairman of Agrofert’s supervisory board. Siroky is reportedly a former member of one of the secret-police units most closely linked to the Soviet KGB.[16] Critics who accuse him of KGB connections also point to his support for the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, and his opposition to international sanctions against Russia. When a Lebanese arms dealer with alleged Russian connections was released by Czech authorities instead of being extradited to the US, and it was revealed that every official involved in the release was an ANO party member or was associated with Babis, questions arose again about his allegiance to Russia.[31]

According to the information of the Nation's Memory Institute in Slovakia, during the rule of the communist régime in Czechoslovakia Babiš collaborated with the StB (State Security Police), under the code name Bureš. He himself denies the accusations and in 2013 he sued the Institute. However, neither he nor his witnesses appeared at court originally. The trial was adjourned to January 2014, after the elections.[32][33]

Code name of Bureš consists of 12 unrelated cases which were investigated by StB from 1982 to 1985, according to the Slovak Nation's Memory Institute.[34] Babiš appeared once at the court during the process.[35] The District Court in Bratislava issued a result on June 26, 2014 that there is a lack of evidence to put Andrej Babiš on a list of former intentional cooperators of StB.[36][better source needed] It means that Babiš cannot be considered as an intentional agent of StB.[37] Nation's Memory Institute announced it will appeal to higher court.[38] On 30 June 2015, Bratislava's County Court upheld the verdict.[39]

Opposition MP Miroslav Kalousek said it no longer matters what the Slovak Nation's Memory Institute has to say about Babiš, because his behaviour as a politician, and especially this tactic, has proven his StB training.[40]

In October 2015 Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who specializes in Russian and Eastern European affairs, listed Babiš among several Eastern European leaders who are widely thought to be agents of influence for Putin's Russia. Writing in the Washington Post, she suggested that the old labels from Soviet Communist days, such as useful idiots and fellow travelers, are no longer adequate to describe Babis and his counterparts. To illustrate her point, she listed several quotes from each leader that sound very similar to each other and to the talking points that were broadcast at the same time by official Russian news sources.[41]

Babiš responded to Applebaum by claiming in a letter to the Washington Post that he has no friends in Russia and is an American ally. A Washington DC based journalist challenged those claims by citing several examples of acts Babiš has taken that have furthered Russian policy goals.[42] One example was a Czech government loan guarantee to a Russian company with a record of defaults,[43] owned by a close friend of President Putin.[44] Another example was the Czech Finance Ministry's elaborate procedure to keep racing the thoroughbred horses prized by Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Chechnya and close ally of Putin, even though he is under international sanctions.[45] The final example was that Babis had disclosed in 2007 that his firm, Agrofert, was negotiating to purchase gas - Agrofert's main feedstock - from the Czech subsidiary of Gazprom instead of its then-current German supplier.[46]

In February 2016, on the day to remember the Communist takeover in 1948, hundreds of protesters opposed to Babiš gathered in Wenceslas square to warn that Babiš is, according to them, advancing an agenda that will take away Czech freedoms. They said that it is a quiet revolution, happening in gradual steps, but that it is going to rob Czechs of our freedom.[47]

The Ali Fayyad Affair[edit]

In February 2016 Prague was buzzing with the news that 5 Czech citizens, including an intelligence officer from Military Intelligence, had been kidnapped in Lebanon, supposedly while looking for a Czech cook who had been kidnapped in Libya. Within days news came out that the five had been exchanged for the release by the Czechs of Ali Fayyad, a Lebanese arms trader with Ukrainian passport who had been held in Czech prison 18 months. Fayyad had been arrested by Czechs in cooperation with a US DEA sting 18 months before. The U.S. government issued very strong condemnations of the decision to release Fayyad rather than comply with a U.S. extradition order, and threatened that the affair would damage bilateral relations. Media sources called the detention of the 5 Czechs in Lebanon a staged kidnapping or a bungled intelligence operation or both. Every official involved in the Fayyad affair - the arrest, the imprisonment, ignoring the extradition order, the trip to Lebanon by Military Intelligence, Fayyad's release, and the government explanation of the affair - was an official of ANO, appointed by an ANO Minister, or publicly linked to Andrej Babis.[31] Forbes magazine published an article suggesting that the whole affair had been an operation by Russian intelligence agencies, to prevent Fayyad from falling into American hands where he could have revealed secrets about the connections among Hezbollah, Russia and the drugs trade. The article named Babis, along with ANO Defense Minister Stropnicky and Justice Minister Robert Pelikan; and called for an international investigation into Russian influence in NATO governments, and sanctions against any Czech official found to have conspired with terrorists.[48] Analysts who suspect that Fayyad had ties to Russia point to Czech President Zeman’s phone call to Vladimir Putin to arrange the release of the 5 Czechs held in exchange for Fayyad.[49]

After the election of Donald Trump, American server Real Clear Defense published an article about the Czech refusal to extradite Fayyad, and said that American officials are still angry about his release. The author predicted that Trump officials would be more willing to take action about it than Obama administration was.[50] In March 2016 news emerged that Petr Pelikan, the brother of Justice Minister Robert Pelikan and an Orientalist expert on Arabic, Persian and a convert to Islam,[51] had some involvement in the affair.[52]

Corruption Inquiry[edit]

Babiš was accused by the public and opposition for promoting his companies in government procurements. He also was the main reason why opposition parties ODS, TOP 09 and Dawn decided to call on vote against the government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka which was unsuccessful.[53]

Babisconi[edit]

Magazine Foreign Policy named him as Babisconi which refers to his surname Babiš and surname of former Italian oligarchy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, known for his political and oligarchy scandals.[54] Babiš replied that he is prepared to and will sue the magazine, but it was a threat he never carried out.[55]

Comparisons to Donald Trump[edit]

The European edition of Politico compared Babiš to an American businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump. In October 2015, Babiš rejected the comparison, contemptuously dismissing Trump as a failure, pointing to Trump's multiple bankruptices.[56] In March 2016, however, as Trump looked poised to win the Republican primary elections, Babiš wrote several complimentary comments about Trump, saying that the two are very much alike, since they both say politically incorrect things and both oppose immigration. When he was criticized for being complimentary, however, he reverted to criticizing Trump's bankruptcies, and said he really would like to vote for Michael Bloomberg as candidate for US President.[57]

In an opinion article published in the congressional newspaper The Hill, Babis was harshly criticized for an opinion article[58] he published on eve of the American elections. "...the booby prize goes to the Czech Finance Minister, Andrej Babis, who had the bad judgment to repeat on the literal eve of the election several of his sneering statements about Trump." [59]

In the November 8th op-ed he wrote: "I do not support Trump, although some mistakenly compare him to me. All we have in common is perhaps just that we both went into politics from the business world. I also have a movement [the ANO or YES party], which unlike Trump’s, is a positive program for everyone. … From the beginning, we stood up only against godfathers and corrupt politicians, and it is to fight against them that we went into politics. For that reason, my favorite U.S. politician is Michael Bloomberg."[60] This followed Babis’ unflattering reaction last year to being compared to Trump: “The difference is that Trump went bankrupt several times and boasts about his property. I do not do either of those things.” [56] The day after the American election, Babis congratulated Trump and joked that Trump won by imitating Babis and his ANO movement. He remarked also that Trump’s first wife had been a Czech, so he knows where the Czech Republic is, “unlike most Americans.” [61] When questioned about Lex Babis, the new law preventing ownership by government officials of companies with government interest, he defended himself by saying that compared to Trump he has better ethics, because Trump was bringing his daughter and son-in-law to work in the White House.[62] In November 2016, his media (Lidovky server) have reported that Trump’s first wife Ivana may become the new U.S. ambassador to Czech Republic.[63] But in January 2017, when there was much attention in the world media to a dossier alleging ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence, the same newspaper server, Lidovky, published a long article about StB files on Ivana and her family. The article suggested that communist intelligence agencies had a long history with the family.[64]

Swiss L'Hebdo: Why do Czech Oligarchs Buy Unprofitable Media Outlets?[edit]

In August 2015, the Swiss weekly L'Hebdo published an article questioning why Czech oligarchs love to purchase the media outlets, and why they love Francophone Switzerland. The article focused heavily its attention on Babiš, and on his purchase of media outlets in the Czech Republic. The author pointed out that Babiš claimed to invest in MfD only for profits, but that he had no answer when told it was unprofitable investment. However, journalists for his papers are now seen as doing his work.[65]

Conflict of interests[edit]

Connections between companies in the AGROFERT portfolio

He has been criticized by media and opposition politicians for his alleged conflict of interest[66][67] as the Minister of Finance and owner of the companies subsidized by EU funding programmes. During a visit to the Czech Republic in March 2014, the German Member of the European Parliament Ingeborg Gräßle expressed concerns that a person with such a massive personal financial interest and simultaneously a leading representative of a state cannot guarantee to the EU that its resources are properly distributed.[68] A 2014 article in the political newspaper Politico expressed the situation in stark terms: "The Czech Republic is now a paradox: a society disgusted with corruption has given huge power to a man whose business interests amount to the biggest conflict of interest in the country’s post-1989 history."[16]

On 5 June 2015 a retired senior American intelligence officer published an opinion article using Babiš as an example of a corrupt politician with conflicts of interest and probable ties to Russia. In the article, he wondered whether the recent American government investigations into bribery and corruption in FIFA may herald a more aggressive attempt to investigate other corrupt practices. The article pointed out that several investigations were launched by a team of police and prosecutor, who have launched questionable cases that do not hold up in court.[69] The article drew heavily on published sources in the media.

Intimidation[edit]

In June 2015, Babiš provoked controversy when a Member of Parliament, Ladislav Šincl, "criticised the Finance Ministry's changing position on a bill reducing commissions for life insurance mediators in the Chamber of Deputies and indicated that Babiš's business interests may be behind it."[70] On 17 June 2015, Babiš met with the ČSSD deputy Ladislav Šincl and accused him of corruption and taking bribes from businessman and senator Ivo Valenta, who owns hazard group Synot. According to the witnesses, Babiš brought at the meeting a folder marked with yellow note named Šincl and started yelling at Šincl that he knows that Šincl takes bribes from Valenta and is corrupted. Later he moved on his family and former Šincl's jobs. This meeting took place after Sincl had suggested that the Ministry of Finance had changed its position on an insurance matter because the change would benefit Babiš's commercial interests.[71]

On 18 June 2015, Babiš admitted he had folder with Šincl's name but declined that he intimidated Šincl, saying, "It's not the materials. It's articles from media. Do media write lies? I just showed what media write, I think they do their job well. When I go to a meeting, I prepare myself so I know who I am dealing with." Babiš's coalition partners ČSSD (Šincl's party) and KDU-ČSL demanded an apology but Babiš refused to do so and claimed that Šincl had lied about him in the Parliament. Bohuslav Sobotka, Czech Prime Minister and the chairman of ČSSD called on a coalition meeting on the same day.[72]

Šincl said Babiš' tactic, of reading potentially embarrassing facts about him from a file marked with his name, was reminiscent of the tactics of the StB.[40][70][71] Miroslav Kalousek, the first deputy chairman of the opposition party TOP09 accused Babiš of using StB's practices. Babiš declined it.[73]

Lety camp controversial comments[edit]

On 1 September 2016, while visiting Varnsdorf, a city with large Romani minority presence Babiš said: "What those idiots (journalists) write in newspapers, that camp in Lety was a concentration camp, that is a lie, it was a labor camp, who didn't work ended up there."[74] Babiš was heavily criticized for his words from both coalition partners and opposition MPs calling on him to resign. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka posted on Facebook condemnation saying that "between populism and extremism is a thin line and Babiš crossed over it" and asked him to "properly apologize and visit Lety to learn about history of our state".[75]

Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Jiří Dienstbier has called on Babiš to step down as Finance Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister.[76] Leaders of both opposition parties Petr Fiala from ODS and Miroslav Kalousek from TOP 09 have also called on Babiš to step down.[77]

Leaked tapes alleging meddling into independence of MF Dnes newspaper[edit]

On 1 May 2017, Twitter account @skupinasuman posted a tape of Babiš involved in private discussions with unknown number of people while labelling Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomír Zaorálek as an "idiot" and among others attacking investigative journalist Sabina Slonková. On 3 May 2017, the video on YouTube alleged that Andrej Babiš meddled into independence of Mladá fronta DNES, the nation's largest quality newspaper by circulation owned by trust of Babiš. In conversation with MF Dnes journalist Marek Přibil he discusses date of publishing damaging stories about Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec and Minister of Health Miloslav Ludvík. In tape, Babiš is recorded tasking Přibil with informing František Nachtigall, the director of strategic development, about when and how publish the stories.

Personal life[edit]

Andrej Babiš with his partner Monika in 2015.

Andrej Babiš is in a relationship with Monika Babišová; although she has the same surname as him, they are not married.[citation needed] They have been together for twenty years and have two children.[citation needed] He is also divorced and has two other children from his former wife.[78][verification needed]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Official[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jan Fischer
Minister of Finance
2014–2017
Succeeded by
Ivan Pilný