Andrej Babiš

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Andrej Babiš
MP
A Babiš Praha 2015.JPG
12th Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
Assumed office
6 December 2017
President Miloš Zeman
Deputy Richard Brabec
Martin Stropnický
Preceded by Bohuslav Sobotka
First Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
In office
29 January 2014 – 24 May 2017
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka
Preceded by Jan Fischer
Succeeded by Richard Brabec
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 the Chamber of Deputies
Assumed office
26 October 2013
Personal details
Born (1954-09-02) 2 September 1954 (age 63)
Bratislava, Czechoslovakia
(now Slovakia)
Citizenship Czech Republic, Slovakia[1]
Political party Communist Party (1980–1989)
ANO 2011 (2012–present)
Spouse(s) Beata Adamovičová (divorced)
Monika Babišová (2017–present)
Children 4
Residence Kramář's Villa
Alma mater University of Economics, Bratislava
Net worth US$4.04 billion (in 2017)[2]

Andrej Babiš (Czech pronunciation: [ˈandrɛj ˈbabɪʃ]; born 2 September 1954) is a Czech politician who has been the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic since December 2017, and previously served as Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy from January 2013 to May 2017. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and entrepreneur.

Babiš was born in Bratislava in present-day Slovakia, and moved to the Czech Republic following the Velvet Revolution. The second richest man in the Czech Republic with an estimated net worth of about $4.04 billion according to Bloomberg,[2] he is a former CEO and sole owner of the Agrofert group, which owns two of the largest Czech newspapers, Mladá fronta DNES and Lidové noviny.[3] Babiš has led ANO 2011 since founding it in 2012 as a protest movement against established politics. He has been a member of the Chamber of Deputies (MP) since 2013. Babiš was sacked from the government by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on 24 May 2017 after a month-long coalition crisis triggered by allegations that Babiš avoided paying taxes as CEO of Agrofert in 2012.

Following the 2017 legislative election, which resulted in a hung parliament with no possible coalitions, Babiš was appointed Prime Minister on 6 December 2017 and a week later formed a minority government composed of ANO party members and independents. He became the oldest and wealthiest person ever to assume the premiership, as well as the first Prime Minister in the history of the Czech Republic to be from a different party than ODS or ČSSD. On 16 January 2018, his government lost motion of confidence vote (78 MPs for while 117 against) in the Chamber of Deputies and he resigned the following day starting new negotiations about the future government.

Babiš had been under investigation by both Czech Police and OLAF from 2015 to 2017 amid allegations that an anonymous company he controlled unlawfully received €2m subsidy from the European Union. In September 2017, he was stripped his parliamentary immunity after a police request in connection with the case and Babiš was formally charged on 9 October 2017.[4] OLAF concluded its investigation in December 2017 stating it has found irregularities and endorsed the steps taken by the Czech Police.[5] Due to his re-election in the 2017 election he regained his parliamentary immunity and the Chamber of Deputies voted again to lift it on 19 January 2018.[6] As well as alleged fraud, Babis is the subject of sustained criticism from political opponents and the media regarding a number of issues, including conflict of interest, his past role in the communist secret police, and allegations of intimidation of opponents. Despite this, Babiš remains one of the most popular politicians in the Czech Republic.[7][8][9][10]

Early life and career[edit]

Babiš was born on 2 September 1954 to a Slovak family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia). His father, a diplomat and member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, represented Czechoslovakia during the negotiation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in Geneva and as a consultant at the United Nations.[11][12] He is nephew of Ervin and Viera Scheibner.[13][14]

Babiš spent part of his childhood abroad, and was educated in Paris and Geneva.[15] Later, he studied at a gymnasium in Bratislava and continued to the University of Economics, where he studied international trade. In 1978, after graduating, he joined the Slovak communist controlled international trade company, Chemapol Bratislava, which later became Petrimex. In 1985 he was appointed as the organisation's representative in Morocco.[16][15] He joined the Communist Party in 1980.[15] He has been accused of being a "powerful agent" for the Czechoslovak secret state security service, StB, during the 1980s,[citation needed] as well as being a KGB officer.[17]

Business career[edit]

Headquarters of Agrofert in Chodov, Prague.

Babiš returned from Morocco to Czechoslovakia in 1991, after the Velvet Revolution,[15] and settled in the Czech Republic after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

In January 1993, Babiš became managing director of a newly established Petrimex subsidiary operating in the Czech Republic, Agrofert.[18][19] He had suggested establishing Agrofert while he was a director at Petrimex, during which time Agrofert was recapitalised by OFI, a company of unknown ownership based in Baar, Switzerland,[20] 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.[20] Soon thereafter, Babiš emerged as the 100% owner of Agrofert.[21] The source of the initial financing for Babiš's takeover of Agrofert from Petrimex was still undisclosed as of the start of 2016,[15] although Babiš has said that the money came from his Swiss former schoolmates.[22]

Babiš gradually developed Agrofert into one of the largest companies in the country,[20] starting as a wholesale and trading firm, but later acquiring various agricultural, food processing, and chemical companies. In 2011 Agrofert Holding consisted of more than 230 companies,[23] mainly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. It is the fourth largest company in the Czech Republic by revenue, exceeding CZK 117 billion. 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."[15] When Babiš entered politics he resigned as CEO, but remained sole owner until February 2017, when he was legally obliged to put his companies in trust in order to remain as Minister of Finance.[23]

While Babiš's business activities initially focused mainly on agriculture,[16] he later acquired a large empire of media companies. In 2013, Agrofert purchased the company MAFRA, publisher of two of the biggest Czech newspapers, Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta DNES, and operator of the Óčko television company.[24] Agrofert also owns Radio Impuls, the most listened to radio station in the Czech Republic (as of late 2014).[25][26] These acquisitions have led critics to question Babis's political motives,[27] amid accusations that he was amassing too much power, and that the media outlets he controls publish sympathetic coverage of him.[28]

Political career[edit]

Babiš with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in February 2015

In 2011, Babiš founded his party, ANO 2011, "to fight corruption and other ills in the country's political system".[27] The party contested the legislative elections in October 2013 and emerged as the second largest party, with 47 seats (of 200) in the Chamber of Deputies. The American political consulting firm, Penn Schoen Berland, was credited with the party's successful result.[29][30]

In the subsequent coalition government, formed of the Social Democrats, ANO, and the Christian Democrats, Babiš served as the Minister of Finance.[31] During his tenure in this role, Babiš introduced controversial policies such as electronic registration of sales, known as EET, proposed reverse charging of value-added tax, and VAT control statement for companies. His critics claimed he was tightening regulations on small and medium-sized enterprises and sole proprietorship while turning a blind eye to big corporations, to the benefit of his own Agrofert holding.[32] During this time he stated many times that he would like to be the next Prime Minister of the Czech Republic if ANO 2011 led the government.[33]

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 initiated a vote of no confidence against the cabinet.[34] On 26 May 2015 while speaking to the Chamber of Deputies, Babiš said that he was forced to enter politics because of "corrupted opposition" (referring to the ODS) that "created him".[35] In November 2016, Babiš criticized alleged links among CEFC China Energy, the Czech Social Democratic Party, and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka,[36] saying that CEFC's focus on private Czech companies "brings no yield to the Czech Republic."[37]

European migrant crisis[edit]

In September 2015, deputy prime minister Babiš called for NATO intervention against human trafficking in the Mediterranean.[38] After talks on the migrant crisis with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Babiš said that "NATO is not interested in refugees, although Turkey, a NATO member, is their entrance gate to Europe and smugglers operate on Turkish territory".[39]

Babiš rejected the European Union's refugee quotas,[40] saying: "I will not accept refugee quotas [for the Czech Republic]. ... We must react to the needs and fears of the citizens of our country. We must guarantee the security of Czech citizens. Even if we are punished by sanctions."[41] After the 2016 Berlin attack he said that "unfortunately... [Angela Merkel's open-door migration] policy is responsible for this dreadful act. It was she who let migrants enter Germany and the whole of Europe in uncontrolled waves, without papers, therefore without knowing who they really are."[42][43]

2017 government crisis[edit]

Andrej Babiš was sacked from the government by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on 24 May 2017 after a month-long coalition crisis triggered by allegations that Babiš avoided paying taxes as CEO of Agrofert in 2012.

Prime Minister (2017–present)[edit]

Andrej Babiš during his first full day in office with Visegrad Group leaders on 14 December 2017 at the European Council.

Following the 2017 election to the Chamber of Deputies, in which ANO 2011 won with 29% of the vote, and won 78 out of 200 seats, President Miloš Zeman asked Babiš to form a government. The Civic Democratic Party and other parties refused to join a coalition government with Babis, citing the ongoing criminal investigation into alleged EU subsidy fraud and, as a result, on 27 October 2017 Babiš announced that he would try to form a minority government. Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) and the Communist Party voiced their willingness to join the government, but were refused by Babiš.[44]

On 6 December 2017, Babiš was appointed the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. He assumed the office on 13 December 2017, when his government took full control of the executive government. He is the only incumbent head of government to be charged with a crime by the Czech police and prosecutor, as well as both the oldest and the wealthiest Prime Minister in the country's history, and the first Prime Minister from a party other than ODS and ČSSD.

During his first days in office, he attended the European Council summit dealing with fiscal responsibilities, Brexit and migration,[45] and spoke on the phone with new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki regarding the invocation of the Article 7 by the European Commission.[46] His government carried out personnel changes at the ministries, Czech Railways and the Railway Infrastructure Administration.[47]

On 16 January 2018, Babiš's cabinet lost a vote of no confidence by 117 votes to 78.[48]

In February 2018, his cabinet approved the European Fiscal Compact and sent it to the Chamber of Deputies for further approval.[49] They also proposed changes to the Civil Service Act, which has been the subject of controversy since it was passed in 2015 by Bohuslav Sobotka's government, in which Babiš served as Minister of Finance.[50]

Since losing the confidence vote, Babiš's administration has continued to carry out personnel changes, meeting with criticism from the opposition. Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch fired Svatopluk Němeček, a former Minister and head of the University Hospital in Ostrava, as well as the director of the Bulovka Hospital. Minister of Industry and Trade Tomáš Hüner and Minister of Interior Lubomír Metnar fired the heads of CzechInvest and Czech Post, respectively.[51]

Controversies[edit]

State Security Police (StB) agent[edit]

According to the documents of the Nation's Memory Institute in Slovakia, during the rule of the communist régime in then Czechoslovakia Babiš collaborated with the StB (State Security Police), under the code name agent Bureš. He denies the accusations and in 2012 sued the institute for defamation. In January 2018, the Bratislava regional court ruled definitively that Babiš was an StB agent. This final court case may not be appealed.[52][53]

Twelve unrelated cases that were investigated by StB from 1982 to 1985, are associated with the code name, Bureš, according to the Slovak Nation's Memory Institute.[54] Babiš appeared once at the court during the process.[55] The District Court in Bratislava issued a result on 26 June 2014 that states that there is a lack of evidence to put Andrej Babiš on a list of former intentional cooperators of StB.[56][better source needed] It means that Babiš cannot be considered as an intentional agent of StB.[57] Nation's Memory Institute announced it would appeal to higher court.[58] On 30 June 2015, Bratislava's County Court upheld the verdict.[59] However, in October 2017 Slovak Constitutional Court cancelled earlier court decisions ruling that Babiš was wrongly referred to as an agent of the former communist secret police and upheld the appeal of Slovak Nation's Memory Institute.[60] Babiš has been called a career communist who used his background with the StB (the Communist-era Czechoslovak secret police) to enrich himself and while being listed in the archives as Agent Bureš Babiš has denied that he was a StB collaborator—but his close associates still include Czech lawyer Libor Široký, now chairman of Agrofert's supervisory board. Široký is reportedly a former member of one of the StB units most closely linked to the Soviet KGB.[15] Critics who accuse him of KGB connections also point to his alleged 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 United States, 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.[61][62][63][64]

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.[65]

In March 2015, Babiš condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea.[66] 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.[67]

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, D.C. based journalist challenged those claims by citing several examples of acts Babiš has taken that have furthered Russian policy goals.[68] One example was a Czech government loan guarantee to a Russian company with a record of defaults,[69] owned by a close friend of President Putin.[70] Another example was the Czech Finance Ministry's elaborate procedure taken to continue racing the thoroughbred horses prized by Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Chechnya and close ally of Putin, even though he is under international sanctions.[71] 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.[72]

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 the belief that Babiš is 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.[73]

EU subsidies fraud[edit]

Babiš was accused of illegally obtaining €2 million in EU subsidies designated for small businesses by concealing his ownership of a farm and a convention center called "Storks Nest".[74] Czech police requested that the Lower House lift his parliamentary immunity on two occasions, in September and November 2017.[75] In both cases the Lower House lifted the immunity and the police have initiated criminal proceedings.[76] He is accused of the crime of alleged fraud (§212,Criminal Code, 2009) and of wilful damage to the financial interests of the European Union (§ 260, Criminal Code, 2009) in the criminal conspiracy (§ 89, Art.17, Crime Code (the Czechoslovakian Criminal Code, 1961).[77]

This case was investigated by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). OLAF's final report was delivered to the Czech officers of the Ministry of Finance on 27 December 2017.[78][79] Journalist Sabina Slonková published a report of the results on the website Neovlivnitelní.cz (Czech: uninfluenced) on 3 January 2018, concluding that OLAF's final report confirmed the results of the investigation by the Czech Police and prosecutors that the fraud was planned from the beginning.[80] The complete text of the final report translated into Czech was published on the website aktualne.cz on 11 January 2018, with a commentary by Vladimir Piskacek, one of the directors of the Economia AS media company, which publishes Hospodářské noviny, defending the right to publish information openly.[81]

Partnership with Zeman[edit]

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. According to Polish reports, the sale was accompanied by substantial bribery, although Babis denies any bribes were paid.[28][82] The Unipetrol deal is cited often as evidence of a strong partnership between Babiš and Zeman that persists.[83]

Conflicts of interest[edit]

Connections between companies in the AGROFERT portfolio

Babis has been criticized by media and opposition politicians for his alleged conflict of interest,[84][85] as the Minister of Finance and the owner of 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 concern that someone with such a personal financial interest simultaneously being a leading representative of a state, could not guarantee to the EU that its resources are properly distributed.[86] A 2014 article in the political newspaper Politico commented that "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."[15]

In May 2015, Babis's alleged financial irregularities and accusations from the public and the opposition that he had promoted his companies in government procurements triggered a vote of no confidence against the Bohuslav Sobotka's government, called by the opposition parties ODS, TOP 09, and Dawn. The motion was defeated by 47-105.[87]

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 speculated whether United States government investigations into bribery and corruption in FIFA may herald more aggressive investigation of other corrupt practices. The article mentioned that several investigations had been launched by a team of police and prosecutor, which were questionable cases that did not hold up in court.[88]

Intimidation[edit]

Babiš has a reputation for surrounding himself with senior police officers, security agents, and former Communist informers.[21][28]

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."[89] 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 to the meeting a folder marked with a 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 Šincl had suggested that the Ministry of Finance had changed its position on an insurance matter because the change would benefit Babiš's commercial interests.[90]

On 18 June 2015, Babiš admitted he had a 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.[91]

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.[65][89][90] Miroslav Kalousek, the first deputy chairman of the opposition party TOP09 accused Babiš of using StB's practices. Babiš declined it.[92]

MF Dnes leaked tapes[edit]

On 1 May 2017, Twitter account @skupinasuman posted a tape of Babiš's private conversations with an unknown number of people, in which he labelled Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomír Zaorálek as an "idiot" and attacked investigative journalist Sabina Slonková, among others. On 3 May 2017, a video on YouTube alleged that Andrej Babiš had interfered with the editorial independence of Mladá fronta DNES, the nation's largest quality newspaper by circulation, owned by Babis's trust. In conversation with MF Dnes journalist Marek Přibil he discusses the date of publication of damaging stories about Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec and Minister of Health Miloslav Ludvík. On the tape, Babiš is recorded instructing Přibil to tell František Nachtigall, the director of strategic development, about when and how to publish the stories.

Comments about Lety concentration camp[edit]

On 1 September 2016, while visiting Varnsdorf, a city with large Romani population, Babiš said: "What those idiots [journalists] write in newspapers, that the camp in Lety was a concentration camp, that is a lie, it was a labor camp, people who didn't work ended up there".[93] Babiš's comments were heavily criticized by both coalition partners and opposition MPs calling on him to resign. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka condemned the remarks on Facebook, saying that "between populism and extremism there is a thin line and Babiš crossed it" and asked him to "properly apologize and visit Lety to learn about history of our state."[citation needed]

Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Jiří Dienstbier called for Babiš to step down as Finance Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister.[94] The leaders of both opposition parties, Petr Fiala from ODS and Miroslav Kalousek from TOP 09 also called for Babiš to step down.[95]

Media criticism[edit]

Foreign Policy magazine gave Babis the nickname Babisconi, a portmaneau of his surname and the surname of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the subject of numerous political and financial scandals.[96] In response, Babiš threatened to sue the magazine, but has never done so.[97]

In August 2015, the Swiss weekly L'Hebdo published an article entitled: "Why do Czech Oligarchs Buy Unprofitable Media Outlets?" examining the purchase of media companies by several Czech business people, and also their connections with Francophone Switzerland. The article focused much of its attention on Babiš, and his purchase of media outlets in the Czech Republic. The author pointed out that Babiš had claimed to invest in Mladá fronta DNES only for profit, but had given no answer when told it was a unprofitable investment, and went on to accuse journalists at Babis's newspapers of doing his work.[98]

Writing in Politico, Adam Drda expressed the view that Andrej Babis is associated with the decline of Czech democracy more than any other single person.[15]

Prizes[edit]

Green Pearl 2013[edit]

Andrej Babiš was a winner of the antiecologic prize Green Pearl for the antiecologic sentences of the year 2013: "We all gave a shit about democracy once. How to explain that regarding the construction of a new highway, (someone has the right to talk about) a badger, an ecological terrorist and that each mayor wants an exit (to his town)."[99]

Personal life[edit]

Andrej Babiš with his then-partner (now wife) Monika in 2015

Andrej Babiš has four children. Two of his children come from his marriage to his ex-wife.[100][verification needed] Andrej is married to Monika Babišová with whom he has two additional children.

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b "Bloomberg Billionaires Index". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
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  4. ^ "Czech election front-runner charged with subsidy fraud". POLITICO. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
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External links[edit]

Official[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jan Fischer
First Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
2014–2017
Succeeded by
Richard Brabec
Minister of Finance
2014–2017
Succeeded by
Ivan Pilný
Preceded by
Bohuslav Sobotka
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
2017–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
New political party Leader of ANO 2011
2012–present
Incumbent