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article imagePrague says 'errors' in new EU audit report against billionaire PM

By AFP     Jun 6, 2019 in World

The Czech government on Thursday said there were "errors" in a new preliminary audit report from Brussels on another possible conflict of interest relating to its billionaire prime minister, this time regarding farming subsidies.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the second wealthiest Czech who founded the Agrofert business empire, has already been hit by a separate EU draft audit report suspecting him of taking decisions on EU structural funds as a politician but drawing them as an entrepreneur.

"The European Commission refers in this audit to clauses that don't exist under Czech law," Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman told reporters.

"In our opinion the report contains errors and will have to be closely analysed by our officials."

The Commission said in the first audit report that it wanted Prague to return the equivalent of 17.4 million euros ($19.6 million) in subsidies drawn counter to the rules.

Following the second report, the head of the Czech agriculture ministry's subsidy agency SZIF, Martin Sebestyan, said he would suspend funds to Agrofert as a precautionary measure.

Since a 2017 legal amendment meant to prevent politicians from acting to advance their economic interests came into force, Agrofert received 63 million koruna (2.4 million euros, $2.8 million) to fund a dozen-odd projects.

If the European Commission ends up deciding not to finance these projects, then the SZIF would be "authorised to ask Agrofert to return the sum or a part of it," Sebestyan said.

Babis, 64, has called the accusation "an attack against the Czech Republic."

Since the end of April, anti-Babis protests have regularly taken place in Prague, where the demonstration this week drew 120,000 people. The next rally is set for June 23.

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