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Czech state attorneys drop criminal charges against PM Babis

Czech state attorneys drop criminal charges against PM Babis
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw/File Photo -
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Piroschka Van De Wouw(Reuters)
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PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Prague state attorney has halted criminal investigations into Prime Minister Andrej Babis, his family members and others, the attorney’s office said on Friday.

The investigations into accusations of fraud related to European Union subsidies had posed the biggest challenge to Babis’ political career. He denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation was the major reason why a number of Czech political parties refuse to cooperate with Babis’s ruling populist ANO movement. He runs a minority administration together with the centre-left Social Democrats that must lean on Communist Party votes to secure a majority in parliament.

The case against Babis, the billionaire owner of the chemicals, food, farming and media group Agrofert, focused on a 2 million euro subsidy granted a decade ago for building the Stork’s Nest conference centre outside Prague.

Police said Babis had transferred ownership of the firm to his wife and other relatives so it would qualify for the funding, which was meant for small businesses.

“The evidence gathering led to conclusion that the Stork’s Nest Farm met the definition of a small and medium-sized business,” attorney Martin Erazim said in a statement.

The EU’s anti-fraud body OLAF had found multiple breaches of national and EU legislation in the project.

Agrofert had voluntarily returned the subsidy.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood)

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