Andrej Babis probe: Czech lawyers drop fraud charges against prime minister

 Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit Copyright REUTERS
By Angela Barnes with Reuters
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The Prague state attorney has halted a criminal investigation into whether Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis abused EU subsidies.

A fraud charge that has plagued the Czech Prime Minister for the last four years has been dropped.

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Andrej Babis, his family members and others had been accused of manipulating ownership of a farm and convention centre to win European Union subsidies more than a decade ago.

Babis has always denied the claim.

Czech political parties had refused to cooperate with Babis’s ruling populist ANO movement since it swept to power in 2017 as a result of the investigation.

The case against Babis, the billionaire founder and former owner of the chemicals, food, farming and media group Agrofert, focused on a 2 million euro subsidy granted in 2008 for building the Stork’s Nest centre outside of Prague.

Agrofert transferred ownership of the Stork’s Nest firm to anonymous owners - that were later revealed to include Babis' wife and other relatives so that it would qualify for funding, which was intended for small and medium businesses.

However, prosecutors found this was not illegal.

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

"Despite the established connections between (Agrofert and Stork’s Nest), mainly through family members, Stork’s Nest was correctly assessed as an independent company," he added.

The Prague state attorney’s decision will be reviewed by the supreme state attorney who has the right to overturn it if he finds it at odds with the law.

Despite all this, Babis' ANO party remains the most popular political force in the Czech Republic, with support close to 30 percent, according to Reuters.

However, the controversy has caused swathes of protests and unrest. - and Babis still faces other investigations.

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Watch an interview in the player with reporter Emma Jones for more on this.

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