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MEPs want Brussels to act over Czech PM's alleged conflict of interest

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By Shona Murray
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis adjusts his face mask during a parliament session in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, June 3, 2021.
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis adjusts his face mask during a parliament session in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, June 3, 2021.   -   Copyright  Petr David Josek/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

MEPs have voted overwhelmingly to issue proceedings against the Czech Republic's prime minister for breaches of EU law concerning an alleged conflict of interest.

Brussels concluded last year in an audit that Andrej Babiš had breached domestic and EU conflict of interest legislation in relation to his control of Agrofert, the agriculture conglomerate he founded.

The vote by MEPs does not mean that direct action will be taken against Babiš, rather it determines the European Parliament's position on the issue. It also urges the European  Commission to look further into the issue and potentially act.

Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, says that he wants to see action taken against Babis, including halting the payment of European funding to his business.

"The EU rules clearly say that conflicts of interest need to be resolved. So if this conflict of interest needs to be resolved, there are three concrete things that the Czech prime minister can do," Freund told Euronews.

"He can resign as prime minister. He can sell his company or you can stop receiving EU funds. So one of these three he has to pick and if he doesn't, well, then either we need to stop paying money to the Czech Republic or the other heads of state and government need to refuse to let him go to the negotiation table because we cannot just tolerate that the conflict of interest persists at the very heart of decision making of the European Union."

The European Commission has been heavily criticised for not taking action against states when there is evidence they are breaching EU laws relating to corruption or democratic values.

The audit into Babic said that subsidies awarded to Agrifert after February 2017 are considered irregular and should be returned.

The case involves a farm that received EU subsidies after its ownership was transferred from the Babis-owned Agrofert conglomerate of around 250 companies to Babis’ family members. The subsidies were meant for medium-sized and small businesses and Agrofert wouldn't have been eligible for them.

Czech police have recommended for a second time that Babis should be indicted over fraud involving EU subsidies. 

They made the same recommendation two years ago but a prosecutor decided to drop the case.

The vote is a step closer to prosecuting Babis but will require the European Commission and EU countries to act.

Euronews contacted the Czech government to respond to this article but it had not responded by the time of publication.