Saturday, 18 November 2017

Parties can't force Babiš to explain his finances

ČTK |
21 March 2017

Prague, March 20 (CTK) - One can hardly hope that politicians would force Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) to explain many years of his transactions because without support from Czech political parties Babis would not have become a billionaire, Jaroslav Spurny wrote in weekly Respekt out on Monday.

Last week, a heated parliamentary dispute about the origin of the finances that Babis used to buy untaxed bonds of his own company, Agrofert, was held.

Spurny says the transactions of Agrofert and Babis are less transparent than they should be in case of a cabinet member, and some of them raise suspicions that various tax tricks were involved.

However, Babis's political rivals use this suspicions in a way that helps rather than harms Babis. As they deal with marginal issues and do not even examine important details, they jump to conclusions, Spurny writes.

Being under pressure to explain how he earned 1.5 billion crowns to buy bonds, Babis presented the results of a speedy audit of two prestigious accounting firms, which concluded that he earned 2.5 billion crowns in the past 20 years. An immediate search performed by journalists and politicians showed that some of these earnings may concern tax evasions, especially 750 million crowns that Babis received for the sale of his shares of three rather small firms to the Agrofert group, Spurny writes.

For two days, Babis was beating about the bush and seemed to be cornered, but last Friday he presented an explanation that looks trustworthy and makes sense, giving details about the sale of the shares. Those who sharply criticised Babis in the Chamber of Deputies, headed by TOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek, had to admit that their calculations were wrong, Spurny writes.

He says this seems to be a game that Babis played perfectly, keeping silent and looking confused in the beginning and showing that the given transactions were probably carried out in accordance with law.

But the crux of the issue is that the finance minister, whose main political programme should be a stricter collection of taxes, bought bonds thanks to which he can transfer tens of millions crowns from Agrofert to his private account every year without taxing them, and that Babis bought the bonds at a time when he was a part of the government, Spurny writes.

The parliament ordered Babis to explain his private incomes by the end of April and Babis will no doubt manage to do so. However, this concerns only the incomes that Babis included in the audit he recently presented. But Babis should open his accounting books much more, Spurny says.

Babis would not be one of the richest Czechs if the local political elites did not let him become so rich. This is no reproach, just a statement, Spurny writes.

Agrofert is the biggest recipient of EU subsidies also because the current government of the ANO movement, the Social Democrats (CSSD) and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) approved conditions for the distribution of subsidies in a way that is advantageous for big agricultural companies, or mainly for firms owned by Babis, Spurny writes.

This is no violation of law and Babis's purchase of bonds of his own company probably is not against law either. However, both actions are immoral and unfair to voters, Spurny says.

He says the voters already know how Babis managed to avoid paying taxes and they should also know the volume of subsidies that Agrofert will win thanks to the government's decision.

The voters should also know how Babis became Agrofert's owner, Spurny writes.

Fifteen years ago, Babis became the sole owner of the firm worth many billions of crowns practically overnight, with considerable assistance of the then left-wing government of Milos Zeman, the current president, Spurny says.

It is not known how much Babis paid for Agrofert and how he gained the money he needed. One in fact does not even know to whom he paid for the company because its original owners remain partly unknown, Spurny writes.

He says Babis has a big problem, but the parliamentary grilling last week was a battle before the autumn elections rather than a genuine attempt to reveal the incomes and tax evasions of the finance minister.

Moreover, it has turned out that only Babis himself can release his incomes and his property. His critics should do the same to become examples for him to follow, Spurny writes.

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