Thursday, 24 May 2018

HN: PM's Čapí hnízdo affair may not influence Czech scene

ČTK |
4 January 2018

Prague, Jan 3 (CTK) - The EU Anti-Fraud Office's (OLAF) report on a suspicious drawing of a EU subsidy by the Czech Capi hnizdo firm is clearly unfavourable for its former owner and current PM Andrej Babis (ANO), but still it need not affect the Czech scene at all, Julie Hrstkova writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Wednesday.

OLAF released the final report about its enquiry into the case to the Czech Finance Ministry two weeks ago. The ministry said it will have it translated into Czech and have an analysis made on whether its release to the public is possible.

"Now the OLAF report has finally ended where Babis's fans wanted to have it from the beginning - among the information in which people should not poke their noses and which is actually secret," Hrstkova writes, reacting to the state attorneys' recommendation on Tuesday that the ministry should not release the report as it has been added to the file within the Czech police's own investigation of the Capi hnizdo case.

The only thing which is sure about the OLAF report is that the EC has asked the Czechs to remove Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) from the EU subsidies programme. This indicates that the result of the OLAF's enquiry is unfavourable, Hrstkova writes.

The Agrofert Holding, which Babis transferred to a trust fund last year, is suspected of having expediently transferred its Farma Capi hnizdo company to bearer shares in late 2007 to make it eligible for an EU subsidy which it could never win as part of the giant Agrofert. After a few years, Capi hnizdo returned to Babis's Agrofert again.

On Tuesday, Babis complained about the enquiry's course having been non-standard and he assured the public that Agrofert, the giant holding he owned and which had nothing to do with the Capi hnizdo affair at the time of the enquiry, has lodged a complaint with the European ombudsman and the Court of Justice, probably in order to make it clear that Europe must not treat the [Czech] prime minister this way, Hrstkova writes with irony.

Babis wants the investigators and media not to link him to the Capi hnizdo case at all, because, as everybody knows, the documents that were to confirm whom the Capi hnizdo company belonged when it applied for the suspicious subsidy worth 50 million crowns have got lost, Hrstkova writes.

True, Babis previously said the company belonged to his common-law-wife and children, but there is no evidence to prove this. There exists an affidavit in this respect, which, however, a team of the Finance Ministry's auditors found untrustworthy, Hrstkova writes.

There are also the bank documents released online by an anonymous group dubbed Julius Suman, which prove that Capi hnizdo was owned by Babis himself when it applied for a loan from the HSBC bank. Babis immediately dismissed the information and ordered his lawyers to file a criminal complaint against Suman and journalists, Hrstkova writes.

Nevertheless, the word "non-standard" really matches with the OLAF enquiry, though not in the sense claimed by Babis but because all important pieces of evidence have got lost. Simply, the Stork Nest farm has been built. If needed, it presents a couple of photos with enchanted visitors, mainly children, and people should forget about the rest as quite unimportant, Hrstkova writes.

The state attorneys' decision on the OLAF report's secret character means a great relief for Finance Minister Alena Schillerova, an ardent fan of Babis, who can prevent the release of the report without solving anything or explaining her ministry's failure to observe the law on access to information, Hrstkova writes.

However, the fact that the report ended at the state attorney's office does not mean that it will remain withheld. Members of the lower house's mandate and immunity committee are empowered to look into the criminal file. Some of them will definitely visit the state attorney's office for this purpose as soon as possible, and the relevant information can be expected to surface, Hrstkova writes.

This need not have any crucial impact on the Czech political scene, however. Voters trust Babis and the robbing of Europe is nothing they would mind. Nor would they mind it if the Czech Republic covers the EU subsidy for Capi hnizdo from the state budget after the "bad" Europe refused to do so, Hrstkova writes.

It took OLAF almost two years to complete its final report. The Czech police and judiciary, too, work far from swiftly. In the meantime, Babis, whose ANO movement has taken control of all key ministries such as justice, interior, finance and others, needs "the peace for work, and therefore also his immunity as a deputy, and also the parliament's confidence his cabinet might win in view of the current state of the "blissful ignorance," Hrstkova concludes.

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