Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Expert reports on Babiš-related project warned of risks

ČTK |
13 February 2018

Prague, Feb 12 (CTK) - Expert opinions that the Central Bohemia office in charge of subsidies ordered on the Capi hnizdo conference centre, implicating Czech PM Andrej Babis (ANO), in 2008 warned of the risks of the project, the iRozhlas.cz radio server reported on Monday.

The experts mentioned overestimated budget items and an uncertain applicant for the subsidy. The project should not have won support in the form it was presented, the server writes, referring to expert opinions it got on the basis of the law on free access to information.

The police accused billionaire businessman Babis of an EU subsidy fraud over a 50-million-crown subsidy for the construction of the Capi hnizdo complex.

Until late 2007, the Farma Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest farm) company belonged to Babis's Agrofert concern. Afterwards, its stake was transferred to bearer shares so that Capi hnizdo as a small firm could win the subsidy of 50 million crowns, which a firm of the huge Agrofert could never get. It observed this condition for a few years, but later it became part of Agrofert again.

The investigators concluded that there was no economic or trade reason to make the change. Along with the Czech police, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) looked into the case.

In February 2017, Babis transferred Agrofert to trust funds to comply with an amended conflict of interest law.

The radio server writes that the Office of the Regional Council of the Regional Operational Programme (ROP) Central Bohemia had two expert opinions on the Capi hnizdo project worked out to assess whether the complex was viable and whether the bidder was able to financially cover the project.

One of the expert opinions claimed that the complex would serve to present the investor successfully, but its benefit for the whole region and the efficient use of the invested money were not proven. The other opinion expressed doubts that the firm would be able to pay the loans of hundreds of millions of crowns.

One of the experts pointed out that the Farma Capi hnizdo and the ZZN Agro Pelhrimov joint-stock company were stated as applicants for a subsidy in the documentation, but the enclosed tax returns concerned the ZZN Agro Pelhrimov limited liability company.

The ROP Central Bohemia's current management claims that the expert opinions only had the character of recommendations in the project assessment.

Former Central Bohemia regional governor Petr Bendl (Civic Democrats, ODS) says the Regional Council's Committee, which he chaired then, had no expert opinions at its disposal.

"We received recommendations, we had no idea about anything like that," said Bendl, who signed the subsidy for Capi hnizdo in 2008.

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