Monday, 29 October 2018

Pirates call on Agrofert to return unlawfully drawn subsidies

ČTK |
27 June 2018

Prague, June 26 (CTK) - The Pirates on Tuesday called on the Agrofert holding, which current Czech PM Andrej Babis (ANO) transferred to trust funds in 2017, to return the subsidies its firms drew for insurance against damage caused by weather and pests, although the subsidies were only for small businesses.

Seven firms from Agrofert unlawfully received at least 4.2 million crowns in these subsidies in 2015, Pirate spokeswoman Karolina Sadilkova writes in a press release, adding that these firms received such subsidies even in the previous years.

Only small and medium-sized businesses with up to 250 employees and an annual turnover of maximally 50 million euros, or about 13 million crowns, should have been the recipients of the subsidies. Agrofert is the biggest food and agricultural concern in the Czech Republic. In 2017, Agrofert had 33,000 employees and a turnover of 155 billion crowns.

Daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) wrote on Tuesday that the State support and warranty farming and forestry fund, which provided the subsidies, has been checking the cases.

Agrofert spokesman Karel Hanzelka told the daily that the firms had the right to get the subsidies even though they were part of Agrofert.

The Pirates also called on the farming and forestry fund to deal with the issue.

"All cases of possible unlawful drawing of subsidies are subject to checks," the fund's spokeswoman Neli Vesselinova told HN. If a subsidy is drawn unrightfully, firms may have to return the paid sums plus interests, she said.

Babis faces criminal prosecution over a suspected EU subsidy fraud related to the Capi hnizdo conference centre and farm. Capi hnizdo belonged to a firm from Agrofert, then it changed its owner and received a subsidy of 50 million crowns for small businesses and finally it became part of Agrofert again. The investigators concluded that the only reason for the change of owner was the effort to illegally win the subsidy.

Until early 2017, Babis was the sole owner of Agrofert. He had to transfer it to trust funds due to an amendment to the law on conflict of interest which is dubbed Lex Babis.

The Supreme Audit Office recently said big concerns gained subsidies for smaller agricultural businesses. The Czech state gives most of the EU subsidies for agricultural development to big concerns at the cost of support for small and medium-sized firms. The European Commission concluded that the Czech state did not sufficiently check the recipients of the subsidies and it wants the country to pay a fine of about 7.5 billion crowns. The Czech Agriculture Ministry dismissed the criticism.

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