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LN: Czech audit leaves verdict on Babiš’s farm up to Brussels

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Prague, May 11 (CTK) – The Finance Ministry leaves the final verdict on the case of a dubious EU subsidy for Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis’s Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) farm up to Brussels, daily Lidove noviny (LN) writes on Wednesday, referring to the ministry auditors’ report that it has at its disposal.

ANO chairman and billionaire businessman Babis is suspected of an unauthorised drawing of an EU subsidy of some 50 million crowns for the construction of the Capi Hnizdo, which is owned by his Agrofert Holding now.

LN writes that the audit of the Finance Ministry has been completed, but the auditors have not proposed “any correction.”

According to the report, the auditors have neither refuted nor confirmed the suspicion of connection between the farm and Babis’s Agrofert at the time when the project received the EU subsidy.

Until 2007, the Farma Capi hnizdo company belonged to Babis’s Agrofert Holding. Afterwards, its stake was transferred to bearer shares for a small firm to reach the EU subsidy, which a firm of the huge Agrofert Holding could never get. It observed this condition for a few years, but later it again returned to Babis’s concern.

LN says the auditors are of the view that the personal connection between the firms have been proved. Babis alone spoke about them at a special lower house session where he said the bearer shares of the farm had been owned by his adult children and a brother of his common-law wife in 2008-2010.

However, the family links are not sufficient to prove a violation of the subsidy conditions. It could be possible only if some of the Agrofert firms were running business on an interconnected market, that is in catering, tourism or accommodation services, which the Czech auditors cannot check.

They say they are not authorised to check the market over a competition, ask other firms, except for Imoba owning the farm now, for documents and question their clients. Only the police and the European Commission (EC) can do so, LN says.

Both the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the police are investigating the Capi hnizdo case, but their results are not known yet.

The Finance Ministry’s auditors say there is some circumstantial evidence indicating that the Capi hnizdo farm belonged to Agrofert, and consequently it was not entitled to the subsidy. If the EC decided to look into the interconnection of markets and confirmed it, Agrofert would have to return the subsidy, LN writes.

Babis refused to comment on the audit’s results, saying he does not know them.

Agrofert spokesman Karel Hanzelka said no mistake had been committed. “We are convinced that the EC will draw same conclusion,” Hanzelka said.

Agrofert considers it decisive that the audit qualified the subsidy as eligible and did not propose that the whole sum or its part be returned, Hanzelka added.

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