Prague, Sept 17 (CTK) – Czech police head Tomas Tuhy and Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman on Sunday protested against President Milos Zeman’s statement that the police steps in the case of a suspected subsidy fraud involving ANO leader Andrej Babis’ Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) firm may be a police provocation.
Speaking in the Questions of Vaclav Moravec discussion programme on Czech Television, Tuhy and Pavel Zeman both said they trust the investigation bodies.
Tuhy dismissed the speculation that the investigation of the Stork Nest case had been deliberately protracted for its timing to coincide with the period ahead of the October 20-21 general election.
Tuhy said he met President Zeman recently to discuss the country’s security.
He said at the meeting, Zeman told him his opinion about the Stork Nest case, due to which the Chamber of Deputies recently released Babis for prosecution. Tuhy said he voiced disagreement with Zeman’s opinion that the police request for Babis’s release could be a police provocation.
He said he does not have access to information from the ongoing investigation but he trusts his subordinates.
“It is definitely no police provocation,” he emphasised.
Top attorney Pavel Zeman, too, said he considers it “very unfortunate to speak of a police provocation in connection with this case.”
Earlier this week, President Milos Zeman discussed the Stork Nest affair at separate meetings with Babis, a billionaire former finance minister whose ANO movement is expected to comfortably win the upcoming elections, and Justice Minister Robert Pelikan (ANO), an ally of Babis.
Now the president is going to meet Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, the acting leader of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which is ANO’s government partner and the biggest election rival.
The president said it is his natural duty to hear both sides to the dispute.
Tuhy said on Sunday it is not correct for the head of state to ask any minister about concrete cases.
“The responsibility for this [Stork Nest investigation] is up to the police and the State Attorney’s Office, and no one else should interfere in it,” Tuhy said.
According to Pavel Zeman, the president-staged meetings are not inadmissible. However, at the meetings, the president and the ministers discuss affairs on which they have no information or have only information from the media or the Chamber of Deputies, he said.
“The only one to have real knowledge of the affair is Mr Babis. Out of the [above] three [officials], he is the only one who can discuss the case with the president in a relevant way,” Pavel Zeman added.
In 2008, the Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) firm was a part of Agrofert, a giant chemical, agricultural and food-processing holding owned by billionaire, food and media mogul Babis. Afterwards, the firm’s owner changed through a chain of transactions that made the new owner hard to identify. Then it won a 50-million-crown EU subsidy designed for small firms, which it could never get as part of Agrofert. A few years later, it rejoined Agrofert.
At the police request, the lawmakers released Babis and Jaroslav Faltynek (another deputy for ANO and a former Agrofert CEO) for criminal prosecution earlier this month. They are suspected of a subsidy fraud and Babis also of harming the EU’s financial interests.
President Zeman said on August 24 that the police request may have been motivated by the effort to abuse the police for political purposes.
He said the person behind the timing of the request for the release of Babis and Faltynek is probably a “lower-ranking police officer…a too obedient and zealous civil servant.”
Babis transferred the Agrofert concern, including some media outlets, to trust funds in February to comply with an amended conflict of interest law.
President Zeman has repeatedly defended Babis. After the police request was announced, he said via his spokesman that he would still name the election winner as the prime minister.