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Corruption watchdogs ask FinMin to explain activities

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Prague, March 21 (CTK) – Czech anti-corruption NGOs have called on Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO), who owns the Agrofert Holding, to explain his other controversial activities, apart from the currently debated Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) project, in an open letter they also sent to CTK.

The NGOs want Babis, a food, chemical and media magnate, to clarify some activities he has been pursuing though he promised to eradicate them in the country when he was entering politics in the early 2010s.

They show interest in the cases such as the privatisation of the Unipetrol refinery firm, discrepancies in the financing of an election campaign of Babis’s ANO movement and the circumstances of the subsidies going to Duslo Sala, a Slovak chemical company that is a part of Agrofert.

In reaction to the letter, Babis said there was no point in commenting on such lies and nonsense. He called some of the signatories untrustworthy.

The right-wing opposition recently provoked a special session of the Chamber of Deputies to discuss a suspicious drawing of EU subsidies by the Farma Capi Hnizdo company, which some time ago built a complex south of Prague that belongs to Agrofert.

The suspicion of a subsidy fraud in connection with Capi hnizdo “is far from being the only case that raises the public’s suspicion that your business activities are a blatant example of the shortcomings, which you criticised so resolutely when you entered Czech politics,” reads the letter from the “Return the State to Us” grouping.

The authors say Babis should answer 22 questions they ask him in the letter.

He should specify the total of subsidies that have gone to Agrofert so far, disclose the real owners of the Swiss O.F.I. company that gained a majority stake in Agrofert in 1995, and also the personnel structure of Agrofert’s internal security body, the letter says.

In connection with Unipetrol’s privatisation, Babis should describe the way he took over the Lovochemie company, confirm the five-million-crown gift to the Social Democrats (CSSD) in 1997 and highlight his contacts with members of Milos Zeman’s government (1998-2002) and with businesspeople, the letter says.

Similarly, Babis should explain the circumstances of the subsidies and tax reliefs for Duslo Sala, his financial support to the financing of the Slovak governing party Smer-Social Democracy, and his contacts with Slovak politicians, the letter says.

Its authors write that ANO’s campaign ahead of the October 2013 general election cost 650 million crowns, judging by estimates and the testimonies of people around Babis.

They want to know why the sum did not appear in ANO’s final report on its election spending, and what the sources of the campaign financing were.

Babis said the statement about the price of the campaign was one of the pieces of evidence proving that there was no point in commenting on “lies and nonsense.”

“Our campaign for [the election to] the Chamber of Deputies, for instance, cost 119 million crowns and not the 650 million as the activists are lying,” Babis pointed out.

Furthermore, the NGOs point out the controversial past of Libor Siroky, head of the Agrofert supervisory board, who was a secret police officer in the communist era.

They also want to know whether defence lawyer Radek Pokorny, who is linked to Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD), represented Babis in a previous dispute over the Unipetrol privatisation.

Babis should answer the questions at the extraordinary session of the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday, the NGOs write in the letter.

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