Prague, May 3 (CTK) – The audio recordings recently released by Czech news servers prove that Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) openly lied when he claimed that he does not influence the media he owns, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) said on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Many times, I heard Andrej Babis say he neither influences nor control his media. This shows that he openly lied,” Sobotka tweeted.
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (CSSD) said the new recordings clearly confirm that Babis abuses his so-called independent media for attacks against his political rivals.
Babis dismissed the view that he would influence any articles published in the press.
Babis did not deny the authenticity of the recordings of his statements, in which he makes offensive comments about government members and talks about articles challenging CSSD ministers that are to be published in the media he owned.
After his talks with President Milos Zeman on Wednesday, Babis told journalists that he did not hear the audio recordings released by the Svobodne forum and Forum 24 news servers.
He said this was a part of the campaign waged against him.
Until recently, Babis was the sole owner of the giant Agrofert holding, which includes agricultural, chemical and food and wood processing companies as well as media outlets, including two national daily papers, a radio station and a music TV channel. Earlier this year, an amendment to the law on conflict of interest was passed that forced the billionaire Babis to transfer Agrofert to trust funds.
PM Sobotka is to tender the resignation of his coalition government to President Milos Zeman on Thursday. Sobotka says the government cannot continue ruling the country due to Babis’s controversial financial affairs.
In one of the recordings, Babis talks to a man who is allegedly a journalist of the Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) daily from the Mafra group, which is part of the Agrofert holding. The man tells Babis he has documents compromising Health Minister Miloslav Ludvik (CSSD) and Babis said he would not release this now but only later. The two men also discuss pieces of information that might compromise Sobotka and Chovanec and Babis asks the journalist to address Mafra senior manager Frantisek Nachtigall.
Babis indicates in the recording that he had hoped he could make a pact with CSSD politician Jiri Zimola who would beat Sobotka with Zeman’s support.
The Mafra group announced on Wednesday that it considers the recording questionable, but that it immediately sacked the MfD journalist who appears in it, Lidovky.cz news server writes, citing Mafra personnel director Zuzana Kuchtova. Lidovky.cz is the website of daily Lidove noviny, which is also part of Agrofert.
The other recording includes statements in which Babis speaks about CSSD ministers Michaela Marksova (labour and social affairs) and Lubomir Zaoralek (foreign affairs) in an insulting way. Sobotka is “the biggest bastard” and “a halfwit,” according to him. Babis also uses vulgar language when speaking about some journalists.
Right-wing opposition Civic Democrat (ODS) deputy chairman Martin Kupka said the audio recording is a scandalous proof of media abuse by a political party if the recording is authentic.