Prague, May 24 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman appointed today lawmaker Ivan Pilny as new finance minister replacing Andrej Babis (both ANO) whose dismissal PM Bohuslav Sobotka proposed to Zeman on May 5, citing his suspected tax evasion and influencing of the media he owned.

At the same time, Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO) replaced Babis in the post of a deputy prime minister.

Zeman complied with Sobotka’s proposal to sack Babis after 19 days, though the Presidential Office has not announced the step and Zeman did not mention it when appointing Pilny today. He referred to Babis as “the stepping-down minister” and thanked to him.

“At the head of the Finance Ministry, he achieved what no one achieved before him,” Zeman said, referring to Babis.

He praised Babis for the state budget surplus, collection of taxes and restriction of tax evasion.

“Perhaps this is why he was the target of envy, like all who are successful in the Czech Republic [and are envied] by those who are less successful or even unsuccessful,” Zeman said.

To explain his delaying Babis’s dismissal, which was criticised by his opponents, Zeman previously cited his week-long visit to China and the need for Babis’s dismissal to be consented by the head of the ANO movement, which is Babis himself.

Babis disagrees with being sacked. On Tuesday, he called on Sobotka to stop publicly repeating that he proposed his dismissal due to suspected tax evasion and misuse of media on his part. He said such statements amount to slander and he is ready to defend himself in court.

After the appointment ceremony, Sobotka introduced Pilny at the Finance Ministry.

He said the drafting of the 2018 state budget should be Pilny’s priority as a minister. The draft budget should provide money to implement new legislation and cover investments and a pay rise.

Furthermore, Pilny should ensure a smooth drawing of money from the EU funds and the launch of a receipt lottery system, and he should assist in targeting economic incentives, Sobotka said.

Babis said Pilny is taking over the ministry that is in a good condition, while Pilny praised Babis as his “brilliant predecessor.”

Pilny said he will try to face the pressure exerted on the budget bill, which “is huge ahead of the elections,” and to “bring the budget as close to reality as possible.”

He said he also wants to prepare documents for a future tax reform.

Today’s ceremonial appointment of Pilny was the first Zeman-Sobotka meeting since May 4 when Zeman staged his fictitious acceptance of Sobotka’s resignation at Prague Castle though Sobotka did not render any.

In reaction to Zeman’s plan to accept the resignation of Sobotka only, not of the whole cabinet, which is how Sobotka meant it, Sobotka then decided not to render a resignation but proposed Babis’s dismissal instead.

Pilny was the third candidate ANO proposed for finance minister. Sobotka rejected the first two, Deputy Finance Minister Alena Schillerova and Deputy PM Richard Brabec, citing their closeness to Babis and his former Agrofert Holding.

Sobotka said he expects Pilny to ensure the independence of the Financial Administration (FS), which had its hands tied in checking Agrofert’s suspicious one-crown bonds in a situation where Babis was finance minister.

Sobotka also expects Pilny to work on the 2018 budget bill, he said.