Prague, Nov 5 (CTK) – A long “love affair” has ended, Bohumil Pecinka say about the relation between Finance Minister Andrej Babis, ANO movement leader and billionaire, and lobbyist Radmila Kleslova, who was forced to give up the posts of ANO deputy head and ANO Prague branch´s leader, in the weekly Reflex out Thursday.
Kleslova helped Babis build his business empire for 17 years. Two years ago, she moved from the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), on which her contact network was based, to help him develop his new party. But Babis has recently distanced himself from her in public and the media he owns repeatedly criticised her, Pecinka writes.
However, Kleslova blames Babis neither in public nor in private. She has been one of his most loyal assistants. People who have known both of them say Babis started playing the role of “Father, Son and the Holy Ghost” in her life, Pecinka says.
Kleslova can only be shot dead or moved to other parts of Babis´s empire Agrofert. The end of a great love has come, but not a divorce, Pecinka writes.
Kleslova and Babis first talked together in the autumn of 1998, allegedly in the office of industry and trade minister Miroslav Gregr (CSSD). A fresh CSSD member then, Kleslova was an assistant to the political establishment of traditional socialists who seized power then, especially to Gregr, Pecinka writes.
Parliamentary observers well remember the picture of the small elderly white-haired minister scuttling next to the elegant lady in a black dress with a big hat, big cleavage and big ambitions. People had speculated about their relationship, while they were deciding on the future of state-controlled firms. Kleslova had a law consulting office and she followed a career that had been rather unknown in the country – political lobbying, Pecinka says.
The Babis-Kleslova relation was advantageous for both sides. Babis was a successful trader in fertilizers, but his Agrofert group wished to buy big chemical companies, which are the main and most lucrative part of the business empire now. Prague was an unknown environment for the Slovak-born Babis and it took him a long time to establish contacts there, Pecinka writes.
Babis hoped that the new political establishment led by the CSSD would be an opportunity for him. Kleslova opened new horizons for him. She was not only a lobbyist, but a successful politician as well, Pecinka writes, adding that she ran for CSSD deputy chairwoman in 2003.
In the early 2000s, Kleslova´s contacts allegedly played the key role for Babis during the privatisation of the Unipetrol petrochemical giant, now owned by Polish PKN Orlen, he says.
Whenever Kleslova sat on the board of a state-controlled firm, information and contacts thanks to which Babis could develop his business empire were of primary importance rather than the money she received for the job, Pecinka writes.
This principle can be applied to their relationship even in its political era, Pecinka says.
Three years ago, Kleslova, still a CSSD member, became deputy mayor of a Prague district. At the same time, Babis was trying to put his ANO political project into operation and Prague was crucial for him. He thus needed her not only as a lobbyist but also as a politician. And Kleslova joined ANO, becoming its first deputy mayor in the country, Pecinka writes.
All seemed to be going smoothly, like in business: Kleslova managed to unite the quarreling ANO and started to create the lists of candidates for all districts of the capital city. But the seeking of a new Prague mayor brought the first troubles.
Babis accepted the choice of Jan Kasl, but Kasl was wrong to expect that he would head candidates of a political party, while he was actually asked to head a firm. Kasl insisted on rejecting the demands set by Babis and Kleslova and the dispute was covered by media. As a result, Babis decided that neither Kleslova nor Kasl would be among the candidates, which prevented Kleslova from gaining control over Prague, Pecinka writes.
Babis then selected Slovak-born Adriana Krnacova, former head of the Czech branch of Transparency International, as the Prague leading candidate. But soon after Krnacova became the mayor, Babis could see that she was not good in this role and he told Kleslova to do the political work instead of Krnacova. This led to the conflicts between the two women, Pecinka indicates.
When the operation of the Prague City Council became critical in the summer, Kleslova decided to deal with the situation and ANO´s Prague branch voted no confidence in Krnacova. This development was backed by Babis, who called for a reshaping of the Prague City Council and especially demanded that Green radical Matej Stropnicky leave it, Pecinka writes.
The newspapers owned by Babis began to write about Krnacova´s incapability and expected dismissal, Pecinka writes, referring to the Lidove noviny (LN) and Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) dailies.
But then, for reasons unknown, Babis supported Krnacova. This started the war between Krnacova and Kleslova, which is in fact a battle for a more standard operation of the City Hall, he writes.
He says Stropnicky and Krnacova joined forces in an attack against Kleslova and media, mostly those owned by Babis, wrote about Kleslova´s paid posts in firms controlled by the city.
This crusade seems excessive as many Prague councillors sit on boards of municipal firms and receive money for it. Moreover, ANO deputy chairman Jaroslav Faltynek is a well-paid member of the Agrofert board, which is definitely a conflict of interests as he heads the parliamentary agricultural committee that helps create the laws that influence Agrofert´s prosperity. Faltynek is paid for siting on boards of municipal firms as well, and his son got a lucrative job in a municipal company, Pecinka writes.
Babis´s media did not mention any part of this in connection with Faltynek, while they campaigned against Kleslova, he says.
It seems that Babis decided to end cooperation with Kleslova. It may be so, but at the same time it shows the situation on the “court” of Babis: many people, including LN editor-in-chief Istvan Leko, fight for their influence on Babis and some of them may have believed that by attacking Kleslova their position would improve, Pecinka writes.