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HN: Czech businessmen reject ANO’s offers due to Lex Babiš

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Prague, Feb 7 (CTK) – Czech entrepreneurs are unwilling to accept attractive political offers from billionaire Andrej Babis, whose ANO movement is the most popular party in the country, due to the new restriction on business activities of cabinet members, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes yesterday.
The new law on the conflict of interest that takes effect this week complicates both business and political plans of Babis, the finance minister.
Babis recently transferred his giant Agrofert group to trust funds so that his firms would not lose access to state subsidies and public contracts. However, now he must deal with another consequence of the law: successful businessmen rejecting his offers to run for ANO in the autumn general election or occupy a ministerial post after the election, the paper writes.
Pavel Juricek, owner of the Brano Group car part producer, confirmed to HN that Babis offered the post of industry minister to him but that he rejected it since he is not ready to give up his firm.
Senator Jiri Hlavaty (for ANO), who owns the Juta textile plant, is not willing to give up the company that he has been developing for many years because of a political career either. Hlavaty, who was named Czech entrepreneur of the year, said he talked with Babis about his possible ministerial career.
“All this is because of the law on the conflict of interest, which I believe is a personal attack on Mr Babis,” Hlavaty said.
The new amendment to the law on the conflict of interest, which also bans future ministers from owning media outlets, is dubbed Lex Babis. The Mafra publishers issuing two national daily newspapers, Lidove noviny (LN) and Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD), is part of Agrofert. Other parties pushed the law through because of Babis’s business activities.
As Babis promotes the idea that he wants to control the state like a firm, he often seeks candidates for high posts in the business sector, HN writes.
ANO is a relatively new party. In 2013, it entered parliament for the first time, being the election’s runner-up after the Social Democrats (CSSD). It won a number of parliamentary seats but had few experienced politicians.
With the new law, entrepreneurs are not eager to enter politics since they would have to give up their businesses, following the example of Babis.
“This happens all over the country. Successful businessmen who built their family firms that are running for 20 years face the decision whether to sell the firms and enter politics, or reject the (political) offer,” ANO deputy chairman Jaroslav Faltynek said.
Josef Kott, head of the ANO branch in the Vysocina Region, said more than half of the entrepreneurs whom the party addressed rejected its offer of a political career due to the new law. “Successful entrepreneurs want to keep doing their businesses. All are afraid now that they would have to deal with it (the law) somehow. They are not ready to hand their firm to somebody in the short time (before the autumn election),” Kott said.
However, ANO’s offer may be accepted by entrepreneurs who have been considering handing the company to their children.
Jiri Blaha, owner of a bakery in Liberec, east Bohemia, is negotiating about becoming ANO’s election leader in the Liberec Region. “If I had such an opportunity, I would be considering it and I would have to discuss it with my family,” he told the paper. “I am trying to engage my children already now so that they can take care of the firm in future,” he added.
This may also be the case of Koh-i-noor Hardtmuth stationery firm head Vlastislav Briza whom ANO failed to convince to run for a regional governor last year. Briza might receive another offer before the October election to the Chamber of Deputies.
“For me, this would mean to end in the firm, hand it over to my sons and do something for society at the end of my career. It is very hard to hand over the company and this might make it easier,” Briza told HN.
Other Czech political parties say the new law on the conflict of interest will not affect their lists of election candidates.
Social Democrat (CSSD) election manager Jan Birke said he has not heard of anybody who would reject the party’s offer because of the law.
The third government party, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), has not had such experience either, KDU-CSL leader Pavel Belobradek told HN.
The opposition TOP 09 expressed the same view, HN writes.

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