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HN: Another clash ahead of ministerial rivals Chovanec, Babiš

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Prague, Aug 8 (CTK) – Another clash is arising between the two Czech big government parties, the Social Democrats (CSSD) and ANO, before the regional polls, Hospodarske noviny (HN) reported on Monday, referring to Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (CSSD) and Finance Minister Andrej Babis’s (ANO) dispute over the tax fraud investigation.

Babis, who is ANO chairman, wants tax fraud to be newly investigated by the customs authorities controlled by the Finance Ministry.

Chovanec, the CSSD’s influential first deputy chairman who recently sharply clashed with Babis over a controversial police shakeup, wants to re-introduce financial police and thus keep the tax fraud investigation within the Interior Ministry’s agenda, HN writes.

Last week, the new general director of the Customs Authority, Milan Poulicek, announced his plan to push through steps to empower customs officers to investigate tax crime.

“Everything would be easier if the investigators supervised the cases from the very beginning,” Poulicek argued.

This would terminate the present practice where the customs officers work on uncovering and checking tax delicts, but the following investigation is up to the police, the daily writes.

A few days after Poulicek made his announcement, Chovanec announced that he is going to reintroduce the financial police unit as of January 2017.

The new unit will be formed by dividing the present squad for uncovering serious economic crime and it will focus on tax delicts, Chovanec said.

The critics of the escalating conflict between Babis and Chovanec mainly express surprise at the fact that the planned financial police reintroduction was not at all mentioned within the controversial police shakeup, or the merger of two national elite squads, the anti-mafia and anti-corruption ones, which Chovanec fiercely promoted and signed several weeks ago and which came into force on August 1 in spite of Babis and ANO’s disagreement with it, HN writes.

Chovanec came up with the financial police plan only after the Customs Authority announced its effort to seek more powers in suppressing tax crime, the daily writes.

“It is rather strange that Minister Chovanec has come up with another reform vision one week after the carefully prepared police shakeup,” Babis, who previously criticised the shakeup as unprepared and counterproductive, said with irony last week.

According to him, the financial police’s task should be to investigate economic crime, while tax crime should be investigated by the Customs Authority, HN writes.

High State Attorney Lenka Bradacova shares Babis’s opinion, the paper continues. It quotes Bradacova as saying that the customs authority should not only uncover and check tax delicts but also investigate them.

Babis, in reaction to what some consider his lost dispute with Chovanec over the police shakeup, wants to present his own idea of what the fight against financial crime should look like, the paper continues.

On Thursday, he stated that the powers of the Customs Authority were recently extended to include VAT checks and, logically, the customs officers could be further empowered to investigate other tax crimes in future. “This is the vision I am going to present in the days to come,” Babis told CTK via his spokesman.

Chovanec did not comment on his words. He is on holiday, his ministry’s press department told HN.

The financial police worked in the country for one and a half year until 2006 when they were abolished by former interior minister Ivan Langer (Civic Democrats, ODS). They seized a total of 3.3 billion crowns worth of property originating in criminal activities.

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