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Finance Minister Babiš facing lobbying allegations

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Prague, June 23 (CTK) – Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) has postponed the validity of the gambling law by a year on the basis of his meeting senator Ivo Valenta, owner of the Synot gambling group, Czech Social Democrat (CSSD) deputy Ladislav Sincl wrote on the CSSD website yesterday.
Due to this, the state is losing millions of crowns, Sincl wrote.
Babis has resolutely dismissed Sincl’s claim.
ANO and the CSSD are members of a three-party coalition government.
Since last week, Sincl has been locked in a dispute with Babis.
The Finance Ministry unveiled the gambling bill at the end of last year.
However, it said in March that it was not likely to take effect in January 2016, but probably one year later.
The office argued that the bill had to be reviewed by the European Commission and a tender for the monitoring system had to be put up.
Sincl said he could see the real reason elsewhere.
“We also know why the law will only take effect in 2017, not in 2016,” Sincl said.
“The decision arose from a meeting between Babis and the Czech senator with Monaco citizenship who is also the owner of one of the biggest Czech lottery companies,” Sincl said.
Valenta’s Synot holding employs 3000 people in 12 countries, with a 13-billion-crown turnover last year.
“Ivo Valenta must have had very strong arguments with which he convinced Babis that it is worthwhile to wait,” he added.
“However, this biding one’s time is bizarre because the state is losing three million crowns a day due to the semi-legal gambling zone,” Sincl said.
He told CTK that he learnt about Babis’s meeting with the gambling lobby “on the grapevine.”
Babis dismissed this resolutely. “This is nonsense. I have not talked with Valenta about gambling, it was (deputy minister Ondrej) Zavodsky who spoke with him,” Babis wrote to CTK.
“Sincl continues to lie and he continues his campaign to cover up his lobbyist interests,” he added.
Anti-corruption activists and some lottery companies have also protested against the postponement of the gambling bill and associated legislation.
In May, Transparency International and Citizens Against Gambling criticised what they called Babis’s concessions to the gambling lobby when drafting the lottery bill.
Sincl said last week Babis had accused him and his family of corruption and intimidated him in the discussion about the insurance bill.
Babis has dismissed the allegation.
He said he had only read newspaper reports about Sincl to prove that he was not trustworthy.
The dispute will probably be dealt with by the Chamber of Deputies mandate and immunity committee.
Food and media mogul Babis, owner of the Agrofert food holding, is one of the richest Czechs. According to the Forbes magazine, his property is worth 2.4 billion US dollars, which makes him the second richest Czech after Petr Kellner.
($1 = 23.981 crowns)

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