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Czech parties want FinMin to choose between business, gov’t

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Prague, Feb 28 (CTK) – All parties in Czech parliament plan to back an opposition deputy’s bill aimed to make Finance Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire head of the ANO movement, choose between being either the Agrofert holding’s owner or a minister in the next cabinet, daily Pravo writes in its weekend issue.

The parties want the new bill, drafted by Martin Plisek (TOP 09), to prevent Babis from misusing the conflict of interests, the daily writes.

The new bill, or an draft amendment to the present law on the conflict of interests, bans members of the cabinet from controlling business firms.

Earlier this week, the readiness to support Plisek’s proposal was expressed by the Social Democrats (CSSD) of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, it writes.

“We consider the proposal, which would bind government members to transfer their firms so that they could not control them any more, undisputable from the legislative point of view,” Sobotka has told Pravo.

Most recently, support for the bill was expressed by the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), the smallest of the three partners in the centre-left coalition government.

“The KDU-CSL deputies’ group will support the proposal,” its chairman Jiri Mihola has written to Pravo.

Based on the bill, Babis, whose ANO leads party popularity polls, would have to give up Agrofert, the giant food and chemical holding, if he wanted to join the next government. He would either have to sell Agrofert or transfer it onto someone else or to a trust fund, the daily writes.

Babis says the parties want to retaliate to his ANO movement for undermining the Czech system of traditional political parties.

“I’m mainly amazed at the conduct of our coalition partners. When we signed the coalition agreement, based on which we have been cooperating and passing bills for two years now, they knew well that I owned a company and newspapers. All of a sudden, they mind it so much that they have sided with the opposition against their coalition partner to push a bill together?” Babis wrote to Pravo, referring to the CSSD and the KDU-CSL.

ANO backs Babis, its chairman.

“Evidently, the ANO movement is really an unwanted error in the system, which the traditional political parties reject so strongly that they have joined all against us,” Jaroslav Faltynek, head of the ANO deputies’ group who sits on the board of directors of Agrofert and other three companies, told Pravo.

“The parties want to support the new bill not in order to benefit people, but to oust Babis from politics and re-establish the old system,” Faltynek added, without elaborating.

ANO was established in 2011. Before entering parliament for the first time in the late 2013 election, it strongly criticised the traditional parties as corrupt and incompetent.

Apart from TOP 09, the CSSD and the KDU-CSL, support for the bill has been expressed by the opposition Civic Democrats (ODS), Communists (KSCM) and the Dawn movement. The bill thus may be pushed through by a comfortable majority of 147 votes in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies.

The only votes against it would those of ANO’s 47 deputies, unless they were joined by three deputies for the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement and the remaining three unaffiliated lawmakers, Pravo writes.

ODS deputies’ group chairman Zbynek Stanjura told the paper that he usually dislikes it if a law is amended ad hoc because of a particular situation or person.

In this case, however, “the pros will prevail over the cons. It is our reaction to recent developments. The [state] subsidies to Agrofert have risen ten times in 2015 alone, compared with previous years,” Stanjura said.

The KSCM, too, plans to join the crusade against Babis.

“We understand and welcome the principle preventing big owners from entering politics. However…it is necessary for the provision not be a mere political gesture and not to be possible to circumvent,” KSCM deputy chairman Jiri Dolejs is quoted as saying.

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