The Economist: A scandal in Bohemia

September 21, 2017

Andrej Babis says the political establishment is conspiring to keep him from power. A billionaire agro-industrialist and media mogul, Mr Babis is the front-runner to become the Czech Republic’s prime minister after next month’s general election. However, on September 6th parliament voted to strip him of immunity from prosecution as an MP amidst fraud allegations from the police. “You won’t frighten me. You won’t stop me. You won’t get rid of me,” the self-styled outsider bellowed from the dais before losing his immunity by 123 votes to just four.

Meanwhile, audio recordings of him speaking coarsely about how, for instance, he intends to use his newspapers to deal with rivals, are anonymously posted online. There is even a phone app to help shoppers avoid foods produced by Agrofert, Mr Babis’s conglomerate, which has 250 companies and 33,000 employees. Rivals have taken more formal steps to curb the tycoon’s influence. In January he was obliged to place Agrofert in a trust after parliament banned cabinet officials (he was finance minister at the time) from owning media or more than a quarter of any firm bidding for state contracts or EU subsidies. In May Bohuslav Sobotka, the Social Democratic prime minister whose coalition includes Mr Babis’s ANO party, forced him to quit his ministerial job, citing separate claims of tax fraud.

However, the latest controversy, an alleged subsidy fraud, highlights more specific concerns about how Mr Babis uses political power.At issue is a 50m koruna (€2m) EU subsidy that helped develop a lakeside resort outside Prague. Police allege that in 2007 Mr Babis spun off a subsidiary from Agrofert to gain access to funds earmarked for small businesses. That firm developed the Capi Hnizdo (Stork’s Nest) hotel while temporarily owned by Mr Babis’s two adult children and his now brother-in-law…