Czech Republic investigates Viktor Orbán ally for corruption

The Czech Republic’s presidential election was won by Jiri Drahos, who pledged to support the interests of those who elect him. And he clearly listened: within days of the election, he appointed his former party leader and campaign manager Andrej Babis to the post of prime minister.

In January, Mr. Babis resigned as president’s chief of staff because, he said, Mr. Drahos told him he would not interfere in his business affairs. Prosecutors are probing several of Mr. Babis’s companies — including his Agrofert and Babis Holding companies — over suspicions that they are connected to corruption. Mr. Babis denies the allegations.

Mr. Babis, who built his business empire from scratch and faces multiple inquiries into corruption, has been the target of calls for his resignation from the media and some fellow politicians. Critics say he is too close to the Kremlin. And critics of Mr. Babis have accused him of abandoning his commitment to an independent judicial system for personal ambition. At a key security meeting he abruptly left without turning up as scheduled. He also recently said he would no longer serve as Mr. Drahos’s chief of staff. (He subsequently replaced the chief of staff and appointed his own chief of staff.)

Mr. Babis came to power for the first time in February after a general election, where he was one of the top vote-getters in a field of 13 candidates, winning 8.1 percent of the vote. He was appointed prime minister a week later, when the outgoing leader resigned. Since then, analysts have said the Czech Republic’s relations with the EU have taken a nosedive since the new prime minister has refused to publicly condemn a referendum in Poland that split parliament in two, or because Mr. Babis has appointed his longtime political ally, Andrej Jankovic, to the highly sensitive job of auditor general.

Mr. Babis has already faced criticism for repeatedly dumping on other European countries on national television and internet outlets. In February, he denounced what he saw as the encroachment of European Union influence in his own country. “It is no longer the Czech Republic we live in anymore but the EU in which we live,” he said. “And that is something the Czech Republic has always rejected.”

Despite his criticisms of the European Union, Mr. Babis is not a member of it. The former billionaire is a long-time believer in a European political union, and is on the board of the European Movement. Mr. Babis claimed in interviews with the media that he would not attempt to radically reform the EU.

“Many people are proposing less influence by Brussels,” he said. “That is a really stupid idea. If we are successful in the EU, we are successful in Prague.”

In fact, Mr. Babis already tried and failed to reform the EU in 2005, during his time as Europe minister in his first Czech government. And Czech media reports have exposed Mr. Babis for many of the traits that critics say surround him now: being overconfident, an ally of the Kremlin, and plotting against a critical judiciary and security forces.

The opposition Social Democrats have accused Mr. Babis of devising a power grab in order to shield himself from the corruption investigations. “Having moved out of the presidency to avoid his own official duties, he really and truly desires to lay down the law in the Czech Republic and shake things up here in Prague,” said Tomáš Zdechovský, leader of the Social Democrats. “It’s much easier in the West to be critical.”

Mr. Babis’s political opponents in the Czech Republic and abroad have expressed outrage at the president’s appointment of Mr. Babis. It has produced worldwide attention and much laughter. But Mr. Babis, who is now serving his first full term in the Czech parliament, is defiant. “People may think that I’m one of the most corrupt people in Europe,” he told the media on his return to Prague. “I’m not.”

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