EU court denies ex-Czech prime minister access to fraud investigation records   | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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EU court denies ex-Czech prime minister access to fraud investigation records  

Andrej Babiš, the billionaire former prime minister of the Czech Republic, is on trial in Prague over some $2 million in misappropriated agricultural subsidies.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s second-highest court on Wednesday backed a decision by EU lawmakers to block a former Czech leader from accessing classified documents tied to his agricultural conglomerate. 

In a ruling not available in English, the European General Court held the European Parliament was within its powers to classify documents underpinning a resolution condemning Andrej Babiš for misusing EU funds to benefit Agrofert, the Czech agricultural company he founded and helmed. 

The parliament voted overwhelmingly in June 2021 to condemn Babiš, after a yearslong investigation by the European Commission found he was still running Agrofert despite claiming to have to put it in trust, in line with conflict of interest regulations. He had been using his influence as the Czech head of state to influence the distribution of subsidy money, including allocating money intended for small businesses to his billion-dollar conglomerate. 

It wasn’t the first time EU lawmakers had criticized the 68-year-old politician. They passed resolutions in 2018, 2019 and 2020 alleging misuse of funds in the Czech Republic and calling for stronger oversight measures. 

In response, Agrofert, which holds more than 230 chemical, food and logistics companies, demanded parliament turn over documents related to the investigation. Lawmakers rejected the request for two in particular – a letter from the European Commission to Babiš and the commission’s final audit report – citing their confidential nature. 

Agrofert complained to the Luxembourg-based General Court in March 2021, arguing the accusation of fraud was unfounded. But the three-judge panel held the decision to keep the letter from the commission to Babiš was appropriate, as it included confidential information.

“Disclosure of the Commission’s letter was likely to undermine the purpose of the audit investigation, especially as the Czech Prime Minister was directly involved,” the court wrote. 

Less than a month after the company filed its complaint, the European Parliament released the final version of the report to the public. As such, the court found that Agrofert no longer had a reason to complain.

“The applicant’s interest in bringing proceedings against the Parliament’s refusal to grant it access to the Commission’s final audit report has ceased to exist,” the ruling states.

The company has two months to appeal the decision.

Babiš' fraud trial kicked off this month in the Czech capital of Prague. It is centered on allegations that a farm known as the Stork’s Nest received some $2 million in European Union subsidies after the property was transferred from Agrofert to a relative of Babiš. Lawmakers voted to revoke Babiš’ immunity against standing trial. 

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Categories / Criminal, Government, International, Politics, Trials

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