The lower house of Parliament decided Friday to lift immunity for the prime minister and his ANO senior party colleague Jaroslav Faltýnek to face criminal charges for the alleged abuse of EU funds in connection with the Stork’s Nest complex. Despite having consistently denied any wrongdoing, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his close associate asked for their immunity to be waived during the heated debate.
The investigation of the Stork’s Nest case, which has been dragging on since the end of 2015, was poised to reach an important turning point on Friday. Following the recommendation of parliament’s mandate and immunity committee on Tuesday for parliamentary immunity to be lifted, MPs in the Chamber of Deputies debated for four-and-a-half hours whether to follow suit.
The final outcome was 111 for the police prosecution to push ahead and 69 against. All parties with the exception of ANO had announced their decision to strip Mr Babiš and Mr Faltýnek of their immunity. Miroslav Kalousek, former leader of TOP 09, repeated his party’s stance at the Chamber of Deputies on Friday:
“There is a suspicion that someone stole 50 million crowns. He took it and used it for his own personal purposes. If this was a criminal offence that can only be decided by an independent investigation. We definitely shouldn’t prevent this investigation from taking place.”
Babiš and Faltýnek had already been stripped once of their immunity but regained it when re-elected to parliament October.
“The case is completely fabricated, promoted by the media, and misused for political purposes. We live in a country where it is possible to commission criminal charges against someone and have them thrown in jail.”
Babiš’s words elicited sharp reaction from members of the opposition parties, including Civic Democrat deputy Pavel Blažek:
“You have been responsible for four years for the police, the public prosecution office and the judiciary. What have you done to prevent this from taking place? Nothing!”
The scandal surrounding PM Babiš comes as he continues to try and form a viable government following his failure to win a confidence vote the first time. Most of his political opponents say they will not support a prime minister who is charged with fraud.
ANO this week already re-started negotiations with the Social Democrats and the Freedom and Democracy Party (SPD), but without any clear results so far.
The Social Democrats said they can only confirm a possible government alliance with ANO after a party congress, which takes place in mid-February, to select a new leadership following disastrous election results.
The talks with the anti-immigrant and anti-EU party Freedom and Democracy on Thursday reportedly got little past first base with only broad political aims subject to discussion. Meanwhile, another threat to Mr Babiš’s political future may come from presidential candidate Jiří Drahoš, who advanced to the presidential run-off.
Mr Drahoš had previously made clear that having a prime minister who is facing charges was “unacceptable” and said Babiš’s ANO party should not be given a second chance to form a government. The final presidential vote takes place on January 26 and 27.