New scandal threatens former finance minister Babiš

Former finance minister Andrej Babiš is threatened by a new scandal following the release of a new anonymous recording.

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip JandourekAndrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek The scandal surrounding the head of the ANO party Andrej Babiš, the former finance minister, is showing no sign of abating. On Monday, the prime minister said he was tasking the current head of the Finance Ministry, Ivan Pilný, to investigate whether the ministry under Mr Babiš’ lead had unlawfully interfered with the tax authority to move against an Opava firm which ended up in bankruptcy.

Former finance minister Andrej Babiš is at the centre of a new scandal and not for the first time. A new anonymous recording, released online on Sunday, appeared to show the head of the ANO party confirming that “his people” had put pressure on Opava firm FAU. That prompted immediate questions that the Financial Administration, or tax authority, may have been misused or pressured into intentionally liquidating a business rival back when Mr Babiš was finance minister. FAU had owned a fuel depot on the grounds of Precheza, a firm owned by Agrofert which at the time belonged to Mr Babiš; the financial daily Hospodářské noviny wrote recently that Prechaza had wanted to buy the depot but that FAU had refused to sell. As Mr Babiš was finance minister at the time, the suspicion now being voiced is that he may have taken steps in variance with the law and tied to influence the Financial Administration.

As a result, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was quick to announce on Monday that the issue would have to be carefully investigated by Mr Babiš’ successor Ivan Pilný; here’s what the prime minister had to say:

“We need to know whether the tax authority took steps in line with the law and to review decisions which were taken. I will also ask the minister to investigate whether the Finance Ministry took any steps regarding the tax office outside of its jurisdiction. The whole thing has to be investigated properly.”

Precheza, photo: CTKPrecheza, photo: CTK Fellow Social Democrat and direct political rival to Mr Babiš in the upcoming election, Lubomír Zaorálek, the country’s foreign minister, went further, suggesting the investigation was not just a matter for the ministry.

“I think there is a real danger that there could have been an attempt to influence [the tax office] and for that reason the matter should be investigated by the police and the state prosecutors’ office. We are talking about suspicion of committing a criminal act: using the state apparatus to destroy a business rival.”

The man at the centre of the speculation and growing scandal, Andrej Babiš, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing. He said on Tuesday that the recording - which he had still not heard but read the transcript of – was not evidence he had ordered anyone to do anything. Comments in which he described the company FAU as “criminals”, which were also a part of the recording, he waved off as nothing more than “pub talk”.