Pandora Papers worries Czech Prime Minister Babis ahead of elections | Politics
PRAGUE (AP) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is heading for parliamentary elections this week hit by yet another scandal that links him and hundreds of other wealthy people to offshore accounts.
The findings of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists dubbed the “Pandora Papers” have shed light on how the elite and the corrupt are using offshore accounts to protect their assets from taxes or to hide ill-gotten gains.
Here’s a look at the previously hidden deals that caused waves in the Czech Republic and the country’s elections taking place on Friday and Saturday:
WHAT IS BABIS DOING?
In 2009, Babis, a populist billionaire, invested $ 22 million in shell companies to buy 16 properties in the south of France, including a castle, according to the survey. They were not disclosed in Babis’ required asset declarations, according to documents obtained by the Czech partner of the journalism group, Investigace.cz.
Babis has denied any wrongdoing and alleged the recent revelation was aimed at harming him in the election.
“I don’t own any offshore. I don’t own any property in France, ”he said. “These are bad and false accusations aimed at influencing the elections. That’s all.”
The Czech Republic’s organized crime police unit said it would investigate the situation. The country’s political opposition demands that Babis prove that his actions were in accordance with the law.
WHAT IS THE POLITICAL SITUATION?
Babis, 67, has had a turbulent tenure with numerous scandals, but all public polls favor his centrist movement ANO (YES) to win the election with around 25% of the vote.
Five opposition parties to policies closer to the mainstream of the European Union have put aside their differences to create two coalitions aimed at ousting the Eurosceptic prime minister from power.
Babis led a minority coalition government of the ANO and left-wing Social Democrats with Communist support, giving the far-left party an indirect share of power for the first time since 1989. The Communist Party opposes vehemently in NATO and maintains friendly relations with the ruling Communists in Cuba, China and North Korea.
Social Democrats and Communists might struggle to win parliamentary seats this time around. The main challenge for Babis’ main challengers is to unite.
The center-right coalition Ensemble is made up of the Conservative Civic and Christian Democrat Party and the Liberal-Conservative TOP 09 Party. The Liberal Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors and independent candidates, have formed a center-right coalition. left.
Each coalition is expected to win around 20% of the vote.
Despite their differences on many issues, including climate change, same-sex marriage and the adoption of the euro, opposition parties all support EU and NATO membership.
COMMITMENT OF THE POPULIST BABIS CAMPAIGN: NO MIGRANTS
Babis has bet on an aggressive campaign, migration being a major topic. He promised voters that no illegal migrants would be allowed to enter the Czech Republic and accused the opposition – without any evidence – of inviting refugees.
He also pledged to protect the Czechs from the European Union, which he says wants to destroy the country’s sovereignty. The EU’s plan to tackle climate change would also hurt the Czech people’s way of life, Babis said.
Targeting his main supporters, he has increased pensions more than necessary and lowered income taxes amid a record deficit caused by the pandemic, a move that worries economists.
“Babis is trying to divide society, to create an atmosphere of fear for some of their safety and to present himself as the only one protecting them,” said Palacky University political scientist Tomas Lebeda. “This is a classic strategy used by most populists, by Donald Trump, by (Hungarian Prime Minister) Viktor Orban.”
Babis, who calls the Hungarian nationalist leader his friend, invited Orban to join him in a campaign rally last week.
“This is obviously a cause for concern, not just for Europe, but especially for the Czech Republic, given what is happening in Hungary,” said Lebeda.
Although Orban is popular in his country, critics accuse him of autocratic tendencies, citing his takeover of the Hungarian media to control political speech. Several journalists from the Czech, German and French media were denied access to an Orban and Babis press conference held in the northern town of Usti nad Labem.
A POLITICIAN WHO IS OFTEN QUESTIONED
The Pandora Papers report is not the first time that Babis’ wealth and business activity has become a political issue since his party won the 2017 election.
A quarter of a million Czechs rallied against him twice in 2019 over his alleged fraud involving EU funds and allegations of his cooperation with the country’s communist-era secret police. The protests were by far the biggest anti-government protests since the 1989 Velvet Revolution in the country.
An EU investigation found that as prime minister Babis had a conflict of interest with his former business empire. When he took office, Czech law required him to transfer his Agrofert conglomerate of around 250 companies into two trust funds, but the EU concluded that he still controls them. The companies include two national newspapers and a popular radio station.
His resolve to lead government as a business has been tested by the coronavirus pandemic. Babis has passed through five health ministers, and the Czech Republic has reported more than 30,400 deaths from COVID-19 among a population of 10.7 million.
AN EXTREME COALITION IS COMING?
Depending on the election results, Babis could be faced with the option of forming a coalition with the Communists or with Freedom and Direct Democracy, the most anti-migrant and anti-Muslim party in the Czech Republic.
Freedom and Direct Democracy hopes to match if not better its result in the last election, where it won 10.6% of the vote. He wants to get the country out of the EU and hold a referendum on NATO membership.
Its leader, Tomio Okamura, condemned the government for bringing 170 Afghan citizens into the country, including local staff from the Czech embassy in Kabul and interpreters who assisted the Czech armed forces and their families.
The group also protested against alleged discrimination against Czechs who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
PRECAUTIONS IN CASE OF PANDEMIC
The Czech armed forces have set up 82 drive-thru polling stations across the country for voters who are in isolation or in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 or being exposed to an infected person.
People in these circumstances started voting on Wednesday. Those who did not have a vehicle could request to have a mobile ballot box brought to their home.
The system, first tested in regional elections a year ago, will potentially allow thousands of Czechs to vote.