PRAGUE (Reuters) - Under-fire Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis signalled his ANO party might stay in government if it retained control over his ministry, according to an interview in daily Pravo that appeared to a offer away out of the country’s political crisis.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has asked President Milos Zeman to sack billionaire Babis due to questions over his past business practices.
Zeman has backed Babis, demanding that Sobotka first nominate a replacement and cancel the coalition agreement his centre-left Social Democrats have with ANO and the centrist Christian Democrats.
The three parties were due to meet on Wednesday to discuss a way forward, but the clash threatens to bring down the EU country’s government less than half a year before scheduled national elections.
Babis told Tuesday’s edition of the newspaper he would not stand down of his own accord but also suggested that, should be forced out, ANO might yet stay in government if it had control over nominating his successor.
“We want clear guarantees that the prime minister respects the person we potentially nominate,” Babis told the paper, without mentioning possible nominees.
Sobotka has said he would keep the post for ANO but that the incumbent should have no links with Babis’s chemicals, food and media conglomerate Agrofert, with which several of Babis’ party colleagues are also associated.
The premier has said that is necessary to allow for an impartial investigation of Babis’s past tax arrangements.
Babis, who denies any wrongdoing, transferred Agrofert to a trust fund this year to meet new conflict-of-interest legislation.
He told Pravo he preferred the government to stay in power until the election, but the situation was unclear due to the steps Sobotka had taken.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka; editing by John Stonestreet