February 13, 2018 / 3:14 PM / 9 months ago

Court rejects Czech PM's bid to clear himself of past secret police links

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - A Slovak court has rejected a demand by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis to be cleared of cooperation with the communist-era secret police (StB), a court spokesman said on Tuesday.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks to media after tendering the resignation of his cabinet to President Milos Zeman at the Prague, Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, January 24, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The ruling concludes a lengthy legal battle started by Babis, a Slovak-born billionaire businessman who rose last year to the top of the political ladder in the neighbouring Czech Republic, Slovakia’s former partner in the Czechoslovak federation that fell apart in 1993.

The decision is mainly of symbolic value. It does not stop Babis from holding office nor from attempting to form a new government after his minority administration failed to win a vote of confidence in the Czech parliament last month.

A spokesman for Czech President Milos Zeman said on Twitter the decision did not mean any change in the president’s plan to appoint Babis as prime minister again.

Babis, helped by evidence provided by former communist-era secret agents, won the initial court battles in the case, but his fortunes turned when the Slovak Constitutional Court ruled last year that those witnesses were unreliable.

It also ruled that Babis’s suit against the Slovak UPN institute which keeps communist-era files was misplaced, saying the institute was only the keeper, not the author, of the files, which were compiled by the StB itself.

The Constitutional Court sent the case back to the Bratislava regional court for a final ruling, which was made on Jan. 30 but not published until Tuesday.

“WE WILL SUE UNTIL DEATH”

Babis has admitted to meetings with StB officers in the 1980s in the former Czechoslovakia when he was a Communist Party member and worked in foreign trade, but he insists he only discussed the country’s economic interests.

For some Czechs and Slovaks, the injustices of the communist era of their joint past are still raw nearly 30 years on, but Babis’s ANO party still easily won the Czech election in October with nearly 30 percent of the vote.

Babis said on Tuesday he would fight the ruling with another lawsuit, although he did not know yet where it would be addressed.

“We will sue until death because we are in the right,” he told the online version of daily MF Dnes.

Babis moved to Prague in the 1990s and built up his Agrofert chemicals and farming business before entering politics in 2011.

Babis is also facing fraud charges in the Czech Republic in a case involving 2 million euros in European Union and national subsidies a decade ago. That is the main reason other parties have refused to join a Babis-led government.

He denies any wrongdoing and ANO has refused to nominate another candidate for the post of prime minister.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Gareth Jones

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