PRAGUE (Reuters) - Former Czech finance minister Andrej Babis, the leading contender to become prime minister in an October election, asked lawmakers on Wednesday to lift his parliamentary immunity to allow him to contest accusations of fraud.
Babis, a billionaire businessman and founder of the poll-leading ANO party, is battling allegations that his company illegally received a 50 million crown (1.7 million pounds) European Union subsidy in 2008 - before he entered politics - for a farm and conference centre near Prague.
He denies any wrongdoing and has repeatedly called the police action against him a political ploy meant to hurt him in an Oct. 20-21 election.
“You will not silence me, intimidate me, stop me. And you will not get rid of me,” he told lawmakers before a lower house vote on whether to allow him to face police charges.
“So, give me up. I ask you to lift my immunity so that the truth can be revealed.”
Police have been investigating the alleged subsidy abuse. Czech members of parliament have immunity against prosecution unless lawmakers vote to lift that right.
ANO, which has run on promises to clean up graft in the government, has kept a double-digit lead ahead of rivals in opinion polls which have not shown any significant deterioration in support since the police requested immunity be lifted on Aug. 10.
The investigation is expected to last well beyond the October vote and Babis will win immunity again if reelected to parliament, as expected, which would force the police to ask again for permission to charge him.
It could lead to a situation in which the group forming next government could be led by a person wanted by police.
Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Toby Chopra