PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech police have requested parliament lift the immunity of prospective prime minister Andrej Babis to allow prosecution in a case involving alleged fraud in tapping European Union subsidies, the lower house’s press office said on Tuesday.
Babis, whose ANO party was the runaway winner in a parliamentary election in October on pledges to run the state better and fight corruption among traditional parties, denies any wrongdoing and has called the charges politically motivated.
Police suspect the billionaire businessman hid ownership of the Stork’s Nest farm and convention centre almost a decade ago to get a two million euro EU subsidy that was part of a programme aimed at small businesses.
Lawmakers already voted in September to allow his prosecution, but Babis won immunity again with his re-election. He said on Tuesday the new request to lift immunity was further evidence of a campaign against him.
“The speed at which they are coming after me again only shows what huge fear the corrupt system has; how much this old system is afraid of me and how tenaciously they are trying to get me,” Babis was quoted by CTK news agency as saying.
President Milos Zeman has tasked Babis with forming a government, but the case has hurt his chances of assembling a coalition as almost all of the other eight parties in the lower house have refused to work with him if he faces police charges.
Babis instead is aiming for a minority cabinet, which may be appointed in the coming weeks, but still faces the prospect he may lose a vote of confidence in the 200-seat lower house.
His party won 78 seats in the election and he has not found other support than possible tolerance from the Communist party with 15 seats.
A failure to win confidence would trigger two more attempts to form a cabinet, which could take months, while Babis’s team would hold office in the meantime.
Most parties have said they would vote to lift immunity again but it was not clear if a majority would be found.
The case also involves ANO’s deputy chairman Jaroslav Faltynek, who has denied wrongdoing.
Babis entered politics in 2011 and had sat in the outgoing centre-left government. He moved his holding in his business empire - valued at $4 billion and comprising numerous companies in food processing, agriculture, chemicals and media - to trust funds earlier this year.
Additional reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Alison Williams and William Maclean